As the Chicago Blackhawks’ postseason hopes dwindle, Patrick Kane and veteran staples could see a reduced workload to close the NHL season

As the Chicago Blackhawks’ postseason hopes dwindle, Patrick Kane and veteran staples could see a reduced workload to close the NHL season
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Phil Thompson, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read
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Being an ironman is admirable, but the Chicago Blackhawks are at a point in the season at which they need to take the long-term view.

While Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton has refused to give up on his team’s faded playoffs hopes, he also has recognized it’s time to reduce the heavy workload of veterans such as Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith.

The Hawks have plenty of young players — particularly among the defensemen — who could use a bump in ice time to further their development with six games left in the season entering Saturday and the Hawks six points behind the fourth-place Nashville Predators.

“Yeah, no question, we’d like to have these guys playing a little more minutes,” Colliton said Saturday. “When you’re in development phase for these young guys, first, second, third year in the league, you want to try and give them just the right amount, not too little, not too much — Goldilocks.”

Hawks coaches have been careful not to put too much on some of the younger skaters’ plates.

For example, Colliton said earlier this week that Adam Boqvist struggled with his conditioning when asked to follow up a shift on the power play with a shift on five-on-five. In other cases, Colliton has had to dial back minutes for players such as Ian Mitchell and Philipp Kurashev when they regressed or the Hawks wanted to create opportunities for others, such as Nicolas Beaudin.

So it’s understandable that more experienced skaters have had to fill a lot of minutes out of necessity.

Entering Saturday’s game against the Panthers, Keith ranked 21st in the league in average ice time (23 minutes, 45 seconds). Kane ranked fourth among forwards (22:16). Connor Murphy was third on the team at 22:06.

“Sometimes the older guys absorb a little bit more because they can handle it,” Colliton said. “They have more of a base to their game. They know how to survive in situations where they’re under pressure or the game’s on the line.

“We certainly want the young guys to get in those situations, but you don’t want them to be overwhelmed. We want to put them in a position to thrive.”

Colliton noted Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach being brought along in a similar way.

“There’s lots of other examples,” he said. “As they get more comfortable in the league and they’re able to better prepare themselves mentally, they can take more of a load.”

Workload is something the Hawks have been trying to strike a balance with all season. Colliton acknowledged that in recent weeks he sacrificed practice time to reduce the condensed season’s physical toll on players but felt their performance as a team ultimately suffered for it.

“We have backed off the practices a lot there in the second half, just because of trying to keep guys fresh,” Colliton said Friday. “That’s hurt us a lot.

“I don’t know if there was another way to go — we felt we needed more rest — but this group needs practice as well. So we’re trying to get in as much as we can.”

Nikita Zadorov agreed that it’s a dilemma.

“I personally like practices when I’m fully recovered and I feel good,” he said. “Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you’re pretty tired after the game, after a road trip and you need that day off, you need the optional skate or something. Jeremy is really good at managing that.”

Zadorov said players can work on things individually and as a team that they can use in games, but this season’s 56-game schedule — influenced by the league’s COVID-19 protocols — added challenges.

“This year is a different schedule, right?” Zadorov said. “We’re pretty backed up, it’s game after game every other day and there’s not many practices you can fill in, so I feel them.

“Maybe next year if we come back to our normal schedule, we’re going to get more time over there definitely.”