Lankinen and Johnson Coming Back Soon, GM Updates, Europe, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

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Lankinen and Johnson Coming Back Soon, GM Updates, Europe, and Other Blackhawks Bullets

Chicago Blackhawks

If you’re like me, you were following the news cycle late last night regarding the Russian and Ukrainian conflict. We spoke briefly about it earlier this week as the hockey world is very much intertwined with what is going on in Eastern Europe. The KHL playoffs are going on in Russia. Superstar players in the NHL have opposing ties to Russia and will be playing on the same ice tonight. And bigger than hockey, bigger than sports, the ramifications of what is happening right now in the Ukraine could stretch further than the shared border between them and Russia.

I know people want sports to be an escape from real, real life. Mixing sports and politics goes just about as well as mixing Bailey’s with lime juice. But in the world of hockey, a sport with heavy Russian and Eastern European representation overseas (obviously) and in the NHL, the mixing of the two worlds is going to be nearly inescapable.

Tonight, the New York Rangers host the Washington Capitals. A matchup of two teams seen as legitimate playoff contenders and two teams that could be on a path to meet in the postseason. They are also two teams whose arguable best players on each side are Russian: Alex Ovechkin, Captain of the Washington Capitals and Artemi Panarin, the Rangers’ leading point-producer this season. While they will be on opposing sides of the Madison Square Garden ice tonight, they also happen to be on opposing sides of Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin.

Ovechkin is an outspoken supporter of the Russian leader, having a photo of the two of them as his profile picture on Instagram and having led fundraising efforts for his political campaigns in the past. Panarin has spoken-out in opposition of Putin, supporting a political opponent of his in Alexei Navalny and speaking out against Navalny’s arrest in Russia a year ago. Being against Putin is not something that is taken lightly in Russia and Panarin has had to deal with threats to him and his family since then.

At a time like this, questions about what is happening between Russia and Ukraine will likely be asked of both players, whether warranted or not. But it is a reminder that sports, while they matter the most in life to some, in the grand scheme of the world, they are small.

I don’t know what happens next in Europe. I’m not a foreign policy expert, nor do I play one on TV. I do think whatever is next is not going to be quick or easy.

It’s troubling. It makes it hard to talk about things in life as frivolous as sports. But I’ll try.

•   Good news for the Blackhawks is that both Kevin Lankinen and Tyler Johnson look primed to return to the lineup within the next week.

•   Lankinen was activated off of IR yesterday, while Johnson was a full participant in practice as he continues to recover from neck surgery in early December.

•   Getting both Lankinen and Johnson back would be great for the Blackhawks as they are likely about to go through roster changes that will leave holes in the lineup.

•   Unfortunately, one player who looks to be done for the season is forward Jujhar Khaira after having back surgery earlier this week.

•   Khaira had a rough season with Chicago this year, playing in just 27 games and recording three assists. Hopefully he can come back fully recovered for next season and play the same kind of physical role he was brought in to play this season.

•   Speaking of potential roster moves, the Blackhawks are approaching the NHL Trade Deadline without a clear choice as their next GM. As Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman and Jeff Marek discussed recently, the GM search in Chicago has provided little clarity just four weeks from the March 21 deadline.

•   There are six confirmed GM candidates, seven including Teresa Resch who was confirmed by Friedman but not by the Blackhawks. Unless something happens in the next few days, the Blackhawks could be throwing a new GM at the team and relying on them to figure out the future of the franchise in short-order.

•   Not an encouraging situation.

•   Something that has also been less than encouraging this season is the rotation of broadcasters that have been in and out of the TV booth for the Blackhawks this season. So many calls for “What is going on?! Where is Pat Foley?!” have been shouted on the internet by Blackhawks fans. As Scott Powers of The Athletic writes, replacing Foley has not been an easy process and he will never truly be “replaced” among Blackhawks history.

•   The good news is that Foley will be on the call for 13 of the final 29 Blackhawks games this season, as laid-out by Powers:

Feb. 25
Feb. 27
March 3
March 6
March 8
March 15
March 19
March 20
March 28
April 3
April 10
April 12
April 14

•   Mark your calendars.

•   On this day in hockey history, Wayne Gretzky set the record for most goals in a season.

•   Likely one of his records that will never be touched in NHL history.

•   That will do it for today. Hope you all enjoy your Thursday. Be well, everyone.

Author: Mario Tirabassi

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