0

Know Your Central Enemies: The Chicago Blackhawks

Welcome to the Jetsnation Central Division Preview! This series will take a look around the Central Division and give a brief glimpse at what the rival teams look like heading into the season. We will recap last season’s performance including how the team did against the Jets, then we will look at the moves they made in the off-season and how they might fare in the upcoming year.

First up is the Chicago Blackhawks.

Last Year’s Performance

  • 33-39-10
  • 76 points, last in Central Division
  • 51.81 CF%, 49.28 xGF% (courtesy of Corsica, all numbers adjusted)

It wasn’t too long ago that the Chicago Blackhawks were a perennial cup contender. Those days seem far away after their poor performance last season. The Blackhawks finished last in the Central and had their lowest point total since 2006-2007. Weirdly enough, the Blackhawks actually had more points (77) during the 48 game lockout season in 2012-2013 than they finished with this year(76).

Advertisement

How can a team that won the Stanley Cup just four years ago be so bad? The two main issues with the Blackhawks is the age of their players and the salary cap struggle.

The Blackhawks are an old team. When looking at their Stanley Cup winning team in 2014-2015, most of their players are declining with age, or have already retired from the NHL. This list of declining/retired players include the likes of Hossa, Keith, Sharp, Brad Richards, Versteeg, Seabrook, Rozsival, and Oduya. With such a high roster turnover, the fall of the Blackhawks was inevitable.

The second main issue is the salary cap. The Blackhawks are a top heavy team in regards to contracts. Both Toews and Kane are averaging $10.5 million per season. When two players are taking $21 million, it can be difficult to fit other impact players on the roster.

The last issue with the Blackhawks is their lack of prospect depth. During their glory days, the Blackhawks traded many of their picks and prospects in order to ‘win now’. The process worked wonderfully and lead to three championships in six years. The repercussions of those deals are now being felt as the Blackhawks struggle with their next wave of players coming into the lineup.

As for last season, there are a number of reasons why the Blackhawks weren’t a good team.

Perhaps the number one reason the Blackhawks did so poorly was the health of Corey Crawford. Crawford only played 28 games last season which is well below his average in the high 50’s. This lead to problems in the crease and the Blackhawks couldn’t seem to gain any traction with Anton Forsberg in net.

Advertisement

Other than injuries, the main issue was their special teams. The Blackhawks ranked 20th in PK% and 28th in PP%.

It’s very evident why the Blackhawks struggled on their special teams when looking at these charts. On the power play they struggled to get any opportunities from the inner slot. Conversely, they allowed tons of inner slot shots while down a man. These issues permeated their 5 on 5 play as well as they finished 21st in goals per game and 23rd in goals against per game.

One of the other glaring issues with the Blackhawks is their lack of depth. This past season Patrick Kane lead the team with 76 points. The next closest players were DeBrincat, Schmaltz, and Toews who had 52 points each. After that only Saad, Keith, and Anisimov scored over 30 points.

Advertisement

This lack of depth meant that opposing teams could solely focus on stopping Kane as no other line was dangerous.

Last Season Against Winnipeg

Despite a tough season in Chicago, the Blackhawks managed a winning record against the Jets. Chicago finished with a 3-2 record against Winnipeg and outscored the Jets 16-14.

Advertisement

Off-season Performance

Additions:

  • Chris Kunitz
  • Cam Ward
  • Brandon Manning
  • Marcus Kruger

Subtractions:

  • Marian Hossa
  • Vinnie Hinostroza
  • Patrick Sharp
  • Michal Rozsival
  • Lance Bouma
  • Cody Franson
  • Anthony Duclair

The Blackhawks made a few moves this off-season including signing a few free agents and making a big trade to get rid of Hossa and Hinostroza. None of these moves are earth shattering and none of them help the Blackhawks much going forward. The team has struggled to find prospects and younger players who are ready to step into increased roles and these moves do not help those issues.

On the surface, it might seem odd that the Hawks decided to sign Kunitz and Ward who are both in the latter half of their careers. From the Blackhawks perspective, they want to make one more run for the cup. If Crawford can stay healthy the Blackhawks believe they have a shot to make the playoffs. Their signings won’t help in the long term, but the Hawks aren’t ready to give up their dynasty quite yet.

Lastly, a big shout out to Patrick Sharp on a fantastic career after announcing his retirement. The recently retired Hawk played over 900 NHL games including 287 goals and 333 assists. Not too shabby for a Winnipeg kid.

2018-19 Forecast

If the Blackhawks can stay healthy given their age, they might surpass their point totals from last season. While their depth is no better than it was last season, Crawford can definitely pull out some more wins than Forsberg.  Unfortunately, in an ultra-tough Central Division, it seems that Chicago is trending the wrong way. With their aging core and perennial cap woes, Chicago will most likely miss the playoffs for the second straight year and they seem to be headed for the Central Division basement once again.

Predicted finish: Last in Central Division