Well that was a week to forget. The Chicago Blackhawks ended the season getting eaten alive by the Winnipeg Jets. They did have the last laugh, however, being a helping hand in stopping the St. Louis Blues from making the playoffs by taking one out of two games in the home and home series. The Hawks finished their season with a 33-39-10 record, totaling 76 points in the Central division. That point total was the worst the Blackhawks have had since the 2006-2007 season. Even in the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season, the Hawks tallied 77 points, and would go on to win the Stanley Cup. Needless to say, it was a down year for the Hawks, much worse than anyone predicted at the beginning of the year.
As much as this season was a disappointment for the Hawks, a few moves could put the Hawks right back in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race next year.
The Blackhawks have already announced that GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville will return for the 2018-2019 NHL season, which is good. Overall, the Hawks have had one bad playoff series in 2016-2017 and one bad season since Bowman and Quenneville took over. It would be absurd to get rid of the two guys who helped coach and build the Hawks to three Stanley Cups over 10 seasons. Not to mention that out of those ten seasons, the Hawks only missed the playoffs twice, 2007-2008 and this season. To get rid of either of them would cause chaos in Chicago and a very disappointed fan base.
The first glaring hole the Hawks have to address this offseason would be the defense. Brent Seabrook had the worst season of his career, mustering only 26 points and a minus 3 rating. He’ll be 33 in a few weeks and at this point, he’s not going to get any better. On the downturn of his career, Seabrook is owed a 4.5 million dollar base salary for the 2018-2019 season plus a 4.5 million dollar signing bonus and an overall cap hit of 6.875 million dollars. The hope is that the Blackhawks will rework his contract simply because Seabs doesn’t deserve it. That money could be spent to help the team in other spots. Expect a completely different back end for the Hawks in 2018-2019.
We can speculate that Keith will be back as a top line D man, as he has been for his entire Chicago career. We can also expect that Brent Seabrook and Connor Murphy make it back next season, as both are under contract. Past that, the rest of the defensemen may be in the AHL next year or on another team.
The Hawks recently resigned Erik Gustaffson, so expect him to play some games next year or be a bottom four D man for the Hawks. Jordan Osterle may be back as a 7th D man and we can expect Jan Rutta to be back in some capacity. However, the Hawks also have Henri Jokiharju, who is likely to see playing time in 2018-2019. Jokiharju put up impressive numbers for the Portland Winterhawks this season, notching 12 goals, 59 assists and a plus 47 rating overall. Maybe the most exciting Hawks prospect, hopefully he’ll be able to come in and make a big impact for the Hawks for many years to come. Lastly, we can expect the Hawks to take a look at free agency, maybe Calvin De Haan, who would offer a physical presence the Hawks lacked all season.
The front end looks a little bit more enticing next season for the Hawks, although they could still use some help. Obviously, Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane will be back and more than likely we’ll see Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and Artem Anisimov, but past that nobody is “safe” so to speak.
Patrick Sharp announced his retirement last week and Marian Hossa is a question mark to return. Anthony Duclair is going to be a restricted free agent, so the Hawks could sign him to a new contract or match an offer, or simply ship him out if they feel they get a fair deal for him. Brandon Saad is under contract through the 2020-2021 season, though he could be potential trade bait in the offseason.
All in all, the front end could use some energy, some physicality and a refresh. The offense lacked a net-front presence most of the season, and its safe to say they will try to find some big, physical guys to fill that role so their skill players can put it in the net. A guy like John Hayden should se an uptick in playing time next year and the Hawks could find some physical players in free agency this offseason to help.
The last piece of the puzzle for the Blackhawks is finding a goaltender, if not two. With starting goalie Corey Crawford’s health unknown and Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass and J.F Berube not playing up to any standard, the Hawks need a solid backup, much like Scott Darling was before he was traded to Carolina for a third-round pick. All signs point to Crawford returning, but will he return to form next season or will we see a different goaltender all together? It remains to be seen how it will shape up, but it’s never to early to start looking around the league.
Overall, the Hawks don’t need a total rebuild, they need to find an identity, a physical presence and a defense. As the post season goes into full swing, we’ll start taking a look at the Blackhawks farm system, prospects in the 2018 NHL draft and potential free agents that the Hawks could target. A season to forget, but hopefully the Hawks make some good moves in the offseason and come back to playoff form next season!