The Chicago Blackhawks have concluded their preseason with a 5-1 win against the Minnesota Wild. Unfortunately, that great performance didn’t count. The good news is, they have a chance to repeat that performance and it will count next time. They will open the season in Denver facing the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 13.
The important part of the preseason is being able to evaluate where the players fit in. Of course there are shoe-in’s like Patrick Kane, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Alex DeBrincat, but like any team, they are faced with tough roster decisions that will have to be made in the next few days. On our weekly show, “Blackhawks Banter,” our Blackhawks’ team comprised of myself, Gail Kauchak, Greg Boysen and Shaun Filippelli will try to find solutions to those hard-hitting questions. Here is a preview of some of the topics that will be covered.
Salary Cap Casuality
Scott Powers of The Athletic came out with an article discussing some of the financial decisions that the Hawks have to make going into the season. Some of the options include placing Alex Nylander on waivers and/or trading Dylan Strome and his $3 million contract. (from ‘Blackhawks have some salary questions to answer before being cap compliant,’ The AthleticNHL,10/07/2021) Out of those two options, what move should be the Blackhawks’ priority?
I personally think it’s a no-brainer to put Nylander on waivers. He hasn’t looked up to speed in training camp, and he’s coming off knee surgery. For both those reasons, I think he clears waivers and heads to Rockford for further recovery and development. This way the Blackhawks can have some cap flexibility, but still keep him as a future option if they choose to.
The Strome situation is a bit more convoluted for me. Yes, if the Blackhawks can get a decent return for him that would clear his $3 million cap hit. However, if they don’t have any good offers, Strome still adds value to this team. He can make plays and score goas, as long as he has the right complementary players around him. I believe there’s enough depth on this team where Strome could be part of a dangerous third-line combination. Perhaps Brandon Hagel, Kirby Dach and Strome. But is Strome better in that spot than either Adam Gaudette or Henrik Borgstrom? That is the question of the hour.
Why can’t we do both? It certainly appears that Nylander is heading to the waiver wire. He just isn’t at an NHL level right now. He will likely clear waivers and go to Rockford, but you never know if someone will take a flyer on him since his contract is so cheap. Strome played very well at the Wild on Thursday night (0ct. 7) and if we can get that version every night, there will be zero reason to trade him. Or, to play devil’s advocate, that might have raised his trade value. If they had to prioritize one, it would be a Strome trade because he has a higher cap hit and you can get an asset in return.
The fact remains that Strome worked his way out of this lineup last season. He’s had ample opportunity to prove his worth, but he’s yet to maintain any level of impact for the Blackhawks. Plus, there are others who can now easily fill whatever holes he’s been covering up, as the organization looks to propel to a gear that he simply might not be able to keep up with. They need more out of him, but he just might not have more there to give in this setting. Besides, Nylander is on a much more fiscally responsible deal with higher upside to boot. Both the Blackhawks and Nylander need to experience a collective elevation, so seeing it through for this one-year sample size could really work to the benefit of all.
I think the priority should be trading Strome as soon as possible. I think this training camp proved that he won’t have a spot on the team for long. Seeing others, like Henrik Borgstrom and Gaudette, have very strong training camp performances makes me think he will be forced out sooner rather than later. I think it makes sense to place Nylander on waivers, but his cap hit is only $847,125 for this season. Therefore, I don’t think that will hurt the team as much. Whereas Strome’s contract does take up a considerable amount of space. So, financially speaking, I think moving him makes sense.
Related: By the Numbers: Who Should Stay and Go in Blackhawks’ Rebuild
Surprisingly, one of the players that has stood out this preseason is 22-year-old, MacKenzie Entwistle. He had three goals, one assist and was a plus-4 the last four games. He also won 60 percent of faceoffs in the win against Minnesota. He became a player that the Blackhawks did not want to leave out of their preseason lineup. Do you think he deserves to make the opening night roster?
