It’s the dead of August, but hockey is fast approaching. World Cup training camps open next week, and pool play begins Sept. 17. So let’s shake off the rust with a Blackhawks (and beyond) Twitter mailbag.
Ray John @matt4pep20
#HeyLaz which forward has the best chance of starting the season on Toews’ line?
For years, Patrick Kane was burdened with an ever-rotating cast of linemates thanks to Joel Quenneville’s insistence — his correct and completely justified insistence, mind you — on keeping Kane and Jonathan Toews on separate lines. Well, now, it’s Toews’ turn. I don’t believe Quenneville is crazy enough to break up the second line of Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Kane. I also think Marian Hossa is going to start the season on the third line with Marcus Kruger on what could be a superb shutdown line. That leaves Toews without any proven high-end wingers.
Richard Panik earned a longer look up there with his strong play down the stretch and in the postseason. And I think either Nick Schmaltz or Tyler Motte — whoever has the better training camp and preseason — will get the coveted Brandon Saad spot as the talented rookie given the opportunity of a lifetime alongside Toews. Vinnie Hinostroza is another candidate to play on the top line. He had 18 goals and 33 assists in 66 games with the Rockford IceHogs last season. And Hossa will always be available to move back up if things go awry.
So my early guess? Schmaltz/Motte-Toews-Panik. But Panik will have a short leash.
#HeyLaz Is doing the whole tournament on top of regular hockey going to give the players in the cup a significant disadvantage?
Not at all. If anything, it could prove to be an advantage. Players in the World Cup — and that includes 10 Blackhawks — should be closer to midseason form than other players by the time the puck drops for NHL games in mid-October. The World Cup is not a significant burden. It’s in Toronto, not Russia or South Korea. Half the teams will play just three games, two more will play just four, and the finalists will play five to seven. Plus a couple of exhibitions. It’s not much more taxing than the preseason, and the players will actually be excited to play in it. I think most players would much prefer the World Cup to the monotony and apathy of training camp and preseason games.
The Zoomiest @Brain_in_jar
#HeyLaz, I did this q&a with you last time and you answered a total of 0 questions. Will you answer them this time? Asking for a friend.
Johnny Lombardi @jlombardiTV
#HeyLaz, Maybe it’ll be nice to sit back and have a Hawks season with smaller expectations? Am I crazy? Anything great that happens is pure bonus.
That’s a very healthy and mature way of looking at it. That said, I don’t think it’ll be the majority opinion among Hawks fans. For one, they’ve been spoiled for six seasons now, and have come to expect nothing less than a championship. For another, man, if Seabrook’s double-post shot went in during the third period of Game 7 against St. Louis, it’s not hard to envision an alternate reality in which the Hawks win that game and make another deep postseason run. This team is still very good, albeit flawed. Temper expectations, sure, but don’t write off the season just yet.
@MarkLazerus #HeyLaz When are you seeing Hamilton in Chicago?
Thirty-six days. What do you stall for?
Name cannot be blank @kilabotdawabit
#HeyLaz Any chance a healthy team USA beats a healthy team Canada?
On paper, it’s hard to see any team other than Sweden giving Canada a real run, but anything can happen in hockey, especially in a single-elimination semifinal. Remember, unknown Latvian goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis almost beat Canada all by himself in Sochi, making 55 saves in a 2-1 loss. Hockey doesn’t always make sense. It’s one of the reasons we love it.
#HeyLaz The turnover of these past few Hawks teams is eerily similar to after the 2010 Cup; we’re just entering a new era of Hawks right?
Well, it’s a new era, all right. But if you’re expecting a repeat of 2010-2015, you’re probably going to be disappointed. The championship window is still open — any team with Toews, Kane, Panarin, Hossa, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford is absolutely a contender. The defense and goaltending should be outstanding this season. But the depth up front is a major concern, and will continue to be barring a significant spike in the salary cap in the next year or two, which seems unlikely. With so much money tied up in their superstar players, every offseason is going to be a challenge. And you’re not going to find a Panarin for $825,000 every year. The Hawks will be good for at least a few more years. How good? That remains to be seen.
From a fellow @MedillSchool alum, did you ever receive the dreaded Medill F? #heylaz
I don’t believe I ever did. I’ve given myself a few during my post-college career, though. During my designer years, I once called then-Purdue quarterback Kyle Orton “Randy” in 80-point type in a centerpiece headline. I think that was the end of my brief tenure as a pro wrestling fan.
Juho Jääskeläinen @juhojaaske
#heylaz Will pokka play in NHL next season?
I’m sure he will. As Quenneville and Stan Bowman are fond of saying, you can never have too many defensemen. Injuries are part of the game, and you usually need nine or 10 or more over the course of the season. I’d expect to see Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg, Ville Pokka and even Gustav Forsling at some point during the season, even if it’s just for a game or two.
Warren Dawes @Warren_Dawes
#HeyLaz which Blackhawks rookie are you most excited about and why?
I’d prefer the term “intrigued” to “excited,” but I’m most interested in seeing what Tyler Motte and Nick Schmaltz can do. Both were prolific college players. I’m always curious to see how that translates to the pro game, especially without much of a stop (if any) in the AHL. For every Jack Eichel and Johnny Gaudreau, there are plenty of Drew LeBlancs. That’s why I thought the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes were a tad melodramatic. But hey, it was August and we had nothing else to talk about.
#HeyLaz what do you think about the new Adidas jerseys / ads being included. Do you think NHL follows suit?
I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before ads are on jerseys. The NBA is doing it for the 2017-18 season, and the other leagues will inevitably follow suit. As long as it doesn’t become as ridiculous as European soccer — Arsenal fans must really like Emirates Airlines to wear those jerseys in public — it’s not the end of the world. And Hawks fans should embrace anything that can raise league revenue and potentially boost the salary cap.
