By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) Look, it’s late August. Training camp is almost an entire month away. Don’t judge me for yet another Blackhawks mailbag, OK?
If you want to email me, feel free to reach me at Jay@670TheScore.com.
Now let’s get to the questions …
Gilette: Do the Blackhawks have any intentions to have Antti Raanta play in Rockford at all this season to get him more time in net?
JZ: If we’re using last season as a model — and why shouldn’t we?– I’m going to say no. The Hawks had several chances to send Raanta to Rockford last season (Olympic break, etc.) and didn’t. The acquisition of Michael Leighton turned some heads, but he’s just filling the role of veteran, organizational depth, just like Jason LaBarbera last season.
Hopefully, Raanta gets some more playing time this season. If he’s going to develop, he needs to play.
Sarcastic Mike: Which Hawk do you think will elevate their game this year, either by increasing their consistency or stepping up to the next level?
JZ: Well, there are certainly candidates. The first name that comes to my mind is Jeremy Morin. I never thought he’d be back with the organization after how little coach Joel Quenneville trusted him last season. I believe general manager Stan Bowman signing him, while dispatching the Brandon Bolligs and Michal Handzus of the world, is a huge sign of faith for Morin. He earned a bigger look last season and has scored at every level, including the NHL. Hopefully, he gets the message and improves his defensive game this summer. I don’t think he needs to become Anze Kopitar, but he needs to be reliable and consistent defensively to crack Quenneville’s lineup.
Other guys who would benefit by adding consistency are Nick Leddy (if he’s not traded) and Bryan Bickell. Both have had flashes of brilliance in their Hawks careers but haven’t been able to put it together for an 82-game regular season. However, I don’t want to completely blame either player for their inconsistencies, as both Bickell and Leddy have been victims of minimized ice time.
Leddy has been the Hawks’ sixth defenseman since he’s been part of the team. He consistently faces the softest competition and isn’t trusted in big defensive situations. That makes sense, as he’s the team’s weakest defender, but how can he improve is he’s never challenged?
Bickell has looked his best in the playoffs. But what else do those playoff successes have in common? He played on the top six. Bickell isn’t the kind of player who can carry a line. In fact, few power forwards are the catalysts for their lines. When paired with a competent, offensive center, Bickell thrives. Keep an eye on the newly signed Brad Richards and Bickell. If Teuvo Teravainen eventually takes over as the second-line center, you could see Richard drop to the third-center spot. If that happens, he could likely center Bickell and Andrew Shaw. Bickell + playmaking center = success.
Tyler Q: Who do you see centering the second line by midseason?
JZ: In my mind, if Teravainen isn’t centering the second-line center by the 40-game mark, it will be a disappointment. Teravainen has reportedly added 11 pounds to his small frame. While he didn’t look lost in his three games last season, he certainly looked small. Adding that size should make him that much better and stronger. That could be the difference between “OK” and “very good.”
If he can’t claim a top-six spot, I’m not sure he fits in the bottom six. One way or another, I don’t think Teravainen’s Rockford days are over just yet.
Jay P: Several Hawks players are rumored to be on the block. Who goes?
JZ: As it stands today, the Blackhawks are $2,216,795 over the salary cap (this number includes Teravainen’s $894,167 cap hit). Michal Rozsival makes $2.2 million. Leddy makes $2.7 million. Kris Versteeg makes $2.2 million. Moving any of those players solves the problem and does the least amount of damage to the roster.
Bowman, for all his foresight, has never been a man to damage the roster because of what’s coming up next summer. That’s why I’m not buying the “Patrick Sharp will be traded” rumors. Yes, his $5.9 million cap hit gets the Hawks well under the cap, but it really hurts the team. The Hawks won’t be trading Sharp simply to dump salary. If they do trade him, look for a young defenseman with a sub-$3 million salary as a return. Erik Gudbranson ($2.5 million hit) of the Florida Panthers would be a nice fit if the Hawks were looking to deal.
Jay Zawaski is the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.