Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks mailbag: LTIR, looking for defense, libations and more

Blackhawks mailbag: LTIR, looking for defense, libations and more

It’s been a long summer, hasn’t it? This is what a brief postseason run will do to you: by July you’re feeling antsy, you’re missing hockey and you’re counting the days until the puck droppeths again. We feel your pain, people.

The offseason continues but, for the time being, it looks like the Blackhawks are done tinkering with their lineup. It’s been a jaw-dropping summer for the Blackhawks. General manager Stan Bowman said on April 22 that there would be changes, and he wasn’t kidding. Still, a lot of questions remain about this roster as the season nears.

As you can imagine, what happens with Marian Hossa’s cap hit is still a hot topic. We’ll take Sandra Muer’s question on that front.

I joked with an Arizona-based scribe that if the Coyotes didn’t take Hossa’s contract, who would? All kidding aside, I don’t think the Blackhawks are going to find any takers on this one. Arizona is looking to improve and not just be a place where bad contracts go to die. The most likely option is still the Blackhawks putting Hossa on long-term injured reserve soon after the season begins.

They absolutely have to address defense, as far as I’m concerned. That’s where they’re feeling the loss the most. My question is, who will they find at that point to help them? I wasn’t surprised they didn’t land any of the big free-agent fishes; they were all going to demand too high a price for the cash-strapped Blackhawks to pay. Come early October, maybe they find someone who didn’t fit into another team’s plans. If they decide to go with what they have in the system, giving some young players an opportunity, this could be a season of blue-line growing pains.

Now, onto the rest of the mailbag:

Artemi Panarin’s trade has nothing to do with Hossa or the relief his LTIR will likely provide. It has everything to do with the Blackhawks wanting and needing to get a power forward back in the lineup, especially one who can bring stability to that top line with Jonathan Toews. You want to acquire Brandon Saad? You have to give up something, so here we are. And on paper, I still say this deal is a smart one.

I’m not sure there’s much improvement anywhere. Just based on their recent history, the Blackhawks have done well in finding backup goaltenders the past few seasons, so if they think Anton Forsberg is ready, I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt right now. They’ve added bodies at forward but let’s see who makes an impact.

The Blackhawks added to their goaltending depth this summer with Anton Forsberg and Jean-Sébastien Bérubé, so they’re set there. General manager Stan Bowman sees Forsberg as the backup right now. Going for a veteran doesn’t always yield great results. Look at the Blackhawks’ goaltending acquisitions since the summer of 2010. Unproven coming in: Antti Raanta and Scott Darling, and both did well. Veterans: Ray Emery (great), Marty Turco and Nikolai Khabibulin (neither worked).

If Alex DeBrincat makes the team he can play anywhere, but left wing is his natural position. As former Erie Otters coach Kris Knoblauch told me this summer DeBrincat, “was voted first all-star team right winger, and probably played five games on right wing.”

As of right now, I think the Blackhawks are a bubble team. Again, the biggest concern is at defense. The Central Division is going to be tough. We all saw what the Nashville Predators did. Is this the start of something for them or do they have a hiccup coming off that long postseason run? I’m very interested to see what the Dallas Stars do; this isn’t the first time they’ve done major offseason tinkering but they made a significant (and necessary) upgrade at goaltending. If they can stay healthy this season, they could be the Central’s team to beat. And while we’re on the subject of where the Blackhawks potentially end up in the standings…

Roster-wise, I’m not sure how full on a rebuild can be done with this team. No matter what happens this season, the Blackhawks have the same contract issues next summer as they do this one: a lot of full no-movement clauses. But if the Blackhawks miss the playoffs there will be changes. They would more likely be front office or coaching.

According to Capfriendly.com (again, a valuable resource that should be bookmarked by every hockey fan), the Blackhawks are approximately $35,000 over the $75 million salary cap. They can spend 10 percent over the cap as long as they’re at/under the cap by opening night.

No idea when it will happen but I would think Seattle would be a good possibility. Plus, it’s a selfish wish on my part: the only time I’ve been in Seattle is at the airport, connecting between Vancouver and Chicago.

Not that I know of, outside of YouTube of course. Although with rare exception I was never into watching full games from the past. Always felt if I did, I should probably play “Glory Days” faintly in the background.

The Blackhawks haven’t announced anything on that yet but yes, I expect them to be there at some point during training camp. Last year they scrubbed it due to half the team being at the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto.

