Friday, August 23, 2019

Chicago Blackhawks 2019-20 season preview



         It has been five years since the Blackhawks last won a playoff series. That playoff series happened to be the Stanley Cup finals, as Chicago won their third cup of the decade. In 2018-19, they missed the playoffs for the second straight season, but they moved in the right direction. Their two superstars from the Cup winning teams had an unexpected career season, they saw a young player develop into a lethal scorer, and while their defense struggled, one defenseman broke out.

         Additions: Robin Lehner, Calvin de Haan, Olli Maatta, Andrew Shaw, Zack Smith, Ryan Carpenter, Alex Nylander, Aleksi Saarela, John Quenneville

         Subtractions: Dominik Kahun, Artem Anisimov, Henri Jokijarju, John Hayden, Cam Ward, Gustav Forsling, Chris Kunitz, Marcus Kruger, Brandon Davidson

         Forwards
The Blackhawks saw an increase in goal for, as Patrick Kane had an age 30 season to remember. His career low for points is 55, but that came in the shortened 2012-13 season. He has scored at least a point per game in eight seasons, including 2018-19, when he scored a career high 110 points, with 44 goals, the second most in his career to his Hart winning 2015-16 season. Jonathan Toews, always a Selke candidate, had career highs in goals (35), assists (46), points (81), and time on ice (21:00). Alex DeBrincat scored 28 goals in his rookie season, and never endured a sophomore slump, with 41 goals and 76 points. Dylan Strome was perceived as a bust, as the third overall pick in a star studded 2015 draft had 16 points in 48 games for Arizona. He was traded to the Blackhawks, and was an instant success. He scored 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games. Brandon Saad hasn't come close to the production of the player he was traded for, Artemi Panarin, but he scored 23 goals with 24 assists, improving on a terrible first season back in Chicago. Andrew Shaw returns to Chicago, after a career high 47 points in 63 games for Montreal last year. The Blackhawks traded 15 goal scorer Artem Anisimov to Ottawa for Zack Smith. Smith had just 28 points in 70 games last year. After a trade from Edmonton, Drake Caggiula scored five goals with seven assists in 26 games. Dylan Sikura played in 33 games, but failed to score his first NHL goal, with eight assists. Brendan Perlini scored 12 goals in 46 games after being part of the Strome trade. David Kampf scored 19 points in 63 games, and has settled in as a nice 4th line center and penalty killer. Ryan Carpenter comes from Vegas, coming off a career high 18 points. Dominik Kubalik comes from the Swiss league, after recording 57 points in 50 games.

           Defensemen
Erik Gustafsson was one of the most surprising defensemen in the entire league last year, scoring 17 goals with 60 points in 79 games. It has been two years since Duncan Keith last got Norris votes, but while his 70 penalty minutes were his most since 2006-07, he was a 40 point scorer and +13 again. The Blackhawks traded for reinforcements on the left side, acquiring Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta. de Haan doesn't rack up many points, but he's a lock for a ton of blocked shots, a lot of hits, normally at least 100 of each, and great defensive play. Maatta is coming off a down year, with his point total cutting in half from 2017-18. He was also a healthy scratch in Pittsburgh's first round series, after returning from injury. He's still just 25. Connor Murphy, the only notable Connor M. in hockey, had a career high .25 points per game this past season, not including his 30 games in 2013-14. The Blackhawks traded young and promising right hander Henri Jokijarju, which doesn't make sense with Murphy as their top right handed shot defenseman. Brent Seabrook is one too, but he has completely fallen off. He was a -6 last year with 28 points, and at 34, his contract, with five years left with a $6.875 million cap hit, is arguably the worst in hockey. Former 10th overall pick Slater Koekkoek didn't get many chances in Tampa Bay, and after a trade to Chicago, he scored five points in 22 games. Carl Dahlstrom was decent in 38 games last year, with six assists and a +9 rating.

           Goalies
Corey Crawford is 34, and will be a free agent after 2019-20. He is coming off his worst career season, with a 2.93 GAA and .908 SV% in 39 games. Cam Ward was terrible as a backup last year, so the Blackhawks brought in Vezina finalist Robin Lehner on a one year deal. Lehner, who also won the Jennings and Masterton Trophies, had a .930 SV% and 2.13 GAA last year for the Islanders. If Crawford is injured, which he has been many times over the last few seasons, Colin Delia will back up Lehner. He had a .908 SV% in 16 games last year, earning himself a three year deal.

            Deep Depths
John Quenneville, a former first rounder, comes from New Jersey after scoring just one goal in 19 games last year, but he did have 39 points in 37 AHL games. Aleksi Saarela, part of the de Haan trade, made his NHL debut in the playoffs this past season, and scored 30 goals in 69 AHL games, plus seven more in 17 playoff games. Anton Wedin comes from the Swedish League. He had 27 points in 32 games last season. Alexandre Fortin scored three goals in 24 NHL games last year.

            Up and Coming
Alex Nylander, acquired for Jokijarju, was selected eighth overall in 2016, but hasn't hit his stride. He has six points in 19 career NHL games, and 31 points in 49 AHL games last year. He's still just 21. Kirby Dach, drafted third overall this past draft, had 73 points in 62 WHL games this season. He could start the season with the team. Adam Boqvist transitioned well into the OHL, with 60 points in 54 games, and he's a defenseman. Another offensive defenseman, Nicolas Beaudin, continued to dominate the QMJHL, with 56 points in 53 games. Both have chances to play in the NHL this year, but they aren't great.

            2019 draft class
Round 1, 3rd overall: Kirby Dach
Round 2, 43rd overall: Alex Vlasic
Round 4, 105th overall: Michael Teply
Round 4, 123rd overall: Antti Saarela
Round 6, 167th overall: Dominic Basse
Round 7, 194th overall: Cole Moberg

             Management
After 15 games, the Blackhawks fired legendary head coach Joel Quenneville, and hired unsuccessful player Jeremy Colliton, who wasn't bad. Colliton is 34, younger than starting goalie Corey Crawford (by 13 days), and lead defenseman Duncan Keith. Stan Bowman is still the GM, and while he has made some questionable moves in the past, he's job security seems good.

             Projected Lineup
Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Dylan Sikura
Alex DeBrincat - Dylan Strome - Patrick Kane
Drake Caggiula - Zack Smith - Brendan Perlini
Ryan Carpenter - David Kampf - Andrew Shaw
Extras: Dominik Kubalik, Alex Nylander, John Quenneville

             Duncan Keith - Calvin de Haan
             Erik Gustafsson - Connor Murphy
             Olli Maatta - Brent Seabrook
Extras: Slater Koekkoek, Carl Dahlstrom

                           Corey Crawford
                           Robin Lehner
Extras: Colin Delia

               Prediction
The Blackhawks are promising, but they are still aging, and they don't have the tools to go to the playoffs, even in a weak Western Conference. I predict they'll finish 6th in the Central Division.

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