Entwistle looks good, and his progression is impressive. He most certainly has some chemistry with Hagel, which has been fun to watch in these preseason tilts. But he’s probably just not as far up on the depth chart as Gaudette, Strome, or Borgstrom. Who, by the way, would all have to clear waivers to be assigned to Rockford. Entwistle does not.
So, Entwistle should be encouraged by his preseason performance, and take that motivation with him to Rockford. There he can play big minutes in all situations and continue to grow his game. Because you never know what can happen. I would not be at all surprised if he got called up at some point this season.
I think he has played well enough to stick with the team, but he might be victim of the numbers game. The progress this kid has made since the start of the 2019-20 season has been nothing short of remarkable. When I first saw him with the IceHogs, I thought there was no way he could skate at the NHL level. He has improved vastly in this department and his overall game has made major strides. If he isn’t on the opening night roster, it is only a matter of time before he is in Chicago for good.
His play would suggest he certainly deserves it, but it’s not an easy task to identify who would come out to make room for that to be possible on opening night. Even given that he can play centre or the right side, the combination of proven veterans and newcomers that fill those slots are all there for a reason. With that said, to reward his strong showing, I’d take Carpenter out to give Entwistle a shot at fourth-line centre. Not to punish Carpenter, but it just seems like the most suitable swap at the moment. If Entwistle performs when the games matter, then let him keep doing so.
Something tells me that he will make the team and I think he definitely deserves it! Because head coach Jeremy Colliton played him in most of the preseason games, it makes me think the Blackhawks have some type of plan for him. It will be interesting to see how the lineup would shape out with him in there, but at this point, I would be surprised if he didn’t make the team.
Reichel’s Training Camp
Rookie Lukas Reichel was one of the nine players that first got assigned to the Rockford Icehogs — Chicago’s affiliate team. We have debated on our show before whether we thought he would make the team, but now that we have the official word that he won’t be with the Blackhawks to start the season, I want to ask for your opinion on him. We got to see him play in two games. How do you think he looked during the preseason?
I thought he looked great! He performed as advertised, showing his potential as an elite and skilled player. In his first preseason game, he lined up on the third line with Borgstrom and Nylander. However, in his second game he was promoted to the second line with Jonathan Toews and Hagel. In said game he didn’t look out of place at all as a member of the top-six. He recorded one shot on goal and two takeaways in 15:38 minutes of ice time. But, Reichel is only 19 years old. He’s 6-foot-0 and only weighs 170 pounds, meaning he could certainly benefit from adding some strength and weight to his young frame. Considering the Blackhawks’ forward depth this season, it makes sense to be patient with Reichel. Let him play a top role with the IceHogs and further develop his play and his confidence. He will likely be ready for the NHL sooner rather than later, but for now Rockford is where he should be.
I think Reichel looked very good. He was confident and aggressive, which you don’t see from a lot of young players in their first stint of the NHL. He is as good as advertised, but a few games playing big minutes in the American Hockey League (AHL) is only going to help him as he gets acclimated to the North American game.
He didn’t really stand out, one way or the other. So, from a negative perspective, he’s not yet making the highlight-reel plays we hope he will be one day. But, on the flip side, it’s not like he looked completely out of place around other pros. The reality is, getting him top-line minutes in Rockford makes a lot of sense for his development and confidence. He’s still a teenager and there is plenty of time ahead for him to make the splash we all anticipate he will. Letting it happen more naturally just means he’ll be better poised to do so when the time is right.
I think he did okay, which is exactly how you would hope a prospect to look. He is playing in North America for the first time, so keeping that in mind, I thought he acclimated quite well. He showed flashes of skill that I think brings a lot of excitement for his NHL future, but I think him being in Rockford is the right call for right now.
We have a lot more to cover as the Blackhawks’ final roster shapes out. What do you think will happen? Your guess is as good as ours! Be sure to tune into the show and share your thoughts with us!
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