Toews Still the No. 1? Chara Heads to the Islanders, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

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Toews Still the No. 1? Chara Heads to the Islanders, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

Chicago Blackhawks

Just your friendly reminder that the Chicago Blackhawks open training camp THIS WEEK on Thursday. It’s so close, I can almost hear the skates carving up the ice at the Fifth Third Arena now. As we approach the beginning of training camp and the beginning of the regular season, there are a number of positions that will be up for grabs in the Chicago lineup. We’ve started looking at some of those positions as we get ready for camp, starting with the backup goaltender spot behind Marc-André Fleury. We still have a few more to breakdown before Thursday’s opening of camp.

•   One position that hasn’t been a battle for over a decade has been the No. 1 center spot for Chicago. That was the case until last season when Jonathan Toews was unable to play due to an illness that kept him away from the team for the entire year. Now, presumably healthy and ready to go for the 2021-22 season, there’s still a world in which Toews can no longer be the No. 1 center. If that’s the case, who can step up for Chicago?

•   I would love to be wrong that Toews can’t do it anymore. I’m hoping he can for his and the Blackhawks’ sake this season. At 33-years-old and coming off a complicated illness, plus with the miles Toews has put on his body through hockey since he was a teenager, there’s a lot working against him. If he can slot back in and be the No. 1 centerman, all the better, but if he can’t, the Blackhawks are going to have a tough time living up to their new expectations for this season.

•   Someone the Blackhawks are hanging a ton of their new and improved expectations on this season is goaltender Marc-André Fleury. During the NHL/NHLPA Media Tour in Chicago this week, we got our first look at Fleury in his new Blackhawks gear from head to toe. He spoke with Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek for the ’31 Thoughts’ Podcast as well, which you can find the full episode below. In the interview, Fleury talks about the trade from Vegas, how the goalie position has changed over time, how this may be his last season, and much more.

•   Closing the interview, Fleury gave a quick synopsis of what he likes about his new Blackhawks team heading into the new season:

•   Fleury is coming off winning his first-ever Vezina Trophy at the age of 36 last season. He has one-year left on his current deal. I know this has become cliché in sports lately, but this could be a built-in ‘Last Dance’ for Fleury in Chicago.

•   Speaking of another possible ‘Last Dance,’ the New York Islanders have signed 43-year-old defenseman Zdeno Chara to a one-year deal for this season.

•   One of my favorite things to come from Chara signing with the Islanders, the team that originally drafted him in the third round of the 1996 NHL Draft, was everyone reminding us just how old we all are:

•   For the record, I was six years and 164 days old when Chara was drafted by the Islanders in 1996.

•   For as much as I wanted to drop my jaw that Chara was still going to be playing in the NHL at his age, the dude still has it.

•   If there’s any system that would fit Chara in a third-pairing role at this point in his career, it would be with these Islanders.

•   And speaking of massive hockey players, there is apparently a 17-year-old man-child playing in Russia this season.

•   Hey, if the Blackhawks are going to carry-over their draft strategy from 2021 into 2022, this Dolzhenkov giant should fit right in. Speaking of the 2022 NHL Draft, here’s The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler with a very, very early Top 32 prospect list.

•   Start getting used to these names.

•   Something that made the twitter rounds yesterday was a “rant” from Dan Clark, an MLB Reporter and Podcaster. That’s really all I could find on him in a quick google search, so pardon my ignorance if he’s a bigger or smaller deal than that. But he was upset that someone told him to kick rocks when he asked to be paid to appear on their podcast. He went on to justify why he charges $50-$100 per appearance. To which the sports podcasting world online decided to have it out over paying guests and charing fees to appear on podcasts, etc. Here’s how I feel:

•   I’ve been in that position before, being the small-time podcaster and trying to reach out to build relationships with people I admired and respected in the sports journalism profession. I’ve had people join my dumb, little podcasts over the years without charging me a fee because I felt like they were genuinely good people who were trying to help someone who was lower in the pecking order of the sports and hockey world. People like Mark Lazerus, Charlie Roumeliotis, Scott Powers, Steve “Dangle” Glynn, and Ben Pope over the years have helped me and it’s something I’ll always appreciate about them and it’s something that, even as small-time as I still am, I want to pay forward to anyone who reaches out to me to join them. I’ll never ask someone to give me something to join them to talk hockey, sports, life, whatever it is. This profession is covering sports, games, like they are life and death. Being paid to do this is a dream already, what more could I ask for?

•   Well, one thing I could ask for is questions for tomorrow’s Blackhawks Monday Mailbag segment!

•   That will do it for today. Hope you all have a good Sunday! I’m off to go apple picking before the Blackhawks prospects play the Wild in the final action from the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase. The game can be found on the Minnesota Wild Youtube page and the puck drops at 1:00 p.m.

•   Now, where are those apple cider donuts?!

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Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.