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The Chicago Blackhawks can’t afford to look past any game but
it might be understandable if they are preoccupied when they play Colorado on
Saturday night.While Chicago is battling the Avalanche in Denver ,
the Winter Classic festivities will be in full swing at Millennium Park in South
Bend, Ind. The Blackhawks are playing Boston in the Jan. 1 game.But before
Chicago (14-20-6) gets to the high-profile matchup of original six teams it will
face a struggling Avalanche squad that has lost three in a row and has gone
3-7-1 since winning 9 of 11. The Blackhawks are trying to beat Colorado for the
second time in eight days in Denver and gain some momentum under coach Jeremy
Colliton.Article continues below ...Since he replaced Joel Quenneville on Nov. 6
Chicago is 8-14-3 and adjusting to the young coach’s style.“It’s just because
every group is different,” Colliton told The Chicago Tribune for the slow
adjustment. “Every player is different. And that’s part of what my learning
curve is: learning the group, learning of them individually.“But the new guys,
just getting to know each other in a short time, that’s the adjustment.”The
Blackhawks will have forward Marcus Kruger back. The center suffered a
concussion on Dec. 18 and missed four games, including the 2-1 win over
Colorado. Forward Jacob Nilsson, who played in two games in Kruger’s absence,
was sent back to Rockford of the AHL.Defenseman Brent Seabrook missed practice
on Friday with an illness but traveled to Denver.The Avalanche (19-13-6) made
some changes – not to the roster but to their lines. With the recent struggles
coach Jared Bednar is moving left winger Gabe Landeskog off the top line to the
second line, breaking up the highest-scoring line in the NHL.Landeskog leads the
team with 24 goals and has combined with center Nathan MacKinnon and forward
Mikko Rantanen for 160 points. But the lack of secondary scoring has become an
issue and Bednar wants to spread the talent.“We’re flipping them around a little
bit to see if we can spark a few guys,” Bednar told after
Friday’s practice. “We’ve done it a couple times in the middle of games and it’s
paid off in our favor.“We’ve talked to our top guys about it; they’re open to
the change. We’re going to see what we can do, see if we can find another
combination that works for our whole team.”Matt Nieto will now play with
MacKinnon and Rantanen. Landeskog, who has 19 assists, will skate with J.T.
Compher and Alexander Kerfoot.“We’ve lost three in a row, so we’ve got to change
something up Chris
Wideman Jersey
,” he told “Obviously, we had some
chemistry with me, Mikko and Nate, but I’m excited to play with Comph and Kerf,
and I think Nietsy’s going to do great with Nate and Mikko.“It’s very rare that
a line stays together for 82 games, but I kind of figured you (media) guys would
come in and get excited over this, but for us it’s just a part of the business.
For me, it doesn’t really matter who I’m playing with. I’m just excited to get
back out and get back on the winning side.” Thanks, Vegas.The Stanley Cup Final
run of the expansion Golden Knights contributed to what is expected to be a
healthy increase for the salary cap, giving NHL teams more freedom to make
deals. With elite center John Tavares, top defenseman John Carlson and a strong
group of free agents available soon, the ceiling for player spending will rise
to between $78 and $82 million from $75 million.”The higher the better,” said
Brian MacLellan, whose Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup. ”It makes it a
lot more fun.”Gentlemen, open your wallets – players like Tavares Womens
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, Carlson and forwards James van Riemsdyk and
Paul Stastny won’t come cheap.With GMs meeting Thursday in Dallas ahead of this
weekend’s draft, trade talk is percolating before free agency opens July 1.
Ottawa has already traded winger Mike Hoffman, and Buffalo center Ryan O’Reilly,
Pittsburgh forward Phil Kessel, Montreal captain Max Pacioretty and Washington
backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer could all be on the move.Ottawa captain Erik
Karlsson is the star who will go to the highest bidder if the Senators are
willing to trade the Norris Trophy-winning defenseman with one year remaining on
his contract. GM Pierre Dorion seemed to be in a tough spot after it was
revealed last week that Karlsson’s wife had filed an order of protection against
Hoffman’s girlfriend, Monika Caryk, alleging harassment and bullying. He solved
that issue by acquiring Mikkel Boedker from the San Jose Sharks for Hoffman in
the first major trade of the offseason.San Jose flipped Hoffman to Florida soon
thereafter, freeing up salary-cap space to pursue Tavares or Russian standout
Ilya Kovalchuk. The Panthers got a 20-goal scorer in Hoffman, who’s just 28.More
immediate decisions await the Islanders and Capitals. New York could make a move
to re-sign Tavares before he can begin speaking with other teams on Monday, and
recently hired president of hockey operations Lou Lamoriello has to hire a new
coach.The Islanders might’ve gotten a fortunate bounce when Barry Trotz resigned
from his job with Washington less than two weeks after lifting the Cup.
Re-signing Tavares and hiring a replacement for fired coach Doug Weight go
hand-in-hand.If it doesn’t work out and Tavares hits the open market, a contract
with an annual salary approaching Connor McDavid’s $12.5 million isn’t out of
the question. Nashville GM David Poile said cap situations put five or six teams
in position for top-end free agents – and knock about half the league out of the
running.”We all have different commitments already of contracts,” Poile said.
”Some teams have a lot of room. Some teams don’t have very much
room.”Big-revenue teams with money to spend include the retooling New York
Rangers and the rising Toronto Maple Leafs. The Rangers are among several teams
linked to Kovalchuk, the 35-year-old winger who’s looking to return to the NHL
after five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League.Former Los Angeles Kings
defenseman Slava Voynov, who won an Olympic gold medal with Kovalchuk, is back
in the U.S. and could be on the way to returning. Voynov was convicted of
domestic abuse and is suspended indefinitely by the NHL Authentic
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, which makes it unclear how a team will
pave the way for him to play.”Right now he’s a suspended player, and until
anything changes there, I don’t think we’re in a position to comment any
further,” Kings GM Rob Blake said. ”A lot of this has to take place between him,
his agent and the National Hockey League.”Dozens of current free agents don’t
know where they’ll be playing next season. Beyond Tavares, Carlson is the most
in-demand pending free agent after leading all defensemen in regular-season and
playoff points.Carlson plans to have his day with the Stanley Cup in Washington,
but because of the uncertainty of the offseason, there’s no guarantee he’ll be
there this fall.”We’ll see what happens,” Carlson said. ”I love it here and all
that, I want to stay here, but there’s more to it than that.”—
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