On deck: Two tests against the West

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On deck: Two tests against the West

The Blackhawks sidestepped The Long Island Trap Thursday. Yeah, they blew a 2-0 lead, and needed overtime, but overall it was still a solid road effort against a team whose only two losses in their last six games have come in extra time against the Hawks.

The fact theyd already beaten New York a week ago and were skating in a building with an awful atmosphere showed they were mentally and emotionally locked-in, and they seem to have done that better on the road of late (four straight wins) than at home (1-1-1 since returning from the Circus Trip).

Next up, theyll need to carry that over in their next two games against two of the best in the West one expected, the other a surprise. San Joses been spinning its wheels a bit of late, but got their second win in their last six Thursday vs. Dallas. The Hawks will be looking to avenge their 1-0 loss in a well-played game in the Shark Tank on Thanksgiving Eve, when Antti Niemi shut them out. The Hawks have a 7-point edge on the Sharks, but San Jose has four games in-hand.

After that Sunday game, its two more days off before a trip for their first up-close look at the Wild story in Minnesota. The Wild and Hawks have each played a conference-high 29 games, but Minny has a three-point edge, courtesy of a six-game win streak the last three of which have opened a 5-game trip (Anaheim, San Jose and Los Angeles). Theyll finish it off Saturday in Phoenix, then Tuesday in Winnipeg before coming home to finish off three games in four nights against the Hawks, so thats an advantage the visitors should have.

But while the Hawks are trying to climb up the defensive rankings (13th in the West entering the weekend), the Wild have done it with D under new head coach Mike Yeo. Their 2.14 goals-against average is just behind St. Louis as second-best in the West. The Hawks were able to solve that with perhaps their most complete game of the season last Saturday in St. Louis. Lets see if they can bring the same type of game in these next two outings. San Joses GAA, by the way, is fifth in the conference (2.40).

Even though theyve been inconsistent of late, the Blackhawks have still managed to stay near the top of the West. Some goaltending (and defensive) questions have come up, and theyll need more offensive balance, as I wrote after Thursdays win. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa all enter the weekend among the NHLs top-17 point producers (Toews tied for 2nd in goals, Kane tied for first in assists).

After bursting out of the gate, it seems at times this Hawks team needs to be challenged be it with the opponent theyre playing, or needing to bounce back after unexpected setbacks. They've hit a few bumps along the way this past month and these next two games should provide an interesting gauge on whether the arrows definitely pointing up.

Blackhawks deal Andrew Shaw to Montreal for two draft picks

Blackhawks deal Andrew Shaw to Montreal for two draft picks

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Andrew Shaw had to wait until his third go-around in the NHL Draft before he was selected by the Blackhawks. Two Stanley Cups later, he became a big part of this group.

Like several before him, he said he wanted to stay here. Like several before him, cap issues probably prevented that from happening.

Shaw was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for two second-round selections, as the NHL Draft began on Friday. Shaw was going to become a restricted free agent next Friday. And while both sides said they hoped to find a deal to keep Shaw in Chicago, that deal didn’t come.

The Blackhawks get two second-round picks, the 39th and 45th overall selections, in this draft. That now gives them 10 selections in this draft, which continues with Rounds 2-7 on Saturday.

General manager Stan Bowman didn’t say how close or how far away the Blackhawks and Shaw’s camp were regarding a potential new deal.

“It’s a very tough day, a difficult decision to make,” Bowman said following Round 1. “We love Andrew, everything he’s brought to the Blackhawks. We certainly want to thank him for some incredible hockey. He’s been the ultimate warrior for us and we certainly wish him well. It was a very difficult decision and these are the hard ones to make. It was a tough phone call. But we absolutely wish him the best and we’re trying to look forward.”

The salary cap will be $73 million this season, just $1.6 million more than 2015-16. Asked if that minimal cap hike sealed Shaw’s fate, Bowman said, “I don’t know how to handicap that. It was really just something we worked at as much as we could and you have to make tough decisions sometimes and this was one of those.”

A Shaw re-signing seemed more likely after Bryan Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen were traded, freeing up more than $4 million in cap space. Instead, the Blackhawks send him to Montreal and bulk up their draft selections. What Shaw gets from the Canadiens remains to be seen but both Pierre LeBrun and Elliotte Friedman report that Shaw should get a new deal relatively soon.

As for the Blackhawks, not signing Shaw gives them breathing room. That’s good now and it could prove more important later, especially if the Blackhawks find a way to sign Artemi Panarin long term.

