Rozner: Blackhawks hot, Richards not in early going
It's so early that it's seems unnecessary to mention how early it is.
Nevertheless, it's probably worth remembering that the Blackhawks have played a grand total of two games.
Still, for those who watched Brad Richards last season in New York -- 2 points, minus-4 in the last 10 playoff games and couldn't compete with any of the Kings' four centers in the Stanley Cup Final -- and thought he might not have much left in the tank, Richards has done nothing to dispel that notion.
In his defense, Richards -- who'll be 35 when the Hawks finish the second round in early May -- missed a few practices last week when he became a first-time dad and basically went straight from the hospital to playing his first couple games with the Hawks.
He also went from second-line center to watching Andrew Shaw reunited with Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane, a line that finished the playoffs strong and put up 7 points on Buffalo Saturday night. The third line, which also lost Kris Versteeg to injury, has yet to record a point.
The fact that Richards looks out of place thus far, including 4:36 on the power play, could be attributed to a new location and a major life change, not to mention a lack of sleep and new linemates.
But until Richards starts to produce, it will leave Hawks fans watching Ryan Kesler in Anaheim -- where he has 2 goals and 3 assists in three games -- and wondering what Kesler would have meant to the Hawks' roster and whether they did enough to try to acquire one of the best two-way centers in the Western Conference.
Expensive? Of course, both in dollars and the players the Hawks would have had to trade to get Kesler.
As for the money, Kesler's cap hit is $5 million and the Hawks have $4.75 million tied up in Richards ($2 million), Versteeg ($2.2 million) and Dan Carcillo ($550,000), not to mention $2.2 million in Michal Rozsival.
It's worth noting that Kesler has a $5 million hit in 2015-16 as well, when the Hawks already have $66 million committed to 16 players, with the cap expected to go up to about $76 million.
But after this season, Saad, Marcus Kruger and David Rundblad will be restricted free agents, and Richards, Carcillo, Rozsival, Johnny Oduya and Kyle Cumiskey will be unrestricted.
Saad is going to get himself a pile of money, and while the Hawks like Oduya, they have plenty of young defensemen on the way and Oduya isn't always the same player when postseason series become physical.
After next season, Brent Seabrook, Ben Smith and Antti Raanta are unrestricted, while Shaw, Jeremy Morin and Trevor van Riemsdyk are restricted. The Hawks will try to retain Seabrook, and Smith and Shaw are certain to get paid.
So the process is constant and the need to get youngsters into the lineup absolutely crucial.
So far, it's easy to see why Joel Quenneville likes van Riemsdyk. He's steady and confident in his own end and not at all reluctant to join the play.
The same can't be said of Rundblad, for whom the Hawks traded a second-round pick last March. He looks shaky at best, and you have to think Quenneville will get Cumiskey -- who skates well and can move the puck -- into the lineup this week, though Rozsival is also due back from injury.
But when you have an extraordinary core than includes the likes of Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, the Hawks will always be among the favorites to reach the final round, and the good start despite playing less than great hockey is a positive.
Smith has replaced Michal Handzus alongside Kruger on the penalty kill and the Hawks haven't skipped a beat, while the power play is the power play. When the Hawks get pucks to the net, it looks good. When they play it cute, it's a source of frustration.
In the cap era, no team has a perfect roster, but the Hawks are awfully good again and they have every right to think they'll be back in the Western Conference finals.
No. 2 center or not, the Hawks have done it before -- and they expect to do it again.
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