After a disappointing first round exit to the St. Louis Blues in 2015-16, the Chicago Blackhawks returned with a vengeance, storming their way to first place in the Western Conference, and once again being one of the Cup favourites in the playoffs.
They then proceeded to get sweep in the first round, limited to only three goals, including none at home. So, long story short, they choked. I don’t care if the analytics said they weren’t guaranteed to beat Nashville like every MSM said they would, just accept and enjoy the narrative of Chicago Blackhawks: Chokers. Savour it.
Anyway, they come into this offseason like every other offseason for the last 7-8 years: in cap hell. It’ll take more of Stan Bowman’s magic, or the stupidity of other GM’s, whatever you want to call it, to get them out of this pickle, before they are doomed to mediocrity for eternity…or at least until their core’s contracts are up.
You can’t look at their roster without first acknowledging their three players who are the TOP 100 IN ALL OF NHL HISTORY, that being Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith. Ignore the fact that Toews only has one 70 point season, Kane only has three 30 goal seasons, and Keith has nearly 100 fewer points than Zdeno Chara, these players are some of the best of all time. Not because of skill, but because of LEADERSHIP and CUPZ.
But, in all seriousness, they are really good players. Kane has emerged as a scoring threat the past couple years, rising just as much as his likeability has dropped, with an 89 point season this year. Toews is the antithesis, in that his skill has dropped as his likeability has risen, as he only put up 58 points. Keith continues to put up points with 53 of them this season, while his defensive play has yet to drop off yet.
As for the rest of the core, Marian Hossa is showing his age, with only a 45 point season, although 26 of them are goals (with a 15.6% shooting percentage), although he’s still solid defensively. Brent Seabrook is still solid offensively as well, with 39 points (although 15 of them are power play points), although his defensive play has REALLY dropped off. Niklas Hjalmarsson is one of the few core players not in decline, as he continues to be one of the best defensive defensemen in the league, which means TRADE HIM.
The newer pieces to the core in Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov have emerged as scoring threats on Kane’s line. After a Calder winning rookie season, Panarin put up 74 points this season, while Ansimov benefited from it with 45 points on the year.
The Blackhawks relied a lot on young players from the minors to help out the scoring, and they got a couple helping hands, including a 44 point season from Richard Panik, a 31 point season from Ryan Hartman, and a 28 point season from Nick Schmaltz.
Meanwhile in net, Corey Crawford has become one of the league’s better goalies (ironically as the Hawk’s have gotten worse), and is sometimes the reason why they survive some games with a .918% save percentage. Scott Darling was an excellent backup with a .924% save percentage, but with his contract being up, he was traded to the Hurricanes.
Like I said, the Hawks are in cap hell right now. They have negative cap space to work with right now, as they are over the cap by over $4.5 million. Which is bad enough, but they also have five players to re-sign, and they still need to find a backup goalie, unless they have someone in the minors that they plan on using. It’s nice to keep the core, but when nine players take up 81.29% of your cap, that’s when it’s time to start making some tough goodbyes.
They don’t have any big pieces to sign, but they have Andrew Desjardins, Dennis Rasmussen, Tomas Jurco, Brian Campbell, and Johnny Oduya to re-sign. With absolutely no cap space, it’s safe to assume that at least two of Desjardins, Campbell, and Oduya are gone, while they might look to keep Rasmussen and Jurco on sub-$1 million contracts.
Offseason Game Plan
First off, the Hawks need to look towards getting rid of one of their core players. Whether you want to go easy and just get rid of Hjalmarsson, make it interesting and trade Seabrook, or make the world explode, and trade Toews or Kane, at least one of those nine contracts that make up all that cap space needs to be gone. They already are on top of that, as there are rumours of them trying to move a core piece, most likely Hjalmarsson.
Meanwhile, the expansion draft means that they are probably going to lose one of their pieces that contributes a lot on a cheap contract, which will make their situation worse. Although, Chicago seems to be trying to avoid that by offering Vegas Trevor van Riemsdyk and Marcus Kruger to not only avoid losing those players, but to also give them more cap space.
As for re-signing their own players, I’d say goodbye to Desjardins and Oduya, and look to the minors for their replacements. I’d attempt to re-sign Campbell if there is cap space to work with, but that probably isn’t likely. As for their RFA’s in Jurco and Rasmussen, try to keep them on really cheap deals. Like, under $1 million cheap.
With free agency, I have one key tip for the Blackhawks: STAY AWAY. They’re already in cap hell, so free agency will make it work. If they don’t have an option for a backup goalie in their system, maybe go for a cheap option, like Jhonas Enroth or Anders Nilsson, but that’s it. They should keep away from free agency if they know what’s best for them.
With their best days seemingly behind them, the Blackhawks are in a tough situation to keep a playoff team intact for next season. We may be witnessing the end of their dynasty, but unfortunately for all teams, cap hell is the price you pay for winning a few Cups.
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES…
30. Colorado Avalanche, 29. Vancouver Canucks, 28. Arizona Coyotes, 27. New Jersey Devils, 26. Buffalo Sabres, 25. Detroit Red Wings, 24. Dallas Stars, 23. Florida Panthers, 22. Los Angeles Kings, 21. Carolina Hurricanes, 20. Winnipeg Jets, 19. Philadelphia Flyers, 18. Tampa Bay Lightning, 17. New York Islanders, 16. Nashville Predators, 15. Calgary Flames, 14. Toronto Maple Leafs, 13. Boston Bruins, 12. Ottawa Senators, 11. San Jose Sharks, 10. St. Louis Blues, 9. New York Rangers, 8. Edmonton Oilers, 7. Montreal Canadiens, 6. Anaheim Ducks, 5. Minnesota Wild, 4. Columbus Blue Jackets