Blackhawks will be well represented at NHL All-Star Game

Blackhawks will be well represented at NHL All-Star Game

The Blackhawks players started banging their sticks on the ice following coach Joel Quenneville’s announcement.

One year after having just one representative at the NHL All-Star Game, the Blackhawks are slated to have four this year.

Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews were named to this year’s All-Star Game, which will be Jan. 29 in Los Angeles. It was a privilege for all selected and for one, somewhat of a surprise.

“I really didn’t expect to hear my name get called for the all-star game this year, knowing how great of a season (Marian Hossa, Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov) are having. No doubt about it, they’re much more deserving,” said Toews, who was also selected last season but had to bow out due to illness. “In some ways maybe they can take advantage of the rest and continue the way they’re playing after the game. But definitely would like to see those guys get what they deserve and get that recognition.”

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Indeed, based on their performances this season, there’s certainly a case for all three of those players who aren’t going. Anisimov leads the Blackhawks with 18 goals. Hossa has 16 goals and Panarin is second on the team with 41 points (Kane leads with 44).

For Kane and Toews, this is the sixth time they’ve been selected for the game. This is Keith’s fourth selection and Crawford’s second. Kane, last year’s lone Blackhawks representative after Toews fell ill, said it’ll be nice to have a few teammates along.

“It’s a lot more enjoyable, a lot more fun when you have your teammates there,” said Kane, who agreed others could have easily been selected, too. “You could throw Anisimov in there, Hossa, Hjalmarsson, [Brent Seabrook], we could have a bunch of guys going. I guess there are only so many spots given.”

There are always guys who get left off these rosters. It’s the way it goes with trying to get other teams’ represented. But the Blackhawks will still get a good group of players headed to the game, and they’ll enjoy the weekend.

“Every time you get named to something like this, special feeling. A lot of great players in the league who could go but aren’t going,” Keith said. “I’m fortunate to be part of a group of great players that make me play better, too.”

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Blackhawks notebook: A busy draft, free agency and RFAs

Eight draft picks in about 3 ½ hours. It was a busy Saturday for the Blackhawks, and when general manager Stan Bowman talked that afternoon about the team’s Day 2 haul, he came prepared.

“I have my little cheat sheet,” Bowman said of the paper on which he had written the Blackhawks’ eight newest prospects.

After a few days’ worth of moves the Blackhawks focused on the future, taking nine players over two days at the NHL Draft. It was a successful weekend for the Blackhawks, who hosted the draft for the first time and built up assets, especially on the blue line. Five of the Blackhawks’ nine selections were defensemen.

“One of the things we talked about was looking at the market. There’s a high value on defensemen. We’re not necessarily looking at the draft but our team this year and over the next couple of years; those are the assets that are valuable around the league,” Bowman said. “Look at the trade Calgary made [for Travis Hamonic], defensemen are a valuable commodity. That was a priority coming in and we were able to accomplish it.”

What comes next

The Blackhawks got what they wanted at this weekend’s draft but the focus will soon shift, as free agency opens on July 1. It remains to be seen what the Blackhawks will have cap-wise come a week from now. Currently, according to CapFriendly.com, they’re $1.445 million over the $75 million cap. It’s doubtful the Blackhawks apply the long-term injured reserve tag on Marian Hossa during the offseason. It’s possible they could still trade Marcus Kruger to gain some space. Bowman said, one way or another, “there will be some movement.”

“We’ll bring some players in, I don’t know how many, what position or what level,” he said. “This is where there’s a lot of activity, the couple weeks in the middle of June until the middle of July. That’s when the most changes happen. We’ll go to work, now that we’re past this.”

Wait for it

The Blackhawks also have to decide whether or not to qualify restricted free agents Dennis Rasmussen and Tomas Jurco. Bowman said that’ll be decided by Monday.

“I’ve had discussions with both agents,” he said. “I don’t have an answer right now but we’ll have that worked out in the next day and a half.”

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson reflects on time with Blackhawks: 'I had the best time in Chicago'

Niklas Hjalmarsson heard some of the rumors, but not to a large degree. The former Blackhawks defenseman wasn’t spending a lot of time on the internet reading up on his potential fate. He figured he’d still stay put in Chicago.

“But when my agent called me about the 10-team list, I understood it was serious. Stan [Bowman] wouldn’t ask for that unless they made up their mind already,” Hjalmarsson said via conference call on Saturday. “That’s when it hit me that I’m probably not going to put the Hawks jersey on anymore.”

Indeed, Hjalmarsson’s next jersey will be that of the Arizona Coyotes, who acquired him in exchange for defenseman Connor Murphy on Friday. Hjalmarsson’s departure marks the end of the line for another Blackhawks core player, and this one is jarring in how it will change the team’s defense.

Speaking of change, Hjalmarsson faces a lot of it himself now. Sure, there’s the obvious change for a guy who’s played his entire career in one place. It’s new surroundings and a new team, on which he knows former Blackhawks teammate Antti Raanta and fellow countryman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

But the Coyotes have dealt with a lot of upheaval lately. Goaltender Mike Smith is gone. So is veteran Shane Doan. On Thursday, head coach Dave Tippett and the Coyotes parted ways.

“They’re on a rebuild, a lot of new faces, lot of changes,” Hjalmarsson said. “It’s tough to know what to expect but I think they’re a hungry organization that wants to win like other teams. I’m looking forward to try to contribute with playing my game, just try to get the organization back in the playoffs.”

Hjalmarsson should find chemistry with Ekman-Larsson – the two were teammates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi – and Hjalmarsson will likely play a bigger role with the Coyotes. Arizona will probably look to Hjalmarsson a lot during its rebuild, given his Cup-winning history.

The first 24 hours were full of mixed emotions of Hjalmarsson. With his limited no-move clause, he was always a likely candidate to be moved from a Blackhawks team laden will full no-move clauses. He’s turning a page, but he won’t forget his time in Chicago anytime soon.

“I’m trying to always be a positive guy,” Hjalmarsson said. “I spent my whole 20s in Chicago, 10 unbelievable years. I didn’t think I’d win three Cups. Hopefully I can get one more before my career is over. I had the best time in Chicago, enjoyed every single year, playing in front of the best fans in the league. I’ve been spoiled. Now it’s time for me and my family to move on and seize the opportunity in Arizona and create some new fond memories.”