“We have enough cap room now,” Bowman said. “Whether we make moves to make moves remains to be seen but we don’t have a salary-cap problem.”

Cap space is what the Blackhawks saved. But it’s another loss to their roster, another player going elsewhere due to salary-cap issues. Bowman said the Blackhawks are moving forward. But they’ve lost a lot in the process. Shaw is the latest.

“We’re trying to make this situation the best we can with the salary cap and we’re here at the draft and we’re looking for the future. We’re trying to build our team for many years to come. So there’s always that balance between the current team and also the future,” Bowman said. “And in order to have future Blackhawks coming through you have to sometimes make tough decisions. And that’s how it went.”

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks trying to get something done with Andrew Shaw

Stan Bowman: Blackhawks trying to get something done with Andrew Shaw

We’re entering the meaty portion of this offseason. The NHL draft begins Friday in Buffalo and free agency commences July 1. The Blackhawks have selections to make, questions to answer and a roster to shape.

And so it begins again.

With the salary cap set at $73 million for the 2016-17 season, general manager Stan Bowman can move forward with potential signings and other offseason moves. The top priority still seems to be re-signing Andrew Shaw, although Bowman said on Thursday there’s been no progress on that front thus far. Shaw’s agent Pat Brisson said via email last week that he expects to talk to Bowman at the draft this weekend.

“We’ve had some good discussions with his agent, so that’s ongoing. And we’re trying to get something done. That’s how I can characterize it right now,” Bowman said from Buffalo. “There are a lot of things we’re working through and that’s certainly one of them.”

The Blackhawks have some cap room but not a ton. If they do sign Shaw, he could take $3 million or more of that; he had a cap hit of $2 million last season. Do the Blackhawks get a defenseman? Do they make some other deal in the next few days/weeks? Plenty of speculation abounds this time of year but Bowman wasn’t talking about any of it.

“There are lots of rumors floating round. I’d say a majority of them are false but you can’t comment on individual rumors. We have a job to do and there are a lot of conversations this time of year,” Bowman said. “We’re trying to prepare for the draft, we have eight picks and that’s an important part of building for the future, making sure we prepare well and choose the right players. The other part of it is shaping our roster for next season, which can come through trades, preparing for free agency and those type of things. There’s a lot happening and these are busy days.”

In the meantime, the Blackhawks have shored up several depth players recently. Richard Panik signed a one-year deal last week. Nick Schmaltz signed a three-year, entry-level deal on Sunday. Dennis Rasmussen was re-signed for this coming season on Wednesday. As much as everyone likes the splashy deal and players these depth guys are just as important, especially to a team constantly fighting cap issues.

“It’s a huge part of what we’re trying to do here and critical to our success going forward,” Bowman said. “[This is Rasmussen’s] third year with us. He took a big jump last year and now he’s trying to build on that and expand his role. With Nick, we’re thrilled he made the decision he was ready for pro hockey. We’ve felt that way for a while here, watching him the last two years in college. He’s grown his game from when we drafted him and we thought it was time for him to take the next step. He felt the same way. He’ll have a great opportunity to show us what he can do in camp. We don’t hand out jobs but they’re there to come and earn. He’s prepared to have a big summer. When we get to see him on the ice, you’ll see the talent he has.”

The Blackhawks have eight picks at the draft; they’ve usually selected a good mix of forwards, defensemen and goaltending and they’ll probably do the same this draft. But this weekend usually goes beyond taking future prospects. The Blackhawks have decisions to make and a roster to shape. Much of that could start this weekend.

Report: Brian Campbell has interest in returning to Blackhawks

Report: Brian Campbell has interest in returning to Blackhawks

Could Brian Campbell be making a return to the Blackhawks?

According to a report from the Chicago Tribune's Chris Kuc, the veteran defenseman — who's an unrestricted free agent — is interested in returning to Chicago.

Campbell was a member of the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup winning squad back in 2010 and spent three seasons in a Chicago sweater before getting traded to the Panthers, with whom he spent the past five seasons.

During his three seasons with the Blackhawks, Campbell tallied 117 points. He registered 18 points in three Stanley Cup Playoffs, was a playoffs-leading plus-11 during the 2010 run to the Cup and recorded the lone assist on Patrick Kane's Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 6.

The 37-year-old Campbell has 487 career points and is a plus-51 in his 16-year NHL career. He's been selected to seven All-Star Games.