Competition for roster spots will be intense

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Competition for roster spots will be intense

Thursday's discouraging news on the labor front, in which NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced there would be a lockout on September 15 if a new collective bargaining agreement is not reached, has a trickle-down effect.
It likely means the Blackhawks and the 29 other teams will be even quieter on player movement until a new CBA is reached. General Managers still wanting to make roster moves can have discussions and perhaps set the table for doing things in what could well be a flurry of activity once the labor pains go away.As I wrote earlier in the week, I believe Stan Bowman wouldn't mind making some moves, but he doesn't necessarily feel he has to if he's not getting what he'd like in return. Sure, every fan has their trade proposals, realistic or not, from either team's standpoint. But it's also not Fantasy Hockey, it's the real thing. The Hawks' Vice President and General Manager has made one move this offseason, signing former Anaheim defenseman Sheldon Brookbank to add some size and toughness on the back, and hopefully an effective penalty-killing option.While there have been some names rumored to be on the trading block, let's take a closer look at what happens if the Hawks end up standing pat, whenever the 2012-13 training camp and regular season gets underway. It would result in some spirited competition for roster spots and ice time, primarily because some young players Hawks fans have been intrigued (or excited) by are on the verge of playing at the highest level.Toews, Sharp, Hossa, and Kane are four of the top six forwards. Part of the decision in your mock lineup has to do with whether Kane winds up at center. Since the post-playoff news conference, it sounds as if that's become less likely. And barring a deal to bring in a number-two pivot, Marcus Kruger and Dave Bolland would be your second-and-third-line centers, or vice-versa.If Viktor Stalberg's on the roster, he'd seem best suited on the top two lines rather than the bottom two as the team expects him to become a more complete player on the defensive end. Do you then reunite the effective second line when Toews was sidelined late last season, which was Stalberg-Kruger-Sharp? Provided you do that, then who plays with Toews and Kane? An agitatorgrinder like Carcillo or Shaw? Does Brandon Saad continue to impress in camp and bring additional size to that line? You can only pick one, so the other two have to be dropped down somewhere.Moving to the so-called "third line" - with Bolland or Kruger in the middle. Is the best bet (or do you expect) to reunite the best line in the playoffs the last two seasons - Bolland, Bickell and Frolik? The wingers didn't come close to carrying that momentum into last regular season and combined for their share of healthy scratches. Of the trio mentioned earlier for top-line options, just one makes it. The other two must drop down somewhere. Here? Fourth line? Is Jimmy Hayes ready to grab full-time duty at this level? That comes with the knowledge that, similar to Saad, they need to play regularly to grow into whatever potential you project for them.There's one more line to fill out. Figure Jamal Mayers as one piece. Brandon Bollig became a likable addition last season, but if everyone's healthy at the start, is there a spot for him? Did you like the upsides of Ben Smith and Jeremy Morin a year ago? Did the fact each struggled with injuries last season ruin their realistic chances to contribute this year? Or can they provide things this Hawks team could use, with the opportunity to grow with regular playing time? The Stanley Cup isn't won (but could certainly be lost) in the first couple of months. And I haven't even brought up the name of the player generally considered the best, start-to-finish, at Rockford last season, Brandon Pirri.So that's 18 forwards for 12 spots. As the roster stands, figure 10 are pretty much "locks" for the regular lineup (Sharp, Carcillo, Kruger, Toews, Mayers, Stalberg, Bolland, Shaw, Hossa, Kane). That leaves two spots to fight over. See? A trade package could loosen things up a bit. Or you have a lot of guys needing to earn it under what should be a head coach carrying a much more critical eye into this season.Bowman has eight defensemen with NHL experience. We know Keith, Seabrook, Leddy and Oduya will play. What'll be more curious is whether skaters Leddy and Oduya remain paired like they were in the playoffs, or if it's better to have a more physical presence beside them, and how Hjalmarsson fits into the mix. Brookbank is here, Montador remains, and how high is Dylan Olsen's upside? All of them will have to be better with what they're here to do, by definition of their position. Corey Crawford must do a better job of bailing them out the times they do get too loose.There's no question improvement from these younger players, whose time is almost here, can make this team better. There are size and "sandpaper" elements on this massive list that could conceivably repair the power play. I've also mentioned in the past how I'd love to see Olsen work on his booming shot so that it could potentially be a factor on the power play. Maybe the team has him doing that. Can enough of these ingredients fix the special teams next season?Unless Stan Bowman gets what he wants in return (and by the numbers, you can see there are options to package on the market with the right trade partner), it's just about time to see how "NHL-legit" some of these kids can be. All of you have in your own minds what the upside is on all these players, young and experienced.
So break out your pencil. Make sure it has an eraser. And draw up who stays...and who goes...if Stan stands pat.

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.”