Report: Mike Kitchen turns down coaching position from Blackhawks division rival

Report: Mike Kitchen turns down coaching position from Blackhawks division rival

After being relieved of his duties in April, former Blackhawks assistant coach Mike Kitchen was reportedly offered the same position with the Minnesota Wild but turned it down, according to Sportsnet's John Shannon.

The move would have kept Kitchen within the Central Divison, and perhaps it played a role in his decision. Kitchen spent seven seasons behind the bench with Joel Quenneville in Chicago, where he was part of two Stanley Cup runs in 2013 and 2015.

John Stevens stepped down as an assistant this summer after one season in Minnesota, creating an opening on Bruce Boudreau's staff. Stevens was in charge of the team's penalty kill unit and defensemen, responsibilities that Kitchen also held during his time with the Blackhawks.

The fit was there for both sides, but the timing of it could have been a factor for Kitchen as well.

The Wild are hoping to round out their coaching staff before the NHL Draft next weekend, per the Star Tribune's Michael Russo; Sabres assistant coach Bob Woods has emerged as the new front-runner to land the job.

Blackhawks offseason thoughts: on staying indoors and salary caps

Blackhawks offseason thoughts: on staying indoors and salary caps

It was such a strange sight to see you wondered if it was a typo. When the NHL released its 2017-18 schedule of special events, there were two outdoor games listed but the Blackhawks weren’t in either of them.

The Blackhawks’ participation in these games had become so commonplace that you just expected it to be part of the schedule every season. But for the first time since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season (when there wasn’t any outdoor games), the Blackhawks will be playing all their contests indoors.

This a good thing, a bit of a relief. Listen, the outdoor games are still fun to a degree especially if they’re new to you. But with everything else, the bloom falls off the rose when you’re inundated with the same teams playing every year. You need variety of teams and you need different locations – Minnesota and St. Louis finally got their opportunities the past two seasons, and provided wonderful settings. The NHL putting games at the service academies is another great idea. Again, keep the variety going.

From the Blackhawks’ standpoint, there’s probably another reason they need a break: they haven’t fared well in these games. Most of the games have been close – we’ll not get into that 2015 debacle in Minnesota – but the Blackhawks have nevertheless lost four of the five outdoor games they’ve played. Their lone win was that 2014 snow-globe-like game at Soldier Field.

At the same time we don’t expect the Blackhawks’ absence from the outdoor games to last for long. They move the dials, whether they win or not. But for right now, the break from the spectacle game is a good one.

-------------------------

Speaking of recurrent themes with the Blackhawks… NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said on Monday that the 2017-18 salary cap could be anywhere from the $73 million it was this season to $77 million, depending on if the NHLPA agrees to exercise the 5-percent inflator. Chances are that happens, giving teams a little more wiggle room.

The Blackhawks will have decisions to make no matter what, but the less the cap goes up the worse it’ll be. According to Capfriendly.com, the Blackhawks’ current projected cap hit for 2017-18 is $77,520,628. That includes performance bonuses from the 2016-17 season (close to $3.56 million) and the new contracts for Richard Panik ($2.8 million) and Michal Kempny ($900K), both of whom recently re-signed.

It’s going to be another season of the Blackhawks trying to shed a medium-to-sizeable contract and leaning on young (read: inexpensive) players to fill in the gaps. Regarding the latter part of that equation, the present and future look bright. Ryan Hartman is coming off a great season. Nick Schmaltz looked better in the second half and should improve. If Tyler Motte can reach pre-injury levels, he could make an impact. But shedding the money is going to be the critical issue.

So many contracts with no-movement clauses, instances in which you’ll have to convince the player you currently have as much as the potential trade partner that his going elsewhere is a good idea. As I’ve mentioned previously the Blackhawks did do this before; Brian Campbell and his then-massive contract was traded to the Florida Panthers at the 2011 NHL draft. Can they do something like that again?

The Blackhawks should shed some salary in the expansion draft, especially if the Vegas Golden Knights pluck Marcus Kruger and his $3.08 cap hit. But again, nothing is guaranteed.

The numbers are kind of/sort of in on the 2017-18 cap. Chances are the cap will go up and give the Blackhawks some breathing room. But it won’t be much and it’ll be another offseason of serious math. Considering contracts they have on the roster, the math will just be that much tougher.

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

Will lopsided loss shake Blackhawks from their slumber?

The Blackhawks have talked the past several games now about how they need to play better, how they need to get back to their 60-minute game. But even when you tell yourself you have to improve the message doesn't always translate into immediate action. That's especially true if, despite so-so play, you're still managing victories or still eking out a point.

Sometimes, you need a jolt to realize you have to get better. Well, that thud the Blackhawks made in South Florida ought to get their attention. 

The Blackhawks' 7-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Saturday night, that "ugly, ugly game," as coach Joel Quenneville, is the latest in what's been a mediocre stretch for the team. They've been leaning on their goaltending again (please see Minnesota, Montreal, Ottawa and Dallas games). Or they've been leaning on their ability to wake up in the third period after sleepwalking through the first two. Sixty-minute games and four-line rotations, such a big part of the Blackhawks' success through February and early March, have been absent.

Call it the Blackhawks' mid-March malaise.

[VIVID SEATS: Buy Blackhawks tickets] 

It hasn't been more painful because the Blackhawks have still found ways to get points. Or at least they did until Saturday night, when two "yapping" penalties – Quenneville's (accurate) description of Ryan Hartman and Marcus Kruger's unsportsmanlike calls – started the Blackhawks' demise against the Panthers. Players told the traveling media following the game that this was a wake-up call. It ought to be.

Granted, the Blackhawks' late-season issues aren't as bad as some of their fellow Western Conference teams. The Minnesota Wild are 3-10-1 in March. The San Jose Sharks have lost six in a row. This also isn't the first time the Blackhawks have gone through this late-season mediocrity.

Entering the 2015 postseason they struggled to score goals and lost four in a row (five goals in those four games). It turned out alright. Still, best to avoid bad habits.

Perhaps the Blackhawks are in a bit of a swoon because, really, there's not much for which to play in these final few games. They don't care if they win the Presidents' Trophy (and they probably won't). They're currently in first place by seven points following the Wild's 3-2 overtime loss to Detroit on Sunday. Whether the Blackhawks finish first or second, they'll start this postseason at home. 

So is this panic-inducing? No. Is it a concern? Certainly. The Blackhawks can't start thinking they'll automatically flip the switch as soon as the postseason begins.

The Blackhawks want to get their four-line rotation going again. Artem Anisimov returning in the next week or two will certainly help that. They want to get their overall game going again. The Blackhawks have been telling themselves what needs to be done for a few games now. Maybe they needed a wake-up call. On Saturday, they got it.