As Blackhawks clean out their lockers, the talk turns to the future

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bownman said keeping young players such as Alex DeBrincat, at right behind the net, Nick Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza is a top priority for the organization.

    Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bownman said keeping young players such as Alex DeBrincat, at right behind the net, Nick Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza is a top priority for the organization. Associated Press/file

 
 
Updated 4/9/2018 7:43 PM

Locker-cleanout day is a day like no other in the NHL.

The general manager, the coach, the star players, the young ones -- they all talk to the media.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

For the Blackhawks, it was a four-hour parade to the podium Monday at the United Center, and we figure the best way to break it down is to give it to you in abbreviated, digestible snippets:

Is Crawford OK?

GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville both expressed optimism that Corey Crawford will assume No. 1 goaltending duties next season. Crawford missed the final 47 games and showed he may be their most valuable player.

"When you have a goalie like Corey, it gives the whole team confidence in making plays and doing things," said Duncan Keith. "Losing him hurt, there's no question about it."

Bowman isn't worried about a drop-off or a regression in Crawford's game.

"You look back at where he was in 2013 and I think that there's no way we win the Stanley Cup that year or in 2015," Bowman said. "He just seems to keep getting better every year to where you can see his value to our team right now. So I would expect his performance to be certainly where he was last year for sure. I don't think there's any reason to doubt that."

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Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman says he expects goalie Corey Crawford to return to form next season.
Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman says he expects goalie Corey Crawford to return to form next season. - Associated Press/2017 file
Young men, speak your minds

One question posed to nearly everyone was how much do young players such as Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat and Vinnie Hinostroza need to do to take on leadership roles?

Kind of a second coming of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson, if you will.

"You need everyone in that locker room," Kane said. "You don't need five or six guys all the time saying the same things over and over. … You need everyone to be a presence. I think that's what we had on championship teams and that's why we were so successful."

Duncan Keith, however, bristled at this line of thinking.

"You can kind of analyze things to death and look at different things whether it's young guys, old guys," Keith said. "Playing good hockey, making good hockey plays and winning hockey games, that's what it comes down to. That's how you win in this league is being good, making smart decisions and the right plays at the right time."

Comedian Kane

Patrick Kane was in a surprisingly good mood for his eight-minute talk, joking that he let Alex DeBrincat win the team goal-scoring title, 28-27.

"I was playing with Sharpy (Patrick Sharp) the past couple of games," Kane said "so I passed it every time."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

DeBrincat was certainly appreciative.

"I know he could have shot a few more pucks if he really wanted it," DeBrincat said. "Thanks to him for that."

Tough times to come

Patrick Sharp isn't sure what's ahead, but he's happy to have a strong support system in his wife, parents and the Hawks organization. Sharp, who retired after 14 NHL seasons, knows the difficult part is yet to come.

"(Right now) it's just year-end meetings," Sharp said. "We've done this 100 times before. From that standpoint, it's comfortable.

"But when it's time to do the heavy training and September rolls around and training camp starts, I think that's when it's going to be difficult for me. I'm not really looking forward to that.

"But the next step in my life -- whatever it may be -- I'm looking forward to it."

New No. 2 needed?

Goalies Anton Forsberg, J-F Berube and Jeff Glass combined to go 16-29-8 with a .902 save percentage and 3.24 goals-against average. Of the three, Forsberg had the best numbers (.908, 2.97).

GM Stan Bowman said it's possible he'll consider bringing in someone else to be the backup, but he also liked the progression of his netminders.

"We put a lot on their plate," Bowman said. "For young goalies to come in and be expected to lead, with Corey being out that long, it was a challenge for them. If they do end up being the guys that are here next year, I think they're going to be better for the experience that they went through."

Collin Delia, 23, played two games but spent most of the year in Rockford.

Forward thinking

Vinnie Hinostroza, Anthony Duclair and Tomas Jurco will be restricted free agents this summer. Next year, you can add Nick Schmaltz and Dylan Sikura to that mix, and the year after that will be Alex DeBrincat.

The Hawks' cap situation is never easy to navigate, but Stan Bowman said keeping DeBrincat, Schmaltz and Hinostroza is a top priority.

"If there's a situation that makes sense on a longer term, we're not going to shy away from that," Bowman said of bringing in free agents. "But it would have to be understood that we're going to be able to commit to those young guys who are here.

"They showed in a short amount of time that they're sort of the future of where we're headed over the next couple seasons, and we want to make sure they're part of it."

Slap shots

Patrick Kane will participate at the World Championships in May and serve as U.S. captain. Alex DeBrincat and Connor Murphy will also play for Team USA. ... Stan Bowman said there has been no change to Marian Hossa's skin condition and "there's no indication he's going to play next year." … Brandon Saad said he's getting married in July.

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