No, I don’t. It was a worthwhile shot to take last season, especially with Campbell taking a significant pay cut to come back here. But it didn’t have the desired effect on the ice. The Blackhawks need to get younger on defense, so I don’t see him returning.

We addressed the last question above (either they find someone later this summer/early fall or go as is). I’d pick Nick Schmaltz as a guy who needs to take a big step forward. He did alright for a rookie, especially once he got back from a midseason stint in Rockford. But he should be stronger this season. With holes in the lineup, expectations will grow for everyone remaining, him included. As for the breakout player, it would be easy to say Alex DeBrincat because everyone wants it to be DeBrincat. But surprises usually come out of training camp. Alexandre Fortin had a good one last fall and was on the bubble. Does he take bigger strides this camp?

If you’ve been a fan for any amount of time you’ve had to adjust to watching the Blackhawks without Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Antti Niemi, Brian Campbell, Bryan Bickell, Teuvo Teravainen, Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp, among others. All former-player reunions aside, losing guys has been part of pretty much every Blackhawks season since they started winning Stanley Cups again. It is what it is. You’ll be OK.

I’m off to Paris again, for sure. Past that I haven’t decided yet. That’s the beauty of train travel in Europe: you can decide last minute and still probably find a good deal. 

Truth be told, I never liked that show. I always thought it was overrated. Watched the first season, got bored, and outside of the random times it’s on while I’m awaiting an appointment, I never watched it again. That’s a very long answer to your very short question, but there you go.

https://twitter.com/TJLynch6/status/884414249002573824

It’s probably faster to answer which wines I haven’t been sampling. It’s summer, so if I’m eating outdoors it’s rosé time. I highly recommend Cote des Roses, a wonderfully light rosé in a gorgeous bottle. I’ve been sampling Malbecs again because I never stray too far from them. Don Miguel Gascon is a favorite. I’ll still enjoy an Old Fashioned now and then but that seems more a fall/winter option.

Glad you brought that up. A huge thank you to all of you who gave recommendations when I asked earlier this summer. The ones I’ve read thus far have been outstanding. I highly recommend “Shadow of the Wind” and “Finding Jake.” Just finished reading “Proof of Heaven.”

Don’t make me choose.

A trying year behind him, Patrick Sharp 'happy, smiling every day'

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USA TODAY

A trying year behind him, Patrick Sharp 'happy, smiling every day'

Patrick Sharp raised his arms after connecting in an end-of-practice shootout drill at the University of Notre Dame. The season hasn’t started yet but the Blackhawks forward is already having a ball.

“I think you’ve been around long enough to know that when I’m acting like an idiot and having fun, that’s when I play my best. When I’m overthinking things and analyzing everything I don’t play good hockey. So that’s first and foremost, being mentally clear and happy and having fun,” Sharp said following Monday’s practice. “You want to be in a good place and I’m definitely there. I’m happy, smiling every day.”

Part of Sharp being in a happy place is being back with the Blackhawks. He had a lot of offers this offseason but Chicago was, “the No. 1 choice by far.” But it’s also about coming back after one of his most trying years on and off the ice and continuing a career that, when he underwent hip surgery last March, he wasn’t sure he’d have. So far, camp has been good. Sharp was once again one of the Blackhawks’ top fitness test finishers – “he looks like a freak of nature as far as working out and being in as good a shape as he is,” Patrick Kane said. So outside of the early aches and pains of camp, Sharp’s feeling good.

“Those first couple of days beat everybody up, starting with the fitness testing and then jumping right into the games. But the surgery is behind me now, I think. I think I’m over it and moving well and adjusting being back in Chicago,” he said. “There’s still a small transition when you switch teams but coming back to Chicago was definitely easier for me than leaving.”

Sharp’s first season in Dallas was good, especially with the Stars winning the West. But last year was difficult: the injury-riddled Stars had a disappointing campaign and Sharp struggled with concussion symptoms for a good part of the season. Also weighing heavily on Sharp was when his dad Ian, who was diagnosed with leukemia several years ago, was hospitalized when the disease worsened.

“I knew my dad was going through that in the hospital for six months and I wanted to play that much better to give him something to watch and maybe I put a little too much pressure on myself and got a little too upset when things didn’t go our way,” Sharp said. “There is some perspective there and it’s a lesson.”

Sharp was determined to come back following his hip surgery but the process was slow and he had to be patient. With an uncertain future, that wasn’t easy.

