The defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche cascade into the United Center this evening in… sixth place in the Central Division. They’ve dealt with injuries all over their roster this season and have played the fewest games (39 – same as the Blackhawks) in the division, but the way the Western Conference is shaping up they need to get on their horses at some point. With no Patrick Kane in the lineup (he’s doubtful), we’ll see how the Blackhawks’ youngsters compete against a struggling, getting desperate team with championship experience. And there are the trade rumors that will float around the outside of the game conversation tonight as well.
- Ben Pope at the Chicago Sun-Times wrote a good story about Sam Lafferty transitioning to a more conservative game this season after playing a high-speed attack game last year, but still generating scoring chances for himself and teammates. It’s another case of a player talking about how the new coaching staff (and front office) are building a team with structure and a smart, analytical approach; that’s a clear departure from the wild west, praying for enough goals to win approach the team had under “coach” Jeremy Colliton.
- Lafferty’s had streaky season, which Pope notes in his scoring chances numbers at 5-on-5 per 60 varying over stretches this season. But the speed element is always there, and Lafferty has become a much more dependable player in the faceoff circle this season as well. As a guy who just wanted to get a long look in the NHL, he’s established himself as an NHL regular in Chicago. And, having watched a lot of Lafferty over the past two years, this quote in Pope’s story stood out.
“[I was] maybe a little riskier last year,” Lafferty told Pope. “I’m trying to put pucks in smarter places this year, where we can get them back and [I can] be a little more consistent that way. But if I get a chance to take someone wide, I’m definitely going to do it.”
- Full disclosure: sometimes I see stories that focus on “what could they have been if they kept the band together?” and just pass because: a) why try to re-write history when you can’t change the reality we’re in now?, and b) why remind me of the departures of popular players so many people liked? But this story at The Athletic by Scott Powers and Shayna Goldman was a terrific, analytics-driven deep dive into what the Blackhawks might have been had they kept the players who left beginning with Brandon Hagel just before the trade deadline last year.
- For the purposes of their discussion, they brought Hagel, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, Kirby Dach, Erik Gustafsson and Riley Stillman back. Using The Athletic’s GSVA model — with the caveat that players on other rosters’ GSVA may not have directly translated to the dynamics on this rebuilt roster the same way they’ve played out in their new cities — they broke out how much the last-place Blackhawks might have improved with all of our old friends still wearing the Indian head. The result? Honestly, I was surprised. And it supports general manager Kyle Davidson’s decisions to rip off the bandaid and go all-in for Connor Bedard.
When you add up the GSVA, this team would be at a collective value of 8.0, which would put them 28th in the league. They finished in 27th last season. By trading or not re-signing DeBrincat, Dach, Gustafsson, Hagel, Kubalik and Stillman, the Blackhawks gave up 4.76 additional wins, based on the model.
This was ultimately Davidson’s fear if he brought back the same group. He worried the Blackhawks wouldn’t be good enough to make the playoffs, but also not bad enough to be in the running for a top-three draft pick. You can argue he should have kept DeBrincat or whomever else, or gotten more back for those assets that would help speed up their turnaround. But if the goal was to tank and potentially draft Bedard, Davidson seemed to make the right choice.
- When the CHL seasons began, the Blackhawks had three prospects named captains of their junior teams: Nolan Allan in Prince Albert, Colton Dach in Kelowna and Ethan Del Mastro with Mississauga. All three won gold medals with Canada in the World Junior Championship… and all three are no longer captains after getting traded. Allan and Dach joined Kevin Korchinski in Seattle while Del Mastro was dealt to Sarnia. While the Blackhawks lost three captains because of the CHL trade frenzy, they’ve added a new one.
- On Wednesday afternoon, the Kingston Frontenacs announced Blackhawks prospect Paul Ludwinski has been named their captain for the remainder of the 2022-23 season. Ludwinski was a second-round pick (No. 39 overall) in the 2022 NHL Draft. He sustained a concussion during the prospect showcase games before training camp, but has rebounded to put up 7 goals and 17 assists in 31 games this season.
- Yesterday we learned three Rockford IceHogs players have been selected to participate in the AHL All-Star Game. While Lukas Reichel‘s availability for the game might be TBD right now because he’s with the Blackhawks in the NHL, it’s good to see the recognition coming for the hard work and production coming in Rockford. Here are the complete rosters for the AHL game:
- One of the teams that intrigues me as we inch closer to the NHL’s March 3 trade deadline is the New York Rangers, and the last couple days have made them an even more fascinating organization. We wake up this morning with the Blue Shirts in third place in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division with 53 points in 42 games. They’re two points behind the Devils for second and four points behind first place Carolina, but those two teams have one game in-hand on the Rangers.
- The Rangers have been linked to Kane in trade rumors since they signed Artemi Panarin. And, as I’ve mentioned before, Jonathan Toews makes a ton of sense for them if they want to make a deep run in the Eastern Conference because, well, I don’t see guys on their roster that I would trust taking faceoffs against Boston’s centers in a seven-game series. So there are some really obvious potential needs for the Blackhawks to fill — and the Rangers have two things Chicago would need in a deal: enough cap space to take on at least half of either Kane or Toews’ contract, and multiple first-round picks in the 2023 NHL Draft.
- So… when I saw on the NHL transaction wire that the Rangers had claimed a center yesterday I scratched my head. The Rangers poached 23-year-old Jake Leschyshyn off waivers from the Golden Knights. Leschyshyn was a second-round pick (No. 62 overall) by Vegas in the 2017 NHL Draft. He had appeared in 22 games with Vegas this season without recording a point. He’s averaging under ten minutes per game and is listed at 5-11 and 195 pounds. And Leschyshyn has two more years left on his contract at a $766,667 cap hit.
- Oh, and the Rangers also handed Jimmy Vesey a two-year extension.
- Right now, CapFriendly shows the Rangers having roughly $5.4 million in available cap space at the trade deadline (the magic number for half of either Kane or Toews is $5.25 million). But bringing in a fringe fourth line guy with term left, and extending Vesey (even at only a $800,000 cap hit) are two pieces weren’t necessarily priorities to onlookers. So let’s keep an eye on where this might go…
- Finally, a hire that seems to make too much sense to not happen — which, unfortunately, usually is why it doesn’t happen in this city — might actually become a reality. Big Ten commissioner Kevin Warren has emerged as the lead candidate to become the Bears’ next president. He worked for the Vikings when they built their new stadium, so he’s uniquely suited to help the Bears with their move to Arlington Heights (sorry, Chicago, it’s happening). He did enormous, bold, out-of-the-box things in the Big Ten (most notably negotiating enormous media deals and convincing USC and UCLA to leave the PAC-12 for the B1G). I love the idea of someone who thinks that big taking over a franchise that has thought so #&%$ing small for so long.