Hawk Talk: Kris-crossed off

Hawk Talk: Kris-crossed off

Thursday, July 1, 2010
12:01 AM

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com

This didn't have anything to do with Kris Versteeg's rapping ability. It was about that 3 million cap hit.

The talented 24-year-old winger was one of those young Blackhawks re-signed in a flurry of new contracts after the paperwork snafu in order to keep them off the market at this time last year. And while Hawks GM Stan Bowman said at last weekend's draft he didn't need to make another trade in order to bring just about everyone back, there was still skepticism as Versteeg's name seemed to remain out there. With Wednesday night's trade, the Hawks are now around 8-9 million below the 59.4 million salary cap, not counting wherever Cristobal Huet's future lies.

Antti Niemi, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Andrew Ladd went into Thursday's free agent frenzy as restricted free agents, meaning the Hawks could match any offers they received. Recent history shows that teams rarely go after RFAs, despite a buzz going around the last couple days that Niemi and Hjalmarsson could become exceptions to that trend. Bowman told reporters late Wednesday night he wasn't concerned about anyone blowing the Hawks out of the water with an offer for those two, that they're not going anywhere, and they will remain with the Blackhawks. Whether or not there were (or are) any legs to those rumors, he now has the flexibility to get deals done with them, regardless. Depending on their pricetags, the Hawks GM might now end up making a signing for a "depth guy" or two from the unrestricted pool.

Versteeg will be missed, on and off the ice. His smooth offensive moves and fun personality was another example of talent and temperament so prevalent in that Stanley Cup-winning locker room. Toronto always seemed like a fit, if he had to go. They were desperate for Top-6 scoring and he should continue to blossom there, alongside another guy originally drafted by the Bruins, Phil Kessel.

It would seem like most of the "heavy lifting", roster-wise, for Bowman, is done, as far as clearing sufficient cap space, with the hope of retaining Niemi, Hjalmarsson, and Ladd. He has also re-stocked the farm system, with guys on the cusp - like Viktor Stalberg in this trade, and Jeremy Morin in last week's with Atlanta. He's added depth with the two others in this deal and last week's draft (led by the Hayes brothers). The pipeline's been filled back up with potential teammates down the road for the Toewses, Kanes, Keiths and Hossas. Now it's up to their developmental coaches to draw the best out of those kids and get them NHL-ready.

Three Wednesdays ago: Stanley Cup hysteria. One Wednesday ago: Byfuglien, Sopel, and Eager to Atlanta. This Wednesday: Versteeg to Toronto.

Are we done yet? I'd like to think so.

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

TSN coaches poll: Wild favored to win West over Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have won three Stanley Cups since 2010, and have eliminated the Minnesota Wild from the playoffs three times from 2013-15.

But it's the Wild that NHL coaches believe will win the Western Conference this season as we approach the trade deadline.

In his annual midseason poll, TSN's Bob McKenzie surveyed 25 of 30 coaches to vote on multiple categories, such as the league's best player and the team most likely to win it all.

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According to the survey, 11 coaches predicted the Wild will win the West while the Blackhawks and Sharks tied for second with four votes.

As for winning the Stanley Cup, the Washington Capitals are the favorite, earning 10 votes, followed closely by the reigning champion Pittsburgh Penguins with eight. The Wild and Blackhawks rounded out the poll with three and two votes, respectively.

Joel Quenneville earned one vote as the NHL's best coach, which is three fewer votes than he had last year, despite this year being arguably his most challenging — and best — coaching job since arriving in Chicago, given the youth on the roster.

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Incentive. For many young prospects trying to latch onto an NHL roster, there's already plenty of it there. It's a chance at playing on a bigger stage, a bigger opportunity for a career and, if you're on a two-way contract, a bigger paycheck.

Tanner Kero already had that incentive but in November, received an even more special one: he and his wife welcomed their first child, a boy. Now when Kero plays, it's not just what it means for him. It's what it means for his family.

"It's been a fun experience. It's something a little extra special that you play for," Kero said. "You get your mind away from the game when you go home. You just relax and enjoy that part of life. It's just something extra to play for and it's been special."

Kero has been making the most of his second shot with the Blackhawks, recording two goals and two assists on the Blackhawks' dads trip. That included a three-point night against the Colorado Avalanche and a building chemistry with line mates Vinnie Hinostroza and Marian Hossa. 

Coach Joel Quenneville likes what he's seen thus far.

"He did a great job for us," Quenneville said. "Defensively, we like his availability in his own end. We like his positioning offensively. He had a nice couple of games to finish the dads trip but he's been good for us. I like the consistency."

Rockford coach Ted Dent said Kero started playing better in November, not long after Kero became a dad. Whether or not that had anything to do with it Dent didn't know, but the results were there nonetheless.

"I think he'd be the first to say his season started off slow with us and he finally caught his stride, maybe 15-20 games into our season," Dent said. "He was skating better, skating stronger, he had more confidence with the puck and things just came together."

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Kero's line is a good blend of familiarity, defense and skill. Kero and Hinostroza are good friends who played together plenty in Rockford. Hossa is... well, Hossa, and pretty much benefits any line mate.

"It's been good," Kero said. "We've been trying to continue, get some secondary scoring. But we also want to be relied on defensively, be counted on to play in big situations, a defensive draw, at the end of a period or end of a game. We're trying to focus on being good defensively, being simple and hard to play against. We're getting fortunate enough to contribute offensively as well."

Hossa, whose game-winning goal in Boston came off a Kero feed, said the 24-year-old is adapting well.

"Since they called him up he took it to his advantage. Right now he's playing the 200-foot game, [he's] real smart in our zone, doesn't panic, makes the right play at the right time, and he's showing more offensive abilities," Hossa said. "It seems like things are going well for him and we're glad we can help as a third line right now in scoring some important goals. With young players, that's definitely big."

Kero's made an impact and an impression with the Blackhawks. Quenneville said on Sunday that, even when Marcus Kruger returns from his injury, Kero will likely remain where he is – "I don't see too many things that would change his positioning because he really helped himself," Quenneville said.

"That comment tells you the trust level he's gained in Kero," Dent said. "I knew over time that Kero was a player that Q was going to love. I've gotten to know Q over the years and in talking to him I know what he likes in players and it was just a matter of time because Kero's a responsible two-way player. He doesn't cheat the game and he's very aware of his defensive responsibilities and that's what Q loves, first and foremost. A lot of us coaches love that."

Kero is making strides in his second stint with the Blackhawks. He already had plenty of incentive to make an impact on this roster. Now a new father, he has that much more of one.