#HeyLaz, why should I care about the World Cup? Isn’t it just a long-play by the NHL to justify pulling out of the Olympics?
Sure, it is. But it’s also a best-on-best tournament in a TV-friendly time zone that’s being played in a month when there usually is only boring training camp and unwatchable preseason hockey. Just enjoy it, and hope the players wield enough power to force the NHL to send them to Pyeongchang in 2018. Because they definitely want to keep playing in the Olympics, World Cup or not.
One more #HeyLaz have you binged #StrangerThings and what did you think
Not yet. When you spend more than 100 nights a year on the road, you have to save up shows to watch during the season. No spoilers, please.
#HeyLaz what team outside of the #hawks had the best offseason?
Tampa Bay, hands down. Steve Yzerman re-signed Steven Stamkos for just $8.5 million a season — Florida’s lack of an income tax sure helped, but that’s still at least $3 million below open-market value — and locked up his top defenseman, Victor Hedman, and his goalie of the future, Andrei Vasilevskiy to team-friendly deals. And the best move in the Western Conference was Nashville adding P.K. Subban.
Bill Huber @bhuber23
#HeyLaz How’s your Monday softball team doing? Heard it’s a pro caliber team.
If by “pro,” you mean a profane abomination unto the softball gods, then yes. Also, since you’re out tonight, does that mean I’m pitching? Better bring my goalie equipment.
Jeff Everson @EVR551
#HeyLaz What is the outlook on Panarin getting a contract extension this season? Can the Hawks even afford him long-term?
Given the uncertainty of the cap situation, and any potential bonuses the Hawks may or may not have to pay out, it could take a while, which surely will make for an angst-ridden fan base. The last thing the Hawks want is to have it drag out till next offseason and have another Brandon Saad situation on their hands. Panarin wants to stay, and the Hawks want to keep him, obviously, so it’ll probably get done sometime in the next few months. But the Hawks already have almost $59 million tied up in seven forwards, four defensemen and one goalie (not counting unproven prospects such as Motte, Schmaltz, Forsling, etc.) for the 2017-18 season. Panarin should command at least $6 million a year, possibly more. It won’t be easy to make the math work. It never is.
Any non-hawks player you’re looking forward to seeing at the World Cup? #HeyLaz
Team Canada was remarkable to watch in Sochi, with brilliant two-way centers at nearly every forward position committing to the system and basically smothering opponents. But I want to see how Team North America — the so-called young guns — fare in the tournament. I want to see how Auston Mathews fares against the world’s best, and that Connor McDavid kid is OK, too.
Summer LeBel @SummerLeBel
#HeyLaz In regards to your work, what are your absolute must-haves in your bag? From a sports journalism student. 🙂
Besides the obvious — laptop, power cord, recorder, notebook — I always make sure I have triple-A batteries for my recorder, a pair of earbuds to back up by Bose headphones, and a phone charger. And all the legal, over-the-counter drugs you can cram in there. You don’t want to be stuck paying hotel or airport prices for a couple of Tylenol or a package of Tums.
#heylaz favorite song of #PJWrigley night 2
“Off He Goes” is probably my favorite Pearl Jam song, so I was glad to hear it. “Blood” was the most impressive, though. How a human being can sing that song two hours and 10 minutes into a show is beyond me. Eddie Vedder’s vocal chords must be made of steel.
Sam Galuppo @SamGaluppo
#HeyLaz Do you see this being the year TVR solidifies himself a spot in the top 4? Or will it be after Campbell is gone?
It won’t be this year, because he won’t get the opportunity. Barring injury, the top four is pretty set with Keith, Hjalmarsson, Campbell and Seabrook. That’ll give van Riemsdyk another year before he’s required to make that leap, which is best for him and best for the team.
Buffington McMoose @Buffs_Buffet
What’s your favourite kind of milk? #heylaz
I’m lactose intolerant, you insensitive monster!
*runs away sobbing*
Sunshine Desjardins✨ @shelbbbybee
#HeyLaz What chances do you think Crawford has to be a starting tender for Canada? Do you think Price is still No. 1 after injury?
It’s unlikely, with the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Braden Holtby and the 2014-15 MVP in Carey Price ahead of him on the roster. Crawford is a worthy candidate and certainly has more big-game experience than Holtby, but Price backstopped Canada to the gold medal in Sochi. If he’s healthy, it’s his job to lose.
Alastair McKenty @amckenty
#HeyLaz from an outsider’s perspective, do the #NHLJets make the playoffs this year?
Hard to see it happening. The Stars aren’t going anywhere. Neither are the Hawks. The Blues are depleted, but still a playoff team. The Predators might be the team to beat in the Central Division. And the Wild should be better under regular-season wizard Bruce Boudreau. The Jets should be improved, but not enough to get in front of any of those teams.
teddy lupin @JTsHelmetHair
#HeyLaz Think the Mets get that Wild Card berth?
No David Wright. No Lucas Duda. No Matt Harvey. Steven Matz is hurting. Jacob deGrom is hurting. Yoenis Cespedes is hurting. Neil Walker is hurting. Asdrubal Cabrera is hurting. If the Mets do make the playoffs, it’ll be a heck of an accomplishment. I’m hopeful, and the competition is underwhelming at best, but ask me again after this make-or-break week with the Marlins and Nationals.
Zach Polvino @zjpolvino
Thoughts on Keith not playing WCH? Good for Hawks? #HeyLaz
For the best. Though it’s somewhat alarming to have to think of Duncan Keith as a human being and not a cyborg.