Saad gets the first chance to win Blackhawks’ second-line center spot
BY MARK LAZERUS Staff Reporter September 11, 2013 8:35PM
Joel Quenneville said Brandon Saad will have to improve on defense if he’s to be the second-line center. | Sun-Times
Updated: September 11, 2013 10:41PM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Brandon Saad, a Calder Trophy finalist as a left wing last season, will get the first crack at the Blackhawks’ vacant second-line center spot, coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday as training camp began at Notre Dame.
“We’re going to try it,” Quenneville said. “He’s good with the puck, he’s a big banger, he’s a big body and he can see and make plays well. He protects the puck well. Defensively, [the center] has a little more responsibility down low in our own end. That’s where the growth will have to come. But I think both sides of the puck, he’s got a pretty good mind for the game.”
Brandon Pirri, the AHL’s leading scorer last year, is another candidate. Michal Handzus, who held that spot during the playoffs, will start with a smaller role this season, Quenneville said.
The Hawks announced a two-year contract extension for general manager Stan Bowman. He’s now signed through the 2017-18 season.
Bowman, the youngest GM in the NHL at 40, essentially inherited the 2010 Stanley Cup team from his predecessor, Dale Tallon, when he took over July 14, 2009. But over the next few years, after having to dismantle much of the team for salary reasons, Bowman rebuilt the Hawks through savvy trades (Viktor Stalberg, Michael Frolik, Johnny Oduya, Handzus) and drafting (Saad, Andrew Shaw). In June, they became the first team to win two Cups in the salary-cap era, and Bowman has managed to keep the core of the team signed to long-term deals.
Last week, Bowman said Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — who are eligible for extensions July 1 — would be Blackhawks “forever.” He stood by that, saying he was confident they could be re-signed because “I know they want to win.”
Toews wasn’t as emphatic but didn’t disagree.
“It’d be tough to find any reason to want to play somewhere else,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any place better around the league or around the world to play hockey.”
Quenneville said all the Hawks are healthy enough to be on the ice for the opening practice Thursday, including Marian Hossa (back), Bryan Bickell (knee, thumb) and Handzus (hand, knee).
After the session, it will be determined if any of them need to be protected from contact when scrimmages begin Friday.