Competition for roster spots will be intense

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Competition for roster spots will be intense

Thursday's discouraging news on the labor front, in which NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced there would be a lockout on September 15 if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached, has a trickle-down effect.
It likely means the Blackhawks and the 29 other teams will be even quieter on player movement until a new CBA is reached. General Managers still wanting to make roster moves can have discussions and perhaps set the table for doing things in what could well be a flurry of activity once the labor pains go away.As I wrote earlier in the week, I believe Stan Bowman wouldn't mind making some moves, but he doesn't necessarily feel he has to if he's not getting what he'd like in return. Sure, every fan has their trade proposals, realistic or not, from either team's standpoint. But it's also not Fantasy Hockey, it's the real thing. The Hawks' Vice President and General Manager has made one move this offseason, signing former Anaheim defenseman Sheldon Brookbank to add some size and toughness on the back, and hopefully an effective penalty-killing option.While there have been some names rumored to be on the trading block, let's take a closer look at what happens if the Hawks end up standing pat, whenever the 2012-13 training camp and regular season gets underway. It would result in some spirited competition for roster spots and ice time, primarily because some young players Hawks fans have been intrigued (or excited) by are on the verge of playing at the highest level.Toews, Sharp, Hossa, and Kane are four of the top six forwards. Part of the decision in your mock lineup has to do with whether Kane winds up at center. Since the post-playoff news conference, it sounds as if that's become less likely. And barring a deal to bring in a number-two pivot, Marcus Kruger and Dave Bolland would be your second-and-third-line centers, or vice-versa.If Viktor Stalberg's on the roster, he'd seem best suited on the top two lines rather than the bottom two as the team expects him to become a more complete player on the defensive end. Do you then reunite the effective second line when Toews was sidelined late last season, which was Stalberg-Kruger-Sharp? Provided you do that, then who plays with Toews and Kane? An agitatorgrinder like Carcillo or Shaw? Does Brandon Saad continue to impress in camp and bring additional size to that line? You can only pick one, so the other two have to be dropped down somewhere.Moving to the so-called "third line" - with Bolland or Kruger in the middle. Is the best bet (or do you expect) to reunite the best line in the playoffs the last two seasons - Bolland, Bickell and Frolik? The wingers didn't come close to carrying that momentum into last regular season and combined for their share of healthy scratches. Of the trio mentioned earlier for top-line options, just one makes it. The other two must drop down somewhere. Here? Fourth line? Is Jimmy Hayes ready to grab full-time duty at this level? That comes with the knowledge that, similar to Saad, they need to play regularly to grow into whatever potential you project for them.There's one more line to fill out. Figure Jamal Mayers as one piece. Brandon Bollig became a likable addition last season, but if everyone's healthy at the start, is there a spot for him? Did you like the upsides of Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin a year ago? Did the fact each struggled with injuries last season ruin their realistic chances to contribute this year? Or can they provide things this Hawks team could use, with the opportunity to grow with regular playing time? The Stanley Cup isn't won (but could certainly be lost) in the first couple of months. And I haven't even brought up the name of the player generally considered the best, start-to-finish, at Rockford last season, Brandon Pirri.So that's 18 forwards for 12 spots. As the roster stands, figure 10 are pretty much "locks" for the regular lineup (Sharp, Carcillo, Kruger, Toews, Mayers, Stalberg, Bolland, Shaw, Hossa, Kane). That leaves two spots to fight over. See? A trade package could loosen things up a bit. Or you have a lot of guys needing to earn it under what should be a head coach carrying a much more critical eye into this season.Bowman has eight defensemen with NHL experience. We know Keith, Seabrook, Leddy and Oduya will play. What'll be more curious is whether skaters Leddy and Oduya remain paired like they were in the playoffs, or if it's better to have a more physical presence beside them, and how Hjalmarsson fits into the mix. Brookbank is here, Montador remains, and how high is Dylan Olsen's upside? All of them will have to be better with what they're here to do, by definition of their position. Corey Crawford must do a better job of bailing them out the times they do get too loose.There's no question improvement from these younger players, whose time is almost here, can make this team better. There are size and "sandpaper" elements on this massive list that could conceivably repair the power play. I've also mentioned in the past how I'd love to see Olsen work on his booming shot so that it could potentially be a factor on the power play. Maybe the team has him doing that. Can enough of these ingredients fix the special teams next season?Unless Stan Bowman gets what he wants in return (and by the numbers, you can see there are options to package on the market with the right trade partner), it's just about time to see how "NHL-legit" some of these kids can be. All of you have in your own minds what the upside is on all these players, young and experienced.
So break out your pencil. Make sure it has an eraser. And draw up who stays...and who goes...if Stan stands pat.

