Blackhawks Notebook: Whirlwind Open To Camp

Goaltender Corey Crawford is still dealing with concussion symptoms.

Jay Zawaski
September 14, 2018 - 4:39 pm
Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford

Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports

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(670 The Score) The Blackhawks sure made up for a slow news summer on their first day of training camp. 

Goaltender Corey Crawford is battling concussion symptoms, defenseman Connor Murphy hurt his back and is out for eight weeks, fellow defenseman Brent Seabrook is out for a week with an abdominal issue and -- perhaps most surprisingly -- the Blackhawks are going to be transparent on injuries. 

There’s a lot to get to, so let me take them one by one.

Crawford still dealing with concussion symptoms

It’s no secret that Crawford’s overall health and availability will be the biggest factor in where the Blackhawks finish after 82 games. On Friday, the star goaltender revealed he has been dealing with concussion symptoms since December. 

“Most of the symptoms are gone, but I’m not cleared yet,” Crawford told reporters at MB Ice Arena. “Until that happens, I won’t be back in.”

The fact that he’s improving is good news, as is the fact that he was on the ice facing shots from goaltending coach Jimmy Waite on Friday. It’s less encouraging that there’s not really a timeline on his return. Concussions are hard to predict. 

Could Crawford be ready in a month? Sure. Could it take six months? Maybe.

Aside from the on-ice impact of Crawford’s injury, I want to address how this entire situation was handled all summer. It’s safe to assume the Blackhawks knew what Crawford was dealing with, and while I understand that players a due some bit of privacy, their silence on the matter only fueled ugly speculation around his off-ice life. 

I’m glad the Blackhawks have since made the decision to be more transparent about injuries, but at what cost to Crawford’s reputation?

That’s all in the past now. Crawford’s long-term health is the biggest concern, but the sooner he’s able to play in meaningful games, the better for a Blackhawks team that looks like a bubble playoff team at best right now.

Defensemen down

Before the Blackhawks took the ice Friday morning, the team announced that Seabrook, Murphy and Gustav Forsling are all injured and unavailable for the start of the preseason.

Seabrook is only expected to miss a weak with an abdominal injury. Murphy and Forsling seem to be more concerning long term.

Murphy has a back injury and is expected to miss eight weeks of the season. That’s really bad news for an already-thin defensive group. Murphy could be considered the Blackhawks No. 4 defenseman and was going to be counted on to contribute serious minutes this season. His absence may send the Hawks looking for veteran help, be it via free agency or trade. General manager Stan Bowman acknowledged that things change for the better or worse for every team in the preseason, so some opportunities for help may present themselves in the coming weeks.

Forsling, who was once considered the Blackhawks' top defensive prospect, is still recovering from wrist surgery. He’s expected back in November but would have been one of the top considerations for a full-time role with the Blackhawks.

All these injuries open the door for top prospect Henri Jokiharju. Even with a healthy defense, he had a strong chance of making the team. Now I think it’d be an upset if he doesn’t make the team. Bowman was asked about Jokiharju’s eligibility to go to Rockford should he not make the team. Bowman said, with a smile, that it’s only a factor if he doesn’t make the team, seeming to indicate his expectation that the 19-year-old will make the team out of camp.

When asked about Jokiharju’s chances, coach Joel Quenneville said the biggest challenges for a young defenseman are overall physical strength and how they react in game situations. The preseason games will be a huge indicator of whether Jokiharju is ready. I believe the Hawks are willing to let him learn by mistakes, but if he looks phycially overmatched, they may want to give him more time to develop physically.  

Time for transparency

A big bone of contention with fans and media with the Blackhawks (and other NHL teams) has been their policy to report only upper- or lower-body injuries. Teams believe that by disclosing specific injuries, they would be exposing their players to targeted hits, and I can’t say I disagree. This policy never bothered me. I don’t see what value there is in telling Ryan Reaves that Patrick Kane has a sprained right shoulder. What player in his right mind wouldn’t take the opportunity to deliver a hard check as Kane is speeding down the right wing? I understand it was inconvenient from a reporting standpoint, but it never bothered me.

Now before you call me out for my hypocrisy on wanting Crawford’s injury disclosed, I think there’s a difference between long-term, serious injury and a nagging bruise to the shoulder or ankle. Day-to-day injuries that are less serious are fine being kept secret, but when rumors swirl and reputations start to get tarnished, I’d take the chance to nip those in the bud.

Lines are set

Quennville rolled out some interesting lines on the first day of practice. Most people, myself included, assumed that Brandon Saad would be Toews’ left wing, but not Friday. Here’s how the lines looked on day one:

FORWARDS

Kunitz-Toews-DeBrincat 

Saad-Schmaltz-Kane 

Ejdsell-Anisimov-Sikura 

Hayden-Kruger-Martinsen 

Kampf-Johnson-Kahun

DEFENSE 

Keith-Jokiharu 

Manning-Rutta 

Davidson-Gustafsson 

Dahlstrom-Boqvist

It’s weird, but I kind of like these. I know Chris Kunitz on the top line isn't the ideal, but at this moment there isn’t a better option. Kunitz has a scoring history and has shown the ability to adapt his game to whichever line he’s on. The hope is that a younger player like Dylan Sikura, John Hayden or someone else can rise up and take that role, but for now, it should be fine. 

I also like Nick Schmaltz at center. He still needs to improve his face-off percentage, but he’s an effective young center and I want to see him grow at that position. Anisimov is the best third-line center in the game, and I think Ejdsell and Sikura complement each other well. 

I’m taking the defensive pairings with a grain of salt without Seabrook, but I like seeing Jokiharju with Duncan Keith. It really seems the Hawks are giving him every chance to make the team. 

'Warms my heart'

Islanders (and former Sabres) goalie Robin Lehner wrote a piece for the Players' Tribune regarding his addiction and bilpolar struggles. In the story, he credits Sabres general manager Jason Botterill for his care and compassion. 

Former Blackhawk Daniel Carcillo chimed in to the conversation on Twitter. He said, “Warms my heart to hear that Jason helped Robin, the human being, 1st & foremost. I had a very similar situation in Chicago & Stan Bowman helped save my life.” 

Often in our criticisms and frustration of sports, we forget that these guys are human. It’s good to know the Blackhawks do their best to take care of their players, and it’s overwhelming to read that Carcillo credits Bowman, at least partially, with saving his life. 

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Bernstein & McKnight Show on 670 middays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. He's also a columnist. Follow him on Twitter @JayZawaski670.​​