Nearing return, Toews pleased with Hawks' success

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Nearing return, Toews pleased with Hawks' success

Jonathan Toews was tired for all the right reasons on Thursday.

The Blackhawks captain went through another strong skate, something hes done for more than a week now, and he can just about see the light at the end of his concussion tunnel.

Toews said hes getting very, very close to taking contact on the ice. And if that goes well and he passes the medical tests necessary with this injury, he could be back in the lineup next week.

Im not sure if its official. If its not today itll be soon enough, Toews said when asked if he had been cleared for contact. Im getting very, very close. Getting to this point and not playing is the toughest thing to do but at the same time its smart. I definitely need a few more days.

Coach Joel Quenneville said that while Toews could get some contact in the next day or so, hes obviously out this weekend. As for when Toews will play, Quenneville said thats simple.

When hes ready to go, he said. It has to come from the player and there are things they have to pass. From both angles, hes doing the right things.

Still, when he does return, Toews knows hes unlikely to just pick up where he left off. Dave Bolland was one of the rare exceptions when he came back from a month-long out with a concussion last April. From Game 4 on against Vancouver, Bolland was stellar.

He definitely made it look easy, Toews said of Bolland. Im going through somewhat the same thing he did, but its not going to be easy at all. But like him, I just want to go back on the ice and fit in wherever I can. Its all about adding to the mix and not doing too much.

As tough as its been for Toews to watch, the Blackhawks success without him a 10-5-2 record has tempered that somewhat.

We have a good group; we dont rely on just one guy, Toews said. Its tough when key players are missing. You realize how much you need them out there. The 15 games or so Ive missed, guys realize they want to keep winning, hang in there and play playoff hockey. Its about doing all those little things right and its good to see that. It makes you want to come back even more.

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

Blackhawks fire assistant coach Mike Kitchen

When Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman addressed the media on Saturday, he said that there would be change. That started on Monday when assistant coach Mike Kitchen was fired.

The move came five days after the Blackhawks were swept out of the first round by the Nashville Predators. Bowman said in a statement that, “we believe this decision is best for our organization moving forward. Mike had an impact on two different Stanley Cup championship teams during his tenure in Chicago. We appreciate his many contributions and wish he and his family success in the future.”

Kitchen has been a member of coach Joel Quenneville’s staff since 2010. The two go back to their playing days, however, when they were teammates with the Colorado Rockies and also the New Jersey Devils. Kitchen was Quenneville’s assistant when the two were with the St. Louis Blues and when Quenneville was fired as Blues coach midway through the 2003-04 season, Kitchen was promoted to head coach.

As part of the Blackhawks’ staff Kitchen’s focus on special teams, mainly the penalty kill. That kill finished the regular season 24th overall in the league, although that has to come with an asterisk. The penalty kill started the 2016-17 season so poorly that it was never going to get too far out of the basement. It did get stronger as the season wore on, and it was fourth overall during the Blackhawks’ short stay in the playoffs.

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

Which Blackhawks will be participating in 2017 IIHF World Championships?

The Blackhawks' season ended much sooner than expected after being swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Nashville Predators.

But for some players, their hockey season may not be finished yet.

The IIHF World Championships begin May 5, and an early postseason exit gives several Blackhawks an opportunity to play in the tournament.

With the National Hockey League saying it will not participate in the 2018 Winter Olympics, players may be more inclined to join given the uncertainty of when they'll be able to represent their countries again — if ever, for some.

Here's an update on which Blackhawks players could be participating:

— Patrick Kane said Saturday he's taking the weekend to mull over Team USA's offer, and will make a final decision in the next "day or two."

— Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews each declined their invites from Team Canada, electing to use a lengthy offseason to recharge and focus on training for the 2017-18 NHL season.

— Corey Crawford and Nick Schmaltz said they have not been contacted by their respective countries, but both said they would consider going if they are.

— Artemi Panarin has reportedly already accepted Team Russia's offer to play.

— Niklas Hjalmarsson said he's "thinking about" Team Sweden's offer after the NHL's decision not to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics. "Who knows when I'll ever get a chance to play for my country again, so that might be factor," he said.

— Marcus Kruger said he's talking with Team Sweden officials, and has expressed interest in going.

— Marian Hossa said he informed Team Slovakia that he will not be playing: "Let the young guys play."

— Richard Panik will not be participating either, saying he doesn't want to risk injury as he seeks a new contract.