Boden: Penguins' pain threshold

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Boden: Penguins' pain threshold

A year ago, the Blackhawks had 144 man games lost to injury. This year, they've had all of 22. Pittsburgh had well over 300 a year ago. They've had more than 160 this year.

Brent Seabrook, who suffered a nasty, illegal hit at the hands of Rene Bourque during Sunday night's game, did travel with the Blackhawks to Pittsburgh but it's unknown if he will play Tuesday. Bourque received a two-game suspension from the NHL on Monday.

Even with this injury, the Blackhawks can count their blessings with how healthy they've been. But they can also look across the ice Tuesday night and see the team that's been best at handling health issues. Sidney Crosby has missed 25 games and still has only faced the Hawks just twice in his career (none in the past five seasons). All-Star defenseman Kris Letang's missed 11 games total, and hasn't played since Thanksgiving weekend. Same goes for fellow blueliner Zbynek Michalek. Evgeni Malkin missed seven games earlier. There are others. Those are just the bigger names. But the Penguins came into Monday tied for the fourth-best point total in the East -- after losing four of their last six. They lost those 300-plus man-games a year ago, and Dan Bylsma amazingly led them to the second-highest point total in the East before exiting in the first round of the playoffs. Think of the Hawks playing without Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane a year ago.

"They've learned how to play without their star players and it shows that they don't give anybody easy games," said Toews. "When it comes to playing Eastern Conference teams we're not used to seeing it comes down to us and our preparation. We've been playing much better, getting the starts we need, we've been (penalty-) killing better and paying better attention to detail. When we do that, our skill takes over."

"They're right at the top of their conference and play well with whoever they have in their lineup," added Duncan Keith. "We know it's gonna be a tough game. It'll be exciting to go into Pittsburgh and play our first game in their new building."

Joel Quenneville, who reached the 600-coaching-win mark Sunday night quicker than anyone in NHL history except for the legendary Scotty Bowman, speaks of highly of what Bylsma's been able to pull off.

"You gotta commend them with how well they play their team game and their commitment for doing the right things all over the ice. They play hard and play a physical brand and don't give you a lot of time or space. Everybody's kind of stepped up to the challenge of missing key guys and finding ways to win. It's not easy to do over long periods of time even though I think initially you might get a little jolt out of it, but you have to commend them over sustaining it over time."

But the Hawks who've been playing for Quenneville almost 3-12 seasons -- particularly two of the guys who have letters on the front of their jerseys -- know what they have in their leader after they helped him reach that milestone Sunday.

"You don't get to that point without knowing a thing or two about hockey," said Toews. "He's done nothing but good things since coming into this locker room. I think for the guys in here, you take satisfaction in getting wins like (Sunday's) for your coach, knowing what he puts into our team every single day."

Said Keith: "He's been huge, coming in here and settling down our team. He really gave us that experience and leadership and capped it off with the Cup. 600 wins is a lot of wins. It's impressive, and I don't think it's a coincidence when you get that many."

If you think about it, Quenneville just turned 53 in September. Would he coach, say, another ten years? While appearing to handle the stress of the job quite well on the exterior, who knows what toll it takes (see last year's missed time that seemed to surprise everyone). But he's been at this awhile. Every coach in every sport has a "shelf life," but with this Blackhawks core in place the next few years, how high can his win total go? The 21 victories this year put him fourth in club history with 159, three behind Rudy Pilous, and 23 behind Bob Pulford, so he very well could become the second-winningest coach in franchise history before the season is out. Billy Reay's 516 victories tops the organization.

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.”