The Below the Ice crew brings you NHL: 31 for 31.
This year as the clock ticks down towards the NHL season, the writers here at BTI will be bringing you our preview of all 31 NHL teams, in 31 days.
Blowing on into the Central Division we head to the windy city for our preview of the Chicago Blackhawks
7th in the Central, 13th in the West 33-39-10 (76 points)
Last year was a season of lows for the Chicago Blackhawks.
After being swept by the 8-seed Nashville Predators in the 1st round of the playoffs the year before, everyone expected Chicago to come back with a vengeance. In the off-season they looked to shake the team up and traded Artemi Panarin for Brandon Saad in what most considered a lopsided win for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Chicago would start the season 17-13-5 before starting goaltender Corey Crawford would go down with an injury that would force him out for the rest of the season. Before going down Crawford had a record of 16-9-2 with a .929SV% and 2.27GAA.
With a massive hole in net, Chicago’s depth on defence would be challenged, Brent Seabrook would be healthy scratched for the first time in his career, Patrick Kane would go under a point-per-game for the first time in 6 seasons.
All in all the Blackhawks would see a 33 point swing in the standings finishing near the basement missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years.
- June 26, Traded Jean-Francois Berube for Jordan Schroeder
- June 30, Signed Cam Ward 1-year, 3 million, Chris Kunitz 1-year, 1 million, Brandon Manning 2-year, 2.25AAV
- June 30, signed 1sr-round pick Adam Boqvist to an entry level contract
- Traded Marion Hossa to Arizona for cap relief
- August 27, Signed Brandon Davidson to a PTO
Jordan Schroeder, Brandon Davidson (PTO), Cam Ward, Chris Kunitz, Marcus Kruger
Lance Bouma, Vinnie Hinnostroza, Cody Franson, Jean-Francois Berube, Anthony Duclair, Patrick Sharp
OFFSEASON GRADE: D
With Chicago pushed near the cap ceiling not many moves were an option for Chicago.
They knew they needed a more reliable back-up for Crawford and found that in Cam Ward but one might wonder whether a team with cap issues couldn’t of found a more cost effective back-up and used parts of that 3 million to address other holes on the roster.
The defence is what really got exposed for Chicago last year, other than Duncan Keith, no one really stood out of did anything for the Blackhawks. Brandon Davidson and Brandon Manning are good depth pieces but are closer to the bottom pair than they’re the top.
Offence was also a problem last year for Chicago, as their leading scorer Kane, had trouble finding chemistry with teammates the same way he had it with Artemi Panarin. Chris Kunitz is a 4 time Stanley Cup champion and a good locker room guy but at 38, his best playing days in Pittsburgh and Anaheim are behind him.
35GP: 5G, 11A
Erik Gustafson along with Alex Debrincat were one of the only real bright spots for the Blackhawks last season.
Gustafsson made his way up the depth chart, as others played their way off it. Eventually he would make his season debut, in January, after Chicago sent struggling defensemen Cody Franson, down to the AHL. At the time of his call up Gustafsson had 17 points in 25 AHL games.
The offensive side of his game is here and now at 26, Gustafsson must wonder if he’s here to stay in the NHL. Defence is what the Blackhawks had asked Gustafsson to work on and if his possession numbers are any indication of progress, than he can bring confidence into Chicago’s camp this year as well.
2018-19 Projection: 10G, 23A
DUE TO REGRESS:
78GP: 21G, 31A
Last season, Nick Schmaltz, started the season centering a line with Patrick Kane and with 16 points in just 21 games Schmaltz, was on fire, or so it seemed. In those 21 games, Schmaltz, only registered points in 8 of those contests, scoring 3 points, 3 times. During that span he also had pointless droughts of 4 and 5 games.
Last year on 118 shots Schmaltz scored 21 goals, thats a a whopping 17.8% shooting, way above the league average. 21 goals is an impressive feat in todays NHL, especially for a player who never scored 20 goals in a season dating back to 2011 in junior. Schmaltz is more of a playmaker and playing with Patrick Kane means finding him the puck, last year Kane’s shot attempts (496) were more than double Schmaltz (218).
The good news for Schmaltz is last season was a down season for his linemate Kane, which i expect him to bounce back from and re-enter the over a point a game category. So what Schmaltz loses in goals this year I believe he can slightly make up in assists.
2018-19 Projection: 14G, 33A
6th in the Central, 12th in the West, 83 points
For a second straight year the Chicago Blackhawks will fail to make the post season.
The torch has been passed from Chicago, now the likes of Nashville and Winnipeg sit atop the throne in the Central.
In an uber tight West where so many teams got better it must of been hard to watch for Blackhawks fans as the only real excitement has been depth signings. Kunitz, Manning, Kruger and Ward are good adds to a team that is only a few pieces away but the Blackhawks are more than a few pieces away.
The defence will be the first thing exposed in Chicago this year. Duncan Keith is one of the best defensemen in the NHL and will continue to do so but outside of him its pretty bare bones in Chicago. Seabrook took major steps back last year and I don’t see it getting any better for him from here. Murphy, Rutta and Manning are all good 4-5 defensemen but none of them truly have a top 2-3 potential. This is a team who hasn’t had a good defensemen to either keep up with Keith, or keep Seabrook’s head above water since Niklas Hjalmarsson was traded for Connor Murphy to get younger on D. While do have Brandon Davidson on a PTO his addition still doesn’t turn the corner for me on this being a playoff team.
I expect Artem Anisimov to be moved during the regular season as well. His NTC starting this year requires him to submit a 10 team list he can be traded too. To a playoff team this season, Anisimov, might be able to entice a team to give up their 1st-round pick which are very coveted this year. Anisimov has 20 goals in 4 of his last 5 campaigns shooting over 15% in each of his last 3 seasons.
A poor season by Chicago will most likely cost Joel Quenneville his job at the end of the year and in the offseason Chicago will have to make some hard decisions regarding their roster going forward.
Comeback tomorrow where NHL 31 for 31 turns 10 ( days) and we celebrate the Colorado Avalanche.