The End of a Dynasty in Chicago?
Chicago has enjoyed a lot of success over the last decade and has three championship rings to show for it. Success doesn’t last forever, unfortunately. After two straight first-round playoff exits, the Blackhawks failed to qualify last season, falling apart after Corey Crawford was shut down for the year. Playing in the toughest division in hockey, a return to the playoffs will be a tall task in the Windy City.
The Blackhawks should have scored more than they did. The defense was just as bad as it looked. If not for strong goaltending, things would have been even worse for the Hawks who finished last in the Central Division. Corey Crawford’s importance to this team can not be understated.
What went right:
Alex DeBrincat showed a lot of promise in his rookie season. The diminutive forward flirted with the 30-goal mark, ultimately scoring a team-high 28 goals, one more than Patrick Kane. He also ranked 2nd on the team in points with 52, tied with Jonathan Toews and Nick Schmaltz. As a team, the Hawks used their speed to their advantage, with the 2nd most odd-man rushes and rush scoring chances in the NHL at even-strength.
What Went Wrong:
Corey Crawford’s injury completely derailed Chicago’s season, leading them to miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Before going down, he was 3rd among starters with a .928 save percentage and was tied with Andrei Vasilevskiy for the league’s best goals against average at 2.14. During that time, Chicago was 19th in the standings, so on the fringe of a playoff spot. After Crawford’s last game on December 23rd, the Blackhawks tied Buffalo for the league’s 3rd worst record as they played five different goalies who combined for the 3rd worst save percentage in the NHL over that span. Their defense didn’t give them much of a chance, as they allowed the most slot shots and most inner slot shots in the NHL, during that span. Offensively, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews had down years, while the Panarin-Saad swap proved to be a clear L for Chicago as Saad only scored 35 points, less than half of Panarin’s 82 points. The Hawks power play was also problematic, ranking 28th in the NHL. The most notable problem was their inability to get pucks to the middle, as they ranked 29th in passes to the slot and 30th in slot shots per-2 minutes of powerplay time.
Key Additions: Cam Ward, Marcus Kruger, Chris Kunitz, Brandon Manning
Key Departures: Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle, Anthony Duclair, Cody Franson, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa,
Other Key moves: PTO for Brandon Davidson
Trading away Hinostroza, a dynamic young player, was simply the price to pay to move on from Hossa’s contract, so it’s hard to fault them for that. They also brought back a familiar face in defensive center Marcus Kruger from the Coyotes in the trade. Cam Ward adds some insurance behind Corey Crawford in case the latter gets injured again. Anthony Duclair is skilled, but he hasn’t been able to put it all together to become a productive player so far in his career, so the Blackhawks let him walk after taking a mid-season flyer on him. The rest of their moves were mostly replacing depth players they lost, none of which project as high impact players. On draft day, Chicago had a pleasant surprise when Adam Boqvist was still on the board for them at the 8th pick. They hope he will eventually take over big minutes from the aging Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, although likely not this season.
Next season preview
What could go right?
It was weird to see Chicago missing the playoffs after nine straight seasons of qualifying and three Stanley Cups to show for it. There’s reason for optimism, however. Patrick Kane is still an offensive dynamo right in the middle of his prime, ranking 2nd in the NHL in offensive zone possession time and only two seasons removed from winning the Hart and Art Ross trophies. Jonathan Toews’ goal total and shooting percentage have gone down over the last couple of years, but he is still a prolific passer (25th in completed offensive zone passes) and a perennial Selke candidate with his strong defensive play and work in the faceoff circle (8th highest faceoff win %). Saad had three straight seasons of at least 20 goals and 50 points, so it’s not unrealistic to expect him to get back to that level. Corey Crawford showed no sign of slowing down before getting injured and a full season from him would give the team a big lift.
What could go wrong?
Even a healthy Crawford may not be enough in the loaded Central division. Last year they were the only team in their division to have a sub .500 record and they haven’t added much since that suggesting they could catch up to the teams ahead of them. As good as their team is creating off the rush, they’re about as bad limiting opponents from doing the same, as they gave up the 3rd most rush chances and 2nd most odd-man rushes of any team last season. Both of their defensive cornerstones, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, posted their worst point totals in years and that may not improve as they both get deeper into their 30’s. This is especially concerning as they don’t have anyone else on their roster who has shown they can handle regular top blueline minutes.