The So-Cal Blackhawks Connection

615636.png

The So-Cal Blackhawks Connection

With Calgary in town to face the Blackhawks Sunday night, the Flames former Head Coach and General Manager is reportedly dotting Is and crossing Ts to take over behind the Los Angeles Kings bench for the fired Terry Murray and Interim Head Coach John Stevens. Darryl Sutters wrapping up the business of getting back to the NHL after being fired as Flames GM about a year ago. That means the crosstown southern California rivals will be coached by former Blackhawks teammates, thanks to an earlier coaching call by a third member of the 1985-86 Hawks.

A few weeks back, Anaheim GM Bob Murray pulled the plug on coach Randy Carlyle about as reluctantly as Kings GM Dean Lombardi was forced to with Terry Murray last week. Bob Murray a co-captain on that Hawks squad with Sutter 26 years ago brought in Bruce Boudreau just two days after he was fired by Washington. Boudreaus seven-game Blackhawks career took place that same season. Those two are reunited in the difficult task of trying to resuscitate the Ducks to the level they played in the second half of last season.

Sutter, meanwhile, is a curious move. If theres anyone whos not L.A., its Darryl. Or any of the Sutter brothers, for that matter. Yes, he has long and strong relationship with Lombardi, but his reputation as a task-master, the fact he hasnt coached in five years, and his defense first philosophy make me wonder if this will be a good fit. Defense hasnt been the Kings problem (with the NHLs 5th-best goals-against average entering Saturday night), its their league-worst offense.

Meanwhile, another former Blackhawk was involved in the leagues sixth head coaching change this season on Saturday. Randy Cunneyworth who played briefly for the Hawks 18 years ago takes over for the rest of the season in Montreal after the firing of Jacques Martin. Cunneyworth was an assistant under Martin, but only speaks English. The last Canadiens head coach who didnt speak French as well was Al McNeil back in 1970, before Scotty Bowman took over and won the Stanley Cup the next season. Good luck with the media and fans there, Randy. The Habs visit the United Center to face the Blackhawks Wednesday.

One other note: During a casual get-together with reporters Friday morning before his teams game with the Hawks, Boudreau was asked about his memories of that brief stint here as a player. He said the organization treated him well, but he wished it lasted longer than seven games. Pully (Coach Bob Pulford) never put me in, he laughed.

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.”