Blackhawks 'D' weathering storm without Campbell

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Blackhawks 'D' weathering storm without Campbell

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010
4:12 PM

By Tracey Myers
CSNChicago.com

I was finishing up Blackhawks interviews with my fellow media brethren on Wednesday night when I saw defenseman Brian Campbell at the front of the room. Campbell, who sprained the MCL in his right knee in late September, is close to returning. He's on schedule with his rehabilitation. He wanted to start skating three weeks from injury diagnosis date, and a few days ago coach Joel Quenneville said he's close to doing that.

That's all good news. But what may be even greater news is how the Blackhawks have adjusted in his absence. You've seen the results for yourself, folks: close games, none of which the Blackhawks have ever been out of, a four-game winning streak and burgeoning confidence. And that defense? Well, it's held up pretty damn well.

Consider what the Blackhawks lost when they lost Campbell. Talent, obviously. Big minutes, too. Strong special teams work. Campbell's absence could have been detrimental, a big problem for a team that, with a lot of new faces, was already figuring out chemistry and combinations.

So why did it work? The rest of the defensemen took on more work. And if some of those weren't faring so well, then the prime guys took on even more. Exhibit A: Duncan Keith. You could definitely make the case that he's taking on too many minutes. With the exception of one game, he's averaged more than 30 minutes per contest. But Keith, being the gamer he is, will keep on doing what his team needs him to do. Still, methinks when Campbell returns, Keith will be one of the happiest guys in that locker room.

Brent Seabrook has been steady. Niklas Hjalmarsson, who was shaky before serving a two-game suspension, is getting back to normal. Jassen Cullimore hasn't logged a ton of minutes in his last three games, but he's taking off some of the heat.

Then there's Nick Boynton. The 31-year-old, when asked a few weeks ago if he was ready to take on more minutes in Campbell's absence (Hjalmarsson was out on suspension at the time, too) said that's never a problem. It's getting enough minutes that is, he said. And Boynton has been tremendous: 23 minutes against St. Louis, 27 against Vancouver and 10 blocked shots in the two games combined. Those numbers will make you your goaltender's best friend; oh yeah, Boynton and Marty Turco's stalls are right next to each other in the Blackhawks locker room.

And Turco deserves credit, too. The goaltender is the last line of defense, as many a hockey coach has said through the years. Turco has now won four in a row, stopping 36 of 37 through regulation and overtime against Vancouver on Wednesday. He's still given up some goals he's not happy about -- the five-hole ones were a problem last year, too. But a four-game winning streak can't be all bad. Yes, I know those of you who aren't used to seeing him handle the puck get a little nervous. Relax and put the Mylanta bottle down. It'll be fine.

The Blackhawks weathered a big loss here. They've been used to it; they had to do it at the start of last season with a few Blackhawks, including Marian Hossa. Look how that turned out. In about two weeks it won't be just us media folks seeing Campbell post-game in a suit. Everyone will be seeing him on the ice. The Blackhawks managed just fine without him. They'll be that much better and stronger with him.

Tracey Myers is CSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow Tracey on Twitter @TramyersCSN for up-to-the-minute Hawks information.

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

Before the clock struck noon on a day Chicago was hosting its first ever NHL Draft, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman sent shockwaves throughout the city and hockey world by completing a pair of blockbuster trades within an hour of each other.

The first was dealing three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona, and the second involving Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad in a swap of talented wingers with Columbus.

This comes two days after the Blackhawks announced Marian Hossa will miss the 2017-18 campaign with a progressive skin disorder. That's three core players gone in the blink of an eye.

Who's ready for a new era in Chicago?

Rather than maximizing a championship window that was viewed as closing quickly, Bowman has elected to take a long-term approach and it might not be the worst idea.

There's no doubt the loss of Hjalmarsson, who remains one of the most underrated blue liners in the league, and Panarin, who finished in the top-10 in scoring among forwards in both of his first two NHL seasons, will sting.

But there's a good chance the Blackhawks wouldn't have been able to reward them with the pay raises they deserve after their contracts expire following the 2018-19 season, and that certainly played a huge role in the decision to head in a new direction.

In reacquiring Saad, the Blackhawks finally give Jonathan Toews that reliable left-winger they've desperately lacked since Saad was shipped out of town in 2015, providing balance throughout the top-six. Saad is also locked up for the next four years at a $6 million cap hit that will look better as time goes by.

For the last two years, the Blackhawks were known as a one-line scoring team thanks to the chemistry developed between Patrick Kane and Panarin.

The second-half emergence of Nick Schmaltz and familiarity Kane has developed with center Artem Anisimov has allowed Panarin to become expendable in their quest to solve their top-line woes. And that's not a bad consolation line, especially when you consider top prospect Alex DeBrincat could also be in the cards as early as this season.

On the back end, the Blackhawks receive a 24-year-old defenseman in Connor Murphy, who's also signed for the next four years at a $3.85 million cap hit, and carries a right-handed shot, something they've needed more of in the organization. While there will certainly be growing pains under Joel Quenneville, Murphy's ceiling is fairly high and gives the Blackhawks some speed coming out of their own zone.

In making both of these deals, the Blackhawks got younger in their attempt to keep up with a league that relies more on speed, addressing a few areas that Nashville exposed during their first-round sweep of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

And while they may have sacrificed two key players in the short-term, the Blackhawks executed a plan that should keep the perceived championship window open longer than expected.

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial.