Hawk Talk: Signs of life at the deadline

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Hawk Talk: Signs of life at the deadline

Friday, Feb. 25, 2011Posted: 6:20 p.m.

By Chris Boden
CSNChicago.com
Two road wins against teams just as desperate. Stars stepping up. Compete levels being raised and physical sacrifices being made.

The last five games havent been perfect for the Blackhawks, but thats not even necessary. Or realistic. Hopefully, its not what Hawks fans are hoping or expecting. But its as consistently well as theyve played all season, showing signs of what theyre capable of. You can make an argument that the four-game stretch prior to Christmas was just as good. But its what everyones been looking for, from management to coaches to fans to the players themselves. Next up: Building upon it and carrying it into the playoffs.

They have to. Right now, all hands are on deck from a health standpoint, while many other contenders are continuing their post-season fight battling key injuries (Nashville, Minnesota, Anaheim and Dallas). Thursday night, it was an awfully quiet night for the Preds best players. You didnt hear Pat and Eddie call the names of Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Patric Hornqvist, Mike Fisher or Sergei Kostitsyn very often in a threatening way. You also saw the Hawks block 21 shots (13 by defensemen). Over the last three games, 21s been the team average.

Marian Hossas burst through the middle of the ice in the third period, breaking away, and beating one of the leagues elite goalies in Pekka Rinne with the game in the balance Thursday was another sight to see. As was his overpowering of the Blues David Backes Monday before setting up a Dave Bolland goal. It was just the second time since Hossas blazing start to the season (prior to his first injury) that hes scored a goal that wasnt on a power play, empty net, or penalty shot. I would imagine hes aware of it, and been feeling it as much as the aches, pains and illnesses hes gone through following three straight long runs to the Stanley Cup Finals.

And if you didnt catch it right after the game on Comcast SportsNet, interesting stuff from Duncan Keith while talking with Foley and Olczyk:

I always find I play my best keeping the game simple, not trying to do too much, and just let the game come. Early on, you come back after a long season and I had a lot of hunger to try to do whatever I could to have a successful season, and thinking in my head, trying to repeat everything that happened last season. I shouldve just been letting it happen. I feel a lot more comfortable the last month. I just want to keep going to help the team get in the playoffs.

Its a fine line the coaching staff has to negotiate when it comes to leaning on your best players. There have been so many tight games, and their heavy workload following the Stanley Cup run cannot be dismissed. The top four defensemen have been burning up minutes, though the recent changes in combinations has helped offset the heavy, high-pressure special teams time. Thats why Stan Bowmans come out and said he wants to acquire a proven blue-line guy before Mondays trade deadline who can take some of the penalty-kill burden off of those guys. It would appear hes closer to doing that after placing Nick Boynton (and the 500,000 salary space it would open up) on waivers Friday. Throw that into what cap space they have left open, in part due to the Nick LeddyRockford shuttle, and a new D-man should be on the way in short order.

As we wait on any potential deals thatll put the finishing touches on the rosters of the playoff-chasers, a reminder that the first tie-breaker in the standings is now wins that do NOT include shootout wins. Here are the regulationovertime victory totals of the teams that entered the weekend 3 through 13 in the West (with the number of wins that include shootouts in parentheses):

San Jose 32 (35)Phoenix 30 (33)Los Angeles 27 (34)Minnesota 30 (32)Blackhawks 28 (32)Dallas 27 (32)Nashville 25 (31)Calgary 24 (31)Anaheim 28 (32)Columbus 26 (30)St. Louis 25 (27)

Chris Boden is the host of Blackhawks Pre and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet.

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.”