Chicago Blackhawks 2017-2018 Season Preview

imgresChicago Blackhawks

50-23-9, 109 points, 1st in the Central Division

Eliminated in the First Round by Nashville

Additions: G Jean-Francois Berube, F Lance Bouma, F Laurent Dauphin, G Anton Forsberg, D Connor Murphy, D Jordan Oesterle, F Brandon Saad, F Patrick Sharp, F Tommy Wingels

Subtractions: D Brian Campbell (retired), G Scott Darling (traded to CAR), F Andrew Desjardins (signed a PTO with NYR), D Dillon Fournier (retired), D Niklas Hjalmarsson (traded to ARI), G Lars Johansson (signed with CSKA Moscow, KHL), F Marcus Kruger (traded to VGK), F Pierre-Cedric Labrie (signed with NSH), D Shawn Lalonde (signed with Kölner Haie, DEL), F Michael Latta (signed with ARI), F Martin Lundberg (signed with Växjö Lakers HC, SHL), F Brandon Mashinter (signed with SJ), F Tyler Motte (traded to CBJ), D Johnny Oduya (signed with OTT), F Artemi Panarin (traded to CBJ), F Dennis Rasmussen (signed with ANA), D Trevor van Riemsdyk (claimed by VGK at the 2017 Expansion Draft)

Still Unsigned: G Mac Carruth, F Kenton Helgesen, D Nolan Valleau

Offseason Analysis: After being swept in the First Round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Nashville Predators, the Chicago Blackhawks are turning the page by burning the playbook from the last few seasons. It’s not as much of an overreaction as the Florida Panthers this offseason, but it’s quite a change in the direction of the organization as a whole.

If something feels much different this offseason than in 2010, 2013 and 2015 it’s because the Blackhawks didn’t win the Cup and made moves this offseason similar to when they did.

They traded one of their star forwards. They traded a top-4 defenseman. They traded their backup goaltender. They navigated a tight cap situation. They still have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but they won’t have Marian Hossa this season (Hossa is out for the season due to a skin condition caused by his equipment, if you recall).

Brandon Saad returns to the Blackhawks in the biggest trade this offseason, in which two-time 70-plus point scorer, Artemi Panarin, was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets. While Saad is a year younger than Panarin, he is no Bread Man– but at least he is under contract through the 2020-2021 season (whereas Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2018-2019 season).

Chicago didn’t do themselves any major favors in terms of saving some salary in the immediate future concerning the Saad acquisition, but they did buy themselves at least a few million dollars to spend elsewhere between now and when Panarin’s contract would’ve run out with the Blackhawks in 2019.

Then again, they cost themselves some scoring production between now and then, as Saad only put up 24-29-53 totals in 82 games last season compared to Panarin’s 31-43-74 totals in 82 games played.

Fear not, if you’re a Columbus fan, because hopefully in two years you’ll still be able to afford your number one scorer and highest paid player (although Josh Anderson is still unsigned as of the writing of this post and the Blue Jackets only have about $8 million in cap space– on second thought, yeah, you’ll be fine).

In addition to the expected drop in offensive production from Panarin to Saad, the Blackhawks will miss Hossa’s scoring ability this season (yes, even as a 38-year-old).

Chicago will turn to 21-year-old, Nick Schmaltz, and 23-year-old, Ryan Hartman, to pickup where others have left off on offense and especially because the rest of the roster isn’t getting any younger (ten of their forwards on the roster currently are 25 or older).

On defense, the Blackhawks are in search of a sixth defenseman and their next Trevor van Riemsdyk, given Brian Campbell’s retirement and the fact that van Riemsdyk was a victim of the Vegas Golden Knights expansion draft (and subsequent trade to the Carolina Hurricanes).

Newcomer Connor Murphy is their youngest product on the blue line at 24-years-old. Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival seek to anchor the defense while Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook remain the star attractions of Chicago’s shut-down pairings. Between Kempny, Murphy, Rozsival and the unknown, somebody’s going to have to emerge as the replacement for Niklas Hjalmarsson (traded to Arizona, in exchange for Murphy and forward, Laurent Dauphin) and van Riemsdyk.

In goal, Corey Crawford returns as the starter, while Anton Forsberg and Jean-Francois Berube compete for the backup role. To the untrained scouting expert’s eye, both goalies can be dependable NHL backups, but Forsberg stands out more as a durable solution to the long term backup status goalie if Chicago is looking for one (hint: they are).

Don’t let Forsberg’s 4.10 goals against average and .852 save percentage last season dissuade you. He only made one appearance in net for Columbus and still managed a career best 2.28 GAA and .926 SV% in 51 games played with the Cleveland Monsters (AHL) last season. It doesn’t hurt to give him more playing time in relief of Crawford and especially with Berube as a third option, as Forsberg can really begin to develop in an organization’s system that isn’t clogged with a two-time Vezina Trophy winner (Sergei Bobrovsky) and Joonas Korpisalo.

Should he be called upon, Berube’s 3.42 GAA and .889 SV% in 14 games last season with the New York Islanders aren’t terrible, they’re just not great either. But again, there’s a reason why starting goalies play in more games than backup goalies.

Offseason Grade: C-

The Blackhawks made quite a splash this offseason by trading away Panarin, which isn’t the best look for a team that’s trying to remain a contender for a long time. Then again the salary cap exists and the return of Brandon Saad means Chicago will be able to get by in case the cap remains flat or in the event of a lockout for the duration of Saad’s contract.

One thing’s for sure, the Blackhawks will need some retooling during the Kane and Toews era because all good things must come to an end– and that time looks like it might be now as they navigate the uncertainty of Hossa’s career, a new look on the blue line and a bunch of expendable forwards for the time being while they wait for prospects to develop.

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