Pack your bags, Hawks hitting the road

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Pack your bags, Hawks hitting the road

The Chicago Blackhawks figured theyd spend some time on the road early in this abbreviated season. That circus trip bit the dust with the lockout, but that lengthy road trip while the Disney ice show is in town remained.

So not only do the Blackhawks face a frenzied game schedule, theyll be on the road for a good chunk of it right out of the gate.

The Blackhawks will play 10 of their first 12 games on the road, including six on that ice show trip, part of the teams regular-season schedule that was released on Saturday night.

RELATED: Check out the 2013 Blackhawks schedule

The NHLPA ratified the new collective bargaining agreement on Saturday but schedules couldnt be officially released until both the PA and NHL agreed to and signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The two sides spent most of Saturday working on that.

For the Blackhawks, the road test starts immediately: at noon on Jan. 19 they play the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, who plan to raise their Stanley Cup banner that day.

The next night theyre in Phoenix, facing a Coyotes team that booted them from the 2011-12 postseason. Phoenix forward Raffi Torres will still be serving his suspension for elbowing Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa in the head in Game 3 last April. The six-game ice show trip features treks to Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, San Jose, Phoenix and Nashville.

PHOTOS:A look inside the Hawks first 10 games

Not that the home schedule will be any easier. The Blackhawks will host the St. Louis Blues in its season opener on Jan. 22, then the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 27.

The schedule was already going to be hectic, given the leagues desire to get a 48-game season starting by Jan. 19. For the Blackhawks, however, the road presents another tough task to a team hoping to get off to a strong start.

But Bryan Bickell, when asked about the potential early road onslaught on Friday, didnt see it as a liability.

Well do some team bonding on the road; just to get some chemistry and get to know everybody. I know I havent seen most of these guys for four months, Bickell said. Every games important, whether we start at home or the road. And its going to be good to have the home games late because it may come down to that.

True, but if it comes down to that at the end its because the Blackhawks bobbed and wove their way through a brutal early road schedule oh, and their two home games in between all that travel are against division rivals St. Louis and Detroit.

The Blackhawks mettle will be tested early. And it will be tested far away from their friendly United Center setting.

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.”