Facing an Original Six is always something special

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Facing an Original Six is always something special

When you are forced to play 14 of 18 games on the road during the "Dog Days of Hockey," you know there are some quirks in the schedule.

One of the benefits of this strange sequence for the Blackhawks is that we are in the midst of watching our third Original Six team in the last five games. Enjoy it while it lasts because the next Original Six team we will see is on the last day of the regular season when the Blackhawks face off against the Detroit Red Wings, a game that should have plenty of playoff implications.

So why the love affair with Original Six teams? For me, it's all about the history. The NHL has been around for 95 years, and all of the Original Six have been around for the better part of that. Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, Boston, and New York.

As a guy who played in the 1980s and 90s, it's hard to describe going into a building that you know Jean Beliveau, Maurice "The Rocket" Richard, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Jean Ratelle, Eddie Giacomin, Dave Keon, Tim Horton, Gordie Howe, Ted Lindsay, Stan Mikita, Bobby Hull and Tony Esposito played in. I know all of those buildings are different now -- except for Madison Square Garden -- but seeing those team jerseys brings back a lot of great memories. With the geographical realignment of 1998, Chicago now only has the Red Wings as consistent Original Six combatants.

Each of these cities are hockey hotbeds in their own way, with the title going to Montreal. Even after a disappointing season and a team in turmoil, they still pack the Bell Centre with loud and knowledgeable fans. I think that's what I liked best about playing in these cities: People know hockey, they grew up with it and although some never played, they had their dad's and grandfather's explaining in great detail the rules and regulations of this game.

Who knows how the battle between the NHL and the Players Association plays out this off season. I'm thinking cooler heads will prevail, and with that, an opportunity to see our five brethren on a more consistent basis. That should make for more great history and more great hockey.

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks trying to get something done with Andrew Shaw

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks trying to get something done with Andrew Shaw

We’re entering the meaty portion of this offseason. The NHL draft begins Friday in Buffalo and free agency commences July 1. The Blackhawks have selections to make, questions to answer and a roster to shape.

And so it begins again.

With the salary cap set at $73 million for the 2016-17 season, general manager Stan Bowman can move forward with potential signings and other offseason moves. The top priority still seems to be re-signing Andrew Shaw, although Bowman said on Thursday there’s been no progress on that front thus far. Shaw’s agent Pat Brisson said via email last week that he expects to talk to Bowman at the draft this weekend.

“We’ve had some good discussions with his agent, so that’s ongoing. And we’re trying to get something done. That’s how I can characterize it right now,” Bowman said from Buffalo. “There are a lot of things we’re working through and that’s certainly one of them.”

The Blackhawks have some cap room but not a ton. If they do sign Shaw, he could take $3 million or more of that; he had a cap hit of $2 million last season. Do the Blackhawks get a defenseman? Do they make some other deal in the next few days/weeks? Plenty of speculation abounds this time of year but Bowman wasn’t talking about any of it.

“There are lots of rumors floating round. I’d say a majority of them are false but you can’t comment on individual rumors. We have a job to do and there are a lot of conversations this time of year,” Bowman said. “We’re trying to prepare for the draft, we have eight picks and that’s an important part of building for the future, making sure we prepare well and choose the right players. The other part of it is shaping our roster for next season, which can come through trades, preparing for free agency and those type of things. There’s a lot happening and these are busy days.”

In the meantime, the Blackhawks have shored up several depth players recently. Richard Panik signed a one-year deal last week. Nick Schmaltz signed a three-year, entry-level deal on Sunday. Dennis Rasmussen was re-signed for this coming season on Wednesday. As much as everyone likes the splashy deal and players these depth guys are just as important, especially to a team constantly fighting cap issues.

“It’s a huge part of what we’re trying to do here and critical to our success going forward,” Bowman said. “[This is Rasmussen’s] third year with us. He took a big jump last year and now he’s trying to build on that and expand his role. With Nick, we’re thrilled he made the decision he was ready for pro hockey. We’ve felt that way for a while here, watching him the last two years in college. He’s grown his game from when we drafted him and we thought it was time for him to take the next step. He felt the same way. He’ll have a great opportunity to show us what he can do in camp. We don’t hand out jobs but they’re there to come and earn. He’s prepared to have a big summer. When we get to see him on the ice, you’ll see the talent he has.”

The Blackhawks have eight picks at the draft; they’ve usually selected a good mix of forwards, defensemen and goaltending and they’ll probably do the same this draft. But this weekend usually goes beyond taking future prospects. The Blackhawks have decisions to make and a roster to shape. Much of that could start this weekend.

Report: Brian Campbell has interest in returning to Blackhawks

Report: Brian Campbell has interest in returning to Blackhawks

Could Brian Campbell be making a return to the Blackhawks?

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc, the veteran defenseman — who's an unrestricted free agent — is interested in returning to Chicago.

Campbell was a member of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup winning squad back in 2010 and spent three seasons in a Chicago sweater before getting traded to the Panthers, with whom he spent the past five seasons.

During his three seasons with the Blackhawks, Campbell tallied 117 points. He registered 18 points in three Stanley Cup Playoffs, was a playoffs-leading plus-11 during the 2010 run to the Cup and recorded the lone assist on Patrick Kane's Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 6.

The 37-year-old Campbell has 487 career points and is a plus-51 in his 16-year NHL career. He's been selected to seven All-Star Games.

Blackhawks: Patrick Kane wins Hart Trophy to cap huge night at NHL Awards

Blackhawks: Patrick Kane wins Hart Trophy to cap huge night at NHL Awards

Patrick Kane wrapped up the most productive season of his career in April. On Wednesday, he was recognized for it.

Kane won the Hart Trophy for most valuable player at the NHL Awards on Wednesday night, the second U.S.-born player to do so (Billy Burch, born in Yonkers, N.Y., won in 1925). He was also the first Blackhawks player to win the award since Stan Mikita in 1968.

It was busy night for Kane in the awards department. He had already won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL’s regular-season scoring leader – he was the first American-born player for that award, too. He was also the Ted Lindsay Award winner as the league’s most outstanding player (as voted on by the NHLPA).

While the Blackhawks’ offense was inconsistent this season, Kane wasn’t. Kane recorded career highs in goals (46), assists (60) and points (106). He was also part of the team’s most consistent line with Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin, who took home the Calder Trophy earlier this evening.

Kane won the Hart voting by a landslide, taking 121 first-place votes. Sidney Crosby was second with 11 first-place votes. Dallas’ Jamie Benn, Washington’s Braden Holtby and San Jose’s Joe Thornton rounded out the top five.