Hawk Talk: D-flating Weekend for Blackhawks

Hawk Talk: D-flating Weekend for Blackhawks

Sunday, Mar. 14, 2010
9:41 P.M.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

Niklas Hjalmarsson is one of the least-experienced Blackhawks at the NHL level. But he spoke wise beyond his years in assessing the team's play of late after a second come-from-ahead loss in 24 hours. In essence, he said they'll only last a "few games" in the playoffs if they continue playing as they have lately.

That's the bigger story coming out of Sunday's 4-3 home defeat than the severity of Alex Ovechkin's penalty for his hit on Brian Campbell. And the absence of Ovechkin only made the pain of the defeat hurt a little more. Tack on the fact that the much-criticized goalkeeping was actually solid for both games, and the concerns might be considered even greater. After all, that's what the players have been telling us during this goaltending debate.

The Hawks have a month to fix it so their young defenseman's prediction doesn't come true. The defensive coverage - or lack of - created those opportunities against the Flyers and the Caps, who are still pretty potent without their two-time MVP. Those are the kinds of games that'll be sitting there when the post-season bell rings - late 2-1 leads on the road....3-0 third period leads at home. And unfortunately for the guys in the middle of the roster "scratch" game, two of them ended up taking costly high-sticking penalties in that last period - Jordan Hendry and Colin Fraser. That's asking for nothing but trouble against the NHL's top power play. Not to mention one third period shot on goal for a team that racks up the most per game in th entire league.

Stan Bowman's main moves prior to the trade deadline were for defensive depth, acquiring the likes of Nick Boynton, Danny Richmond, and Jassen Cullimore - guys with NHL experience to be on-call at Rockford. Judging by the first impression of the way Campbell landed, he may have to tap into those resources for at least one, and perhaps two if Kim Johnsson needs some time. Dustin Byfuglien could move there in a pinch, as well. But another issue will be continuing to search for ways to decrease the reliance upon Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook while trying to correct the defensive issues down the stretch. Keith had almost 59 minutes of ice time in those 24 hours, Seabrook 53.

The Hawks are off to some warm weather this week. That alone won't solve things, because it's three games in four nights, and the Ducks, Kings and Coyotes will try to exploit them in similar ways until they show they can deliver again for 60 minutes. Vancouver's also back home after their 8-5-1, 14-game road trip, and might start nipping at their heels for the 2 seed if the Hawks aren't careful. If it comes to that, the Hawks might avoid the much talked-about "18" or "27" matchup, but it certainly wouldn't help erase Hjalmarsson's concern.

Like all slumps that each of us eventually encounters in our various walks of life, part of it is probably mental now. Once the first signs of "uh-oh" pops up, the thing snowballs. That is, until they figure out a formula to stop it. Even though they're a respectable 13-8-5 since that infamous third period, maybe they need that trip to Minnesota to close out this month. Perhaps they'll find some of that mojo that hasn't quite seemed the same since that 5-1 lead after two disapperared in a flash during their last trip there in early January.

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

What to make of Blackhawks blockbuster deals

Before the clock struck noon on a day Chicago was hosting its first ever NHL Draft, Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman sent shockwaves throughout the city and hockey world by completing a pair of blockbuster trades within an hour of each other.

The first was dealing three-time Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona, and the second involving Artemi Panarin and Brandon Saad in a swap of talented wingers with Columbus.

This comes two days after the Blackhawks announced Marian Hossa will miss the 2017-18 campaign with a progressive skin disorder. That's three core players gone in the blink of an eye.

Who's ready for a new era in Chicago?

Rather than maximizing a championship window that was viewed as closing quickly, Bowman has elected to take a long-term approach and it might not be the worst idea.

There's no doubt the loss of Hjalmarsson, who remains one of the most underrated blue liners in the league, and Panarin, who finished in the top-10 in scoring among forwards in both of his first two NHL seasons, will sting.

But there's a good chance the Blackhawks wouldn't have been able to reward them with the pay raises they deserve after their contracts expire following the 2018-19 season, and that certainly played a huge role in the decision to head in a new direction.

In reacquiring Saad, the Blackhawks finally give Jonathan Toews that reliable left-winger they've desperately lacked since Saad was shipped out of town in 2015, providing balance throughout the top-six. Saad is also locked up for the next four years at a $6 million cap hit that will look better as time goes by.

For the last two years, the Blackhawks were known as a one-line scoring team thanks to the chemistry developed between Patrick Kane and Panarin.

The second-half emergence of Nick Schmaltz and familiarity Kane has developed with center Artem Anisimov has allowed Panarin to become expendable in their quest to solve their top-line woes. And that's not a bad consolation line, especially when you consider top prospect Alex DeBrincat could also be in the cards as early as this season.

On the back end, the Blackhawks receive a 24-year-old defenseman in Connor Murphy, who's also signed for the next four years at a $3.85 million cap hit, and carries a right-handed shot, something they've needed more of in the organization. While there will certainly be growing pains under Joel Quenneville, Murphy's ceiling is fairly high and gives the Blackhawks some speed coming out of their own zone.

In making both of these deals, the Blackhawks got younger in their attempt to keep up with a league that relies more on speed, addressing a few areas that Nashville exposed during their first-round sweep of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

And while they may have sacrificed two key players in the short-term, the Blackhawks executed a plan that should keep the perceived championship window open longer than expected.

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

Saad Day: Blackhawks deal Artemi Panarin for familiar face

When the Blackhawks found Artemi Panarin, they found a talent who was NHL ready from the start, who found instant chemistry with Patrick Kane and earned a Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie. It was also a tremendous panacea for a team that couldn’t pull off a deal to keep Brandon Saad, who was the power forward that fit in beautifully in the Blackhawks’ top six.

On Friday, the Blackhawks brought Saad back and dealt Panarin to do it.   

Saad returns to the Blackhawks, who also acquire goaltender Anton Forsberg, in exchange for Panarin and Tyler Motte. The Blackhawks also get the Blue Jackets’ fifth-round pick in the 2018 NHL draft and the Columbus gets Chicago’s sixth-round pick from this weekend’s draft. Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the deal. The Blackhawks inherit Saad’s deal, which has four years remaining at a $6 million cap hit. Panarin was about to enter his current deal, which is two years with a $6 million cap hit. This is key for the immediate future; when Panarin’s latest deal is up, if he keeps up at his current pace, he’ll likely sign for a lot more.

[MORE: Blackhawks deal Hjalmarsson to Arizona]

The Blackhawks have missed Saad terribly since his departure. The team has struggled to find consistent line mates with Jonathan Toews, especially at that left-wing position. They did fairly well with Nick Schmaltz and Richard Panik flanking Toews this season but it wasn’t as strong as the Saad-Toews combination. So it looks like the Blackhawks’ top line will be solidified again.

Now, what about the second line? As good as Toews and Saad’s chemistry was, Panarin’s and Kane’s was dynamite. The two had their respective skill, which they flashed often, and their ability to read each other was evident from the start. The Blackhawks’ second line was as consistent and steady the past two seasons as the top line was during Saad’s time here.

So, there are changes. The Blackhawks will absolutely miss what Panarin brings. But as far as bringing back a former Blackhawks player who could help in the present, getting the 24-year-old Saad back will be very beneficial.