Fast Break Morning Update: Blackhawks blank Bruins; Bulls fall in Atlanta

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Five takeaways from Blackhawks' shutout win over Bruins

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' shutout win over Bruins

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 1-0 victory over the Boston Bruins on Friday night:

1. A sluggish start.

The Blackhawks have gotten off to some solid starts lately, scoring the game's first goal in the opening frame in five of their last six contests heading into Friday. But they were lucky to get out of the first in a 0-0 tie this time.

They had 15 shot attempts (six on goal) through the first 20 minutes while the Bruins had 30 attempts (17 on goal). Fortunately for the Blackhawks, Scott Darling stopped all of them that came his way.

Boston's third line of Ryan Spooner, Riley Nash and David Backes dominated possession, leading all skaters with a plus-12 Corsi in the period.  

2. Scott Darling steals two points.

Joel Quenneville decided to go with Darling in an effort to give a slumping Corey Crawford a chance to reset, and the Lemont native an opportunity to play in front of his father away from home, where he's used to watching him shine. It's safe to say he made his papa proud by putting on a great show.

Darling turned aside all 30 shots he faced, including 17 in the first period, for his second shutout of the season and fourth of his career. He has now allowed two or fewer goals in eight of his last 12 starts. 

Asked after the game whether he will earn a second straight start Sunday when the Blackhawks host the Vancouver Canucks, Quenneville responded, "We'll see."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

3. Special teams not a factor.

In a game that featured only one goal, you'd think the way to crack the scoresheet would be on the man advantage. That didn't happen.

The Blackhawks went 0-for-3 on the power play, while the Bruins failed to cash in on their only two opportunities. Boston entered the contest by going 7-for-17 on the power play in their previous five games, good for a 41.2 success rate.

It was a nice bounce-back game for the Blackhawks' penalty kill unit, which allowed a goal on the man advantage in their previous two games.

4. Third line steps up at crucial moment.

The Blackhawks' third line of Vinnie Hinostroza, Marian Hossa and Tanner Kero had the worst possession numbers among all skaters, each registering a 24 percent Corsi or below. But when their team needed them the most, they stepped up.

With 1:26 left in regulation, Hossa ended his 10-game goal drought by burying home a terrific feed from Kero to snap a 0-0 tie and give the Blackhawks their second consecutive win. It's Hossa's 17th goal of the campaign, which ties Artemi Panarin for second on the team, and his fifth game-winning goal of the year. His 83 career game-winning goals now ranks 24th in NHL history, surpassing Mike Bossy, and remains fifth among active players.

Hossa's goal also moved him within a tie of Pierre Turgeon for 37th on the all-time goals list with 516.

Kero has six points in his last six games, while Hinostroza has two goals and one assist in his past two.

5. Despite recent struggles, Bruins in good hands with Claude Julien.

It seems like this is a discussion every year, but firing Julien would be a huge mistake for a Bruins team that fell to 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. They're still the No. 1 possession team in the NHL, controlling 55.42 percent of the even-strength shot attempts, and give up the fifth-fewest high danger scoring chances with 326, according the naturalstattrick.com. They average the second-most shots on goal per game at 33.9, and allow the second-fewest at 26.5.

To back it up, their PDO is 97.5 percent, the sum of a team's even-strength save percentage and shooting percentage that usually works it way toward 100, which indicates they're due for a fairly large correction. They're not getting bounces right now, but they're playing the right way and a change behind the bench would be a step in the wrong direction, considering Julien is easily a top-five coach in the NHL.