Examining the Blackhawks at the halfway mark

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Examining the Blackhawks at the halfway mark

Halfway through. The Chicago Blackhawks have played 41 regular-season games and have 41 left to go. So how did they do during that first half, and what do they need to do in the second?

The Blackhawks havent continued their December success in January, as theyre still looking for their first victory of the new year. And while they are no longer the best in the league, or in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks have nonetheless done pretty well in the first half.

There have been some good ones and some tough ones, but overall were in the thick of things, said Duncan Keith. I still think weve done some good things. We know theres a lot of room for improvement and a lot of areas we can get better at.

One of those areas is goals allowed. The Blackhawks have given up 120 goals so far this season, the fourth highest total in the West and the most of the conferences current top eight squads. The Blackhawks defense has been either great or struggling, and their bad games have been glaring.

For sure (there have been) too many goals, coach Joel Quenneville said after the Blackhawks gave up nine in two games this weekend. We had a great stretch prior to these last three games. Weve been solid in net, but weve given up too many of those types of goals that are preventable with position and awareness.

The Blackhawks defense was stellar through the back part of December, when they allowed two goals or less in their last seven games of 2011. That is what theyll need again for the final 41.

They also need to regain their scoring balance, which was also a December staple. When the Blackhawks have had those four lines rolling, as Quenneville likes to say, theyve been tough to beat. But the offense has quieted in January, too. Patrick Kane continues to struggle. And outside of rookies Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes goals, the teams role players have been too quiet.

The Blackhawks should be getting a little healthier soon Steve Montador was taken off the injured reserve today. And with plenty of cap space, general manager Stan Bowman will get that missing piece to push this team forward into the playoffs.

As they sit second in the West entering Sundays game against Detroit, the Blackhawks are still in good shape. But they dont want to get in too much of a rut this month, especially when there are still a lot of home games left of which to take advantage.

Were still pretty good in the standings, Niklas Hjalmarsson said. The last couple of games here havent been good enough. Hopefully we can start the second half with a couple of wins and get it rolling again.

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.”