By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) Earlier this week, I reached out to Chicago fans for their Blackhawks questions. The response was huge, so I chose from a number of the better and more common questions.
Here we go:
Jeff – How long until the Hawks extend Antti Raanta’s contract to avoid a potential offer sheet situation like the Sharks pulled on the Blackhawks?
If things continue the way they are going, with Crawford as the starter and Raanta as the backup, signing Raanta should be relatively easy. Antti Niemi made his money because he “dethroned” Cristobal Huet, and won a Stanley Cup. I don’t foresee that happening this season. If it does, then they’re going to have to make a big decision, which I wrote about here.
Sarcastic Mike – The recent 35th birthday of Marian Hossa and 32nd birthday of Patrick Sharp have been reminders that those two players have reached or left their peak years. Given Stan Bowman’s focus on player value and getting rid of contracts before they can become millstones, who will be the first member of the core traded while they are still decent and still have some return value?
It’s hard to believe that the Hawks would be able to move Marian Hossa. I’m not sure that another NHL team would want the 6-plus remaining years on his contract, especially considering there’s a $5.275 million cap hit attached to those years. The “wink, wink, nod nod” understanding is that Hossa will, eventually, be placed on LTIR and retire, like Chris Pronger.
I don’t think Sharp is going anywhere soon either. After this season, Sharp will have three years left on his deal. I think they’ll continue to pay him until that deal expires.
The cap will continue to rise, so these players should remain affordable.
Chris T. – Why do the Blackhawks seem to play harder for their backup goalies, like Raanta this season and Ray Emery last season?
You are far from the only person with this observation, and it’s not an idea unique to the Blackhawks. Players will always deny it, but there does seem to be a subconscious level of “caution” that teams will play with when the backup goalie is between the pipes. They seem to make safer plays and passes and take fewer risks when in the defensive zone.
I don’t think it’s a matter of “liking” a backup more than the starter. It’s just a matter of trust.
Ben. T- Why does Joel Quenneville insist on giving Michal Handzus ice time when it is clear Brandon Pirri is ready?
Right now, Pirri is injured, so MAYBE he’d be here if he was healthy. Quenneville’s main concern with Pirri’s game is his defensive commitment and execution. I think he should be the second line center as soon as he’s healthy. It will take some salary cap maneuvering, but Pirri is the best option for the demands of the second line, which almost always faces the easiest line matchup on a game to game basis.
Sean C. -Will the Blackhawks keep the team intact or make a couple of moves before the trade deadline?
I ask myself this question often. If I’m the Hawks, my priority is finding a steady, penalty killing defenseman. There’s a handy list of pending unrestricted free agents at Capgeek.com. Most of the recognizable names of value on that list are on contending teams, so the Hawks would have to deal from a position of strength, meaning a forward or prospect.
All that said, I do feel the team, as currently constructed, is good enough to win the Stanley Cup again.
Mike C. – Will the Blackhawks pursue Dustin Byfuglien if he is on the trading block?
I have been asked this at least 10 times in the last week, so I will answer it here like I have everywhere else.
Byfuglien has three years (including this season) remaining on his deal that pays him $5.2 million per season. The Hawks can’t afford him and I doubt they’d want him.
Mike B. – Besides winning a face-off… what can the Hawks do on the penalty-kill to prevent teams from entering and setting up in zone so easily?
Mike, you’ve hit the nail on the head. Entries haven’t been the problem. The Hawks have been losing faceoffs in the defensive zone far too often.
When shorthanded, the Hawks win 49.1 percent of their faceoffs. That’s the very definition of average. At even strength, they win 51.8 percent. It’s a nominal difference, but every faceoff win counts.
Aside from faceoffs, making better choices when clearing the puck will help. Far too often the Hawks d-men will throw the puck blindly up the middle looking to clear. Take an extra second to take a look and make a better, higher percentage clearing attempt.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to this season’s first CBSChicago.com mailbag. We’ll do another edition next month. If you’d like to submit a question, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or Tweet me @jayzawaski670.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.