“It was just learning to bend at the waist again, learning to bend at the knees, getting that hip to hinge down and then graduating to things like walking, jogging and jumping and all that stuff. Nothing overly challenging. But the toughest part was just the day-to-day grind of staying with it, not knowing what the future would hold for my career,” he said. “But thankfully I’m over that.”

[MORE: Nick Schmaltz's confidence, hold on second-line center, continues to grow] 

His health no longer a question, one of the few that remains is where Sharp fits into the Blackhawks’ lineup. He could end up on the second line; coach Joel Quenneville put him there with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane in Sunday’s practice. He could also be on the third line, where he’s played with Artem Anisimov and Ryan Hartman; Sharp set up Anisimov’s goal in the Blackhawks’ loss to Columbus on Saturday night. Sharp said working with Anisimov has been easy.

“Sometimes when you get a new line or player you haven’t played with before it takes a few shifts or games to figure out how you’re going to play together. He’s just a complete player and he makes the game easy out there for his wingers. He allows me to do things I like to do on the ice,” Sharp said. “I watched him play the last two years on that great line with [Artemi] Panarin and Kane, so I feel like I know his tendencies and where he likes to camp out and how he likes to play. A guy like that, anybody can play with him.”

Sharp is healthy again. Even better, his father is feeling good again, too – “he’s golfing again and has the nicest yard in Canada,” Sharp said, adding that his dad is thrilled he’s back in Chicago, too. Sharp knows he’s been through a lot of grueling seasons and will be careful coming off his surgery. But he’s back where he wanted to be, ready to adjust and is happy again.

“I am 35, turning 36 (in December), so that possesses different obstacles throughout an 82-game season. It’s easy right now when we haven’t gotten into it yet but over six, seven months you have to take care of yourself a little bit differently than when you were 25. But I’d like to think I’m enough of a professional to be able to do that,” Sharp said. “There are a lots of ups and downs in a season. I try not to get too high or low and just enjoy the game.”

Brandon Saad back in veteran-like form for Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Brandon Saad back in veteran-like form for Blackhawks

Brandon Saad seems like more of an NHL veteran than he is. From his size to his composed style of play to what he’s already accomplished at this level, Saad gives off that vibe that he’s been around much longer than he actually has. Even his teammates forget that.

“You think he may be 27, 28 years old. He’s only 24 years old. He’s still a young kid,” Patrick Kane said. “Guys like [Ryan] Hartman and [Vinnie] Hinostroza are only 23 so he’s not much older than them, even though he might seem it. He’s got a great future.”

Saad’s future is once again being played out in Chicago and he couldn’t feel better about returning. Back in a familiar city and a familiar spot on the ice – alongside Jonathan Toews – Saad is ready to reignite the top line with Toews and Richard Panik. Outside of some scrimmages the line hasn’t gotten much of a chance to see where things are yet – their first preseason game was against Columbus on Saturday. But Saad said things are coming together.

“It was still [Toews’] first game back and my first time with him but we’re pretty familiar with each other. I don’t think it’ll take long at all,” he said following the team’s first practice at Notre Dame on Sunday. “Any time you come from a five-month summer into the season your timing’s always a little off, and then with a new player going back to a familiar player, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Toews recognized Saad’s desire to be a big part of this team when the left wing was a rookie. That drive hasn’t diminished.

“His rookie year I kept saying you could see that intangible quality in him, that he wanted to get better every single night,” Toews said. “You see players with raw, physical talent and ability but don’t take it upon themselves to be one of the guys every single night. Saader was showing that right away and you could tell he was just going to get better and better.”

The powerful part of Saad’s game the Blackhawks missed the most was evident in his first preseason contest back with him, against Detroit on Thursday. The Red Wings didn’t have their top squad but Saad was nevertheless dominant, recording a hat trick in which all three goals were within a few feet of the net. The top line has had that element here and there the past two seasons but no doubt felt Saad’s absence.

“He’s a high-end player or potential player that should develop into a regular scorer and who knows what he could do,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “I still think there’s room where maybe he could go to a better level as far as production goes, because he gets so many looks around the net with his quickness and the way he protects the puck and the way he can shoot it.”

Saad reaching another level. Again, you see what he’s done so far and you forget that he’s only 24. He still has a lot of time – and potential – ahead of him.

“He’s stepping in here knowing he’ll be one of those guys heavily keyed upon for us,” Toews said. “And he’s ready for that and excited for it.”