What's wrong with the Chicago Blackhawks?
The Blackhawks have fallen off the cliff folks.
Before I get to the dissection of the team, I just want to bring attention to the disgusting display by a few fans of the team berating Devante Smith-Pelly of the Washington Capitals with racist insults. This kind of behaviour should not be tolerated at all and those fans deserve severe punishments. (Editors note: those fans have since been banned from attending home games at the United Center) Sadly, this attack is not actually shocking given some previous incidents in the league.
The Chicago Blackhawks are currently in last place in the Central division and 24th in the league with just 58 points in 60 games. It is looking bleak for the Hawks and the injury to Corey Crawford has basically eliminated their chances of coming back this season. Crawford was having another great season between the pipes but this concussion/vertigo issue has taken him out and now his career is in doubt. Coach Quenneville believes he could come back at some point this year but by then it will be too late for the team.
According to Corsica they have the 3rd highest CF% in the league so they are getting their shots and chances. After doing a little digging we can see a big problem with their powerplay. They have the highest positive penalty difference in the league which means they have been getting more than their fair share of opportunities. However, they find themselves with just the 29th most effective powerplay in the league.
There are some positives. Patrick Kane is still producing just around a point per game. Rookie Alex DeBrincat and sophomore Nick Schmaltz have been terrific this year on pace to break through 50 points on the year. Other young forwards like Ryan Hartman and Chicago boy Vince Hinostroza have had good seasons too. Gustav Forsling has shown solid strides at just 21 and should be a fixture on their backend going forward. It looks like the group of young forwards they have right now has been good and will get better moving forward.
However, the team’s problems lie in the expensive veterans they have given big contracts to. Jonathan Toews is set to have the worst season of his career in terms of PPG and lowest point total other than the lockout shortened season where he still had over a point per game. This is only in year 3 of his new contract that will have him earning $50 million over the next 5 years which poses a significant cap problem to the team. Brandon Saad is also on pace for under 0.5 PPG this season for the first time in his career. Chicago got Saad back to propel Toews but both have had disappointing seasons while Artemi Panarin has 47 points this year which would be 2nd on the Hawks.
On defense, the star defensemen have not had great years. Duncan Keith will have his worst offensive season in 10 years but his total game has still been stellar. Brent Seabrook has become an unfathomable option. He carries a cap hit of $6.85 million over the next 6 seasons with a full no move clause for the next 4. Seabrook had 54 power play points for the past 3 seasons but this year he has only 5 PP points. Losing Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk has hurt their defense core far more than the team could’ve imagined.
The Corey Crawford injury was unexpected and devastating. Just a month ago I had him as a Vezina candidate given the year he was having but that injury was truly heartbreaking. This magnitude of this absence was amplified by the fact that Scott Darling left them team after a great year last season. The backups of Jeff Glass and Anton Forsberg have been 8-13 since he got hurt including a recent 7 game losing streak before redeeming a win against the Capitals on Saturday. The team has given up the 4th highest amount of goals since Crawford went on Injured Reserve in late December.
So how do they fix this?
The truth is there is no easy fix. You can’t just dump Jonathan Toews after all he’s done for the franchise captaining the best stretch in history for the club. Duncan Keith has also been incredible for the team and their run. You could try to dump Seabrook but it is past that because teams may not see him as a good player and that $6.85 million cap hit will require them to add quality prospects or draft picks. Don’t forget this can only happen if he waives his no movement clause too.
These 4 players made such an impact to this team that we cannot calculate it but they make up over 40% of the cap and you just can’t have that for a team to be effective. Trading Seabrook would be the first big step. Rebuilding through the draft to get more young players is exactly what they need to do. Trading Michal Kempny for a 3rd rounder has already started the process but this is a tricky one that will take time.
Let’s put it this way, the Blackhawks have been the best team in the league in this new millennium. With 3 cups in 6 years they achieved something almost every other fan in the world would want for their team. Now the Chicago faithful will have to deal with seeing their favourite players declining which is hard to take in. But at the end of the day, they brought so much happiness and success that you should just look to the future while enjoying the memories of those Stanley Cups.