Fantasy

Are The Chicago Blackhawks On The Decline?

If you are looking for an article that suggests that Joel Quenneville should be fired as head coach of the Blackhawks, you have come to the wrong place. There are many other factors that play into the reasons why the Chicago Blackhawks have now been eliminated in the opening round of the NHL playoffs for the second year in a row. GM Stan Bowman has already stated that Quenneville will be the coach and started one of his many promises to not let the disappointing effort his team put in against the Nashville Predators happen again by firing assistant coach Mike Kitchen and the Rockford affiliate’s head coach Ted Dent. As part of the Blackhawks’ staff Kitchen’s focus was on special teams, mainly the penalty kill. That kill finished the season 24th overall in the league. The penalty kill started this season so poorly that it was never going to get too far out of the bottom of the rankings. It did get a bit better as the season wore on, and it was fourth overall during the Blackhawks’ short run in the playoffs. He was also responsible for the defense, which did not look good this season either. This continues to lead us to the question of whether the glass is half empty or half full for the future of a team that has won 3 Stanley Cups since 2010.

The Glass Half Empty

One of the biggest issues the Blackhawks and Stan Bowman face is dealing with the salary cap. According to CapFriendly.com, the Blackhawks have 20 players under contract for 2017-18 and are already $820,000 over a $73-million cap. That’s with Richard Panik and Michal Kempny as restricted free agents, and with Artemi Panarin’s contract jumping to a $6 million cap hit. If Marian Hossa retires, that opens up a little money but not much, as it’s through cap recapture. Brent Seabrook, 32, is signed through 2024 at a $6.875 million annually against the cap but has a no-move clause. Goalie Corey Crawford, 32, who makes $6 million against the cap through 2020 and has a modified no-trade clause and a no-move clause. The Blackhawks are only going to be as good as the reinforcements that replace their salary cap issues. This list includes backup goaltender Scott Darling(now traded to Carolina as this article was being written), veteran defenseman Brian Campbell, third-year defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, center Marcus Kruger and restricted free agent Richard Panik. One of the issues with this replacement list is that Darling, Van Riemsdyk and Kruger are all candidates to be taken by Las Vegas in the expansion draft. They have little roster flexibility and Bowman is about to pay for the sins of the win-now mentality.

Another issue facing the Blackhawks is their blue line. Their defenders this year were either slow or just unproductive. One indication of how desperate Stan Bowman was to find some quality defenseman that he brought Campbell and Johnny Oduya back. Campbell, 37, put up 17 points in 80 games, his worst scoring season since 2003-2004. Oduya, acquired at the trade deadline from Dallas, wasn’t much better. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson logged the most minutes for Chicago. The rest of the group rounded out with Campbell, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling, Michal Rozsival, and Oduya. That’s quite a dropoff in talent.  Help is not really on the way. The top defensive prospects that might find their way on the roster are Carl Dahlstrom and/or Ville Pokka. Both might end up being pretty good but if the Dallas Stars taught us anything, it’s that having much of your blue line filled with untested rookies is not a good way to contend for the playoffs. Chicago may have no choice, and that’s a reason for concern.

The Glass is Half Full

The Blackhawks still have Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews. That is certainly comforting to know that you can start your team with these two stars. However, it will take a few more pieces in order for Bowman to keep his promise. This year they added some rookies to their roster. Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, Tanner Kero and Vinnie Hinostroza did the job for a good portion of the year. They combined for zero points and a minus-9 and showed that they were not ready for prime time. They were also not ready for the steamrolling machine called the Nashville Predators, including Schmaltz, who managed just two shots on goal in four games despite over 15 minutes TOI. Let’s also mention one other thing, which is to give the Preds their just due. Pekka Rinne and teammates played a great series as the Preds were stronger on the puck, faster to the corners and played a perfect trap game. However, it is the thought that these young, talented players will learn from this experience and be much improved next year and hopefully a playoff run.  The Hawks are not very deep with prospects but they do have some talent that could help soon. Leading the way is Alex DeBrincat, who is an electric scoring talent that put up 51 goals in back-to-back OHL seasons and scored at an even higher rate in 2016-17. John Hayden and Tyler Motte should also add some skill and depth to some top lines in the future. Motte has a solid balance of skills in an NHL-ready package and should carve out a nice role after a bit of seasoning. Hayden is a change of pace from many of the Blackhawk’s other top prospects as he is a big presence at 6’3, 220 pounds, and he’s learned how to use that size to create space and chances. He should help be the physical presence that Blackhawks so badly needed, especially in the playoffs. It is also expected that Bowman will again search the four corners of the globe to bring in some cap-friendly talent in addition to the 10 draft picks they have currently for the upcoming draft. Regardless of whether the glass remains half empty or half full, it is going to be a very interesting off-season in the Windy City.

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