The Chicago Blackhawks’ annual convention wrapped up Sunday afternoon after a weekend full of ceremonies, interviews, panels and some serious fun along the way. Amid all of the fanfare, there were some storylines that emerged that could be intriguing to follow as the Hawks head their separate ways to enjoy the remainder of their summer.
Johnny Oduya’s Injury Could Hamper Season Preparations
A lot of the focus on the Swedish-born defenseman has been about whether or not he will be traded before training camp as a salary cap casualty, but when Oduya walked into the Chicago Hilton on Friday, something else was immediately on the minds of reporters and fans: the walking boot on his foot.
During the Hawks’ Game 7 loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Final, Oduya broke his right foot, but he was able to finish the game. He said that he would have tried to play in the Stanley Cup Final if the Blackhawks had made it that far, and while his effectiveness in that scenario could be debated, it just goes to show once again how dedicated hockey players are to staying on the ice at all costs.
His status as a potential trading chip aside, Oduya’s preparations for the coming season could be affected by the injury. He says that he will be ready for the beginning of the regular season, but with that date coming in early October, he is going to have to hustle to make sure he doesn’t fall behind in his workouts.
Brad Richards Ready for the Challenge at Second Line Center
The Blackhawks aren’t a team that rolls out the same four lines on every night, but with Michal Handzus on his way out and Andrew Shaw likely remaining on the third line, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if Richards slots into the second line center role when the season gets underway.
After signing a 1-year contract with the team earlier this month, Richards is feeling a bit of pressure, but meeting his new teammates at the convention seemed to take the edge off of it.
“You can tell the Blackhawks are a big part of this town and the organization has been great trying to help me to fit in,” he told Brian Hedger of NHL.com on Friday. “It’s good to meet everybody. When I come to training camp, it won’t be as daunting now. It’s a lot [to take in], but if you’re coming to a team, you might as well do it all at once and get accustomed to what it’s like to be a Blackhawks [player].”
Joel Quenneville hasn’t said where he’ll slot Richards into the lineup when the season starts, but putting him with speedsters like Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane could be a good place to start.
Crawford, Raanta Ready to Work with Jimmy Waite
Goaltending isn’t a weak point for the Blackhawks, but if a fan or reporter were to ask Corey Crawford and Antti Raanta if the netminders were satisfied with their performances during the 2013-14 season, odds are that neither one of them would answer the question affirmatively.
With that in mind, the team hired Jimmy Waite to be the new goaltending coach after one season of having Steve Weeks at the helm. Crawford and Waite are familiar with one another, as Jimmy’s brother Stephane was the coach that really saw Crawford blossom into a champion goaltender during the 2012-13 Stanley Cup-winning season in Chicago.
Both Crawford and Raanta are eager to begin working with Waite as the summer wears on, and it will be interesting to see what kind of an impact he has on the duo as the season draws closer.
No Rush on Saad Contract for Blackhawks
After watching Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane sign new contracts earlier this month, one wouldn’t fault Brandon Saad for hoping for his own new deal when he becomes a restricted free agent at the end of the season. To his credit though, he is focused on playing his own game and not worrying about what will come next when it’s time to talk money with the team.
“If it happens, great,” Saad told Chris Kuc of the Chicago Tribune. “It’s always nice to have that security and feel comfortable, but I’m more focused on having a good year and contributing to the team.”
Saad is going to get a nice pay bump from the team after the season ends, but anyone expecting him to get a long-term deal is likely going to be disappointed. With Bryan Bickell still having three years left on his deal and several other players like Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp already locked up to deals, the Hawks likely are going to opt for a two-year deal for Saad, similar to the ones they gave Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy after the 2012-13 season.
If they do that, then they can apply some of the money from Bickell’s expiring contract after the 2016-17 season to sign Saad to a long-term deal, and that would be in the best interests of everyone involved. It wouldn’t be a massive payday for Saad, but it would illustrate that the team is building toward keeping him in the fold for his entire career, and it would give Chicago some flexibility in the process.
Toews, Kane Still Have Moves
Kane and Toews won’t be on Dancing with the Stars any time soon, but at the very least, the duo don’t mind busting a move and getting the fans riled up, as they showed during their Conn Smythe winners panel with Richards on Saturday at the convention: