Black­hawks look­ing to old, new faces in quest for Cup

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - TENNIS/FOOTBALL/HOCKEY -

CHICAGO — Fol­low­ing a sec­ond straight first-round play­off flop last April, the Chicago Black­hawks re­sponded with ros­ter changes that cut all the way to their core of high-priced stars.

Chicago reac­quired fan fa­vorites Pa­trick Sharp and Brandon Saad in the process. Both may end up back in fa­mil­iar spots, even if gen­eral man­ager Stan Bow­man says it’s time for the Black­hawks to come up with a fresh recipe for Stan­ley Cup suc­cess.

“We’re try­ing to cre­ate some new chem­istry and some dif­fer­ent looks next year,” Bow­man said Fri­day at the Black­hawks’ fan con­ven­tion. “We’re try­ing not to look back­wards. We’re try­ing to look for­ward and that goes for all of our play­ers who are try­ing to get bet­ter.”

The Black­hawks topped the West­ern Con­fer­ence with 109 points last sea­son and were ex­pected to chal­lenge for their fourth Cup since 2010. But they were swept in the first round by Nashville — af­ter be­ing ousted in their open­ing se­ries by St. Louis the year be­fore.

Shot-block­ing de­fense­man Niklas Hjal­mars­son, a key mem­ber of Chicago’s 2010, 2013 and 2015 Stan­ley Cup teams, was shipped to Ari­zona in a deal that net­ted 24-year-old Con­nor Murphy. Artemi Pa­narin — and his 31 goals and 43 as­sists — went to Colum­bus in a multi-player trade to reac­quire a more com­plete, phys­i­cal for­ward in Saad, who con­trib­uted to Chicago’s last two cham­pi­onships.

Sharp, who spent the past two sea­sons in Dal­las, had hip surgery in March and signed as a free agent. The 35-year-old played 10 sea­sons in Chicago, where he scored 33 or more goals four times.

Top prospect Alex DeBrin­cat, the On­tario Hockey League player of the year, is knock­ing on the door. And Black­hawks are bank­ing on im­prove­ment from last year’s rookie for­wards.

Coach Joel Quen­neville all but promised to re­unite Saad on a line with cap­tain Jonathan Toews. The two clicked to­gether dur­ing Chicago’s 2013 and 2015 Cup runs, and this time, Quen­neville en­vi­sions Richard Panik join­ing the unit.

“I think that Jonny’s line is key for our team’s suc­cess,” Quen­neville said. “Those three po­ten­tially be­ing on a line re­ally is good to see — some size, some strength, puck pos­ses­sion.”

The 24-year-old Saad is on board.

“That’s, I think, the plan and you never know with Q ,” Saad said. “It’s al­ways switched up to his lik­ing. But me and Jonny had some suc­cess in the past, and I def­i­nitely feel ex­cited to hope­fully be re­united with him.”

An­other line could in­clude puck ma­gi­cian Pa­trick Kane on right wing and Artem Anisi­mov at cen­ter. Quen­neville said it’s a “pos­si­bil­ity” that Sharp, who has re­sumed skat­ing, could join on the left side.

“Whether he plays up there or with Jonny is an op­tion as well,” Quen­neville added. “He gives us some ver­sa­til­ity.”

Sharp said he’s re­cov­ered fully from surgery.

“I had my best years play­ing for Coach Q , and I know wher­ever he puts me in the lineup is prob­a­bly go­ing to be best for me and for the team, as well,” Sharp said.

Dun­can Keith and Brent Seabrook will again an­chor Chicago’s de­fense. Be­yond that, the Black­hawks will be younger with Murphy grab­bing am­ple ice time and prospects like 21-yearold Gus­tav Forsling get­ting chances.

“On the back end we prob­a­bly are go­ing to have some new pairs and some new looks as well,” said Quen­neville, a for­mer de­fense­man who hasn’t al­ways been pa­tient as a coach with young de­fend­ers. “So I think it will be fun try­ing to go through that process.”

The Black­hawks lost one key player with no com­pen­sa­tion.

Mar­ian Hossa, who had 26 goals last sea­son, will miss 2017-18 be­cause of side ef­fects from med­i­ca­tion to treat a skin dis­or­der and may not play again. The 38-yearold has 525 ca­reer goals and 1134 points.

“It’s heart­break­ing what he has to go through when you know it’s too soon,” Toews said. “He’s got a ton left on the ta­ble.”

AP/G-JUN YAM

Chicago Black­hawks’ Pa­trick Sharp is in­tro­duced to the fans Fri­day dur­ing the NHL hockey team’s con­ven­tion in Chicago.

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