Brandon Saad

Chicago Blackhawks: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the surprises and disappointments for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Putrid power play spoils special teams

Yes, the Blackhawks aren’t the dynastic team they once were. Their defense, in particular, just can’t keep up like it used to.

But there’s still some serious scoring skill on this roster, and it’s not just the obvious in Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The Blackhawks clearly nabbed a steal in Alex DeBrincat, while Dylan Strome, Brandon Saad, Dominik Kubalik and others give Chicago strong four-forward options on the PP.

Yet, for whatever reason, the Blackhawks’ power play simply didn’t click in 2019-20.

The Blackhawks received 217 power-play opportunities, the eighth-highest total in the NHL. Chicago squandered far too many of those chances, managing 33 PPG (tied for 23rd in NHL) and 15.2 success rate (28th). The Blackhawks also gave up eight shorthanded goals, tied for seventh-most in the league.

Chicago sits at a -6 goal differential this season, and can chalk that up to its punchless power play, as their PK was pretty effective. (It just wasn’t good enough to make up for a poor power play.)

Blackhawks goaltending was both a pleasant surprise and an indirect disappointment

Ever since the Blackhawks collapsed from contention, the modified strategy turned to “outscoring their problems.”

Failing on the power play was disappointing in that regard, and it also feels like it contributed to the Blackhawks squandering strong goaltending in 2019-20.

After his surprising free agent departure from the Islanders, Robin Lehner barely missed a beat for Chicago. He managed a .918 save percentage in 33 games before being shipped to the Golden Knights. Considering Chicago’s defense, a .918 mark with the Blackhawks is almost as impressive as his .930 in Barry Trotz’s nurturing defensive system.

Interestingly, Corey Crawford nearly matched Lehner.

Such strong play slipped under the radar, and it’s easy to understand why. Since Jan. 1, Crawford managed merely a 10-9-1 record in 20 games … while generating a fantastic .928 save percentage. Overall, Crawford sits at .917 for 2019-20, just a stride behind Lehner.

The Blackhawks receiving such strong goaltending from one of Lehner or Crawford wouldn’t have been surprising, but both? Yeah, that should count among the surprises for the Blackhawks. At the same time, failing to take advantage of that goaltending edge ranks among their biggest disappointments.

(Deciding to trade Robin Lehner opens up a whole other discussion.)

Kubalik among positive surprises, DeBrincat among disappointments for Blackhawks

Predictably enough, Kane (84 points) and Toews (60) topped Chicago’s scorers in 2019-20. I’m not sure even Dominik Kubalik expected to rank third for the Blackhawks, though.

With 30 goals and 46 points in 68 games, the 24-year-old made a stunning jump from the Swiss league. While Kubalik did not go undrafted, he only barely avoided such a fate .(Los Angeles chose Kubalik 191st overall in 2013.)

Yes, expect Kubalik to cool off next season. Puck luck certainly aided Kubalik on his way to 30 goals, as his shooting percentage was at 19.1.

All of those caveats aside, Kubalik managed strong production out of nowhere, especially considering limited ice time overall. (Kubalik averaged 14:22 per game, although Chicago wisely bumped his deployment up as 2019-20 progressed).

DeBrincat’s regression (45 points, fourth on team) ranks as one of the Blackhawks’ biggest disappointments, however. Blackhawks fans should still look at his extension as a likely bargain, but this was a tough year. At minimum, expect DeBrincat to enjoy more luck, as his shooting percentage was at a meager 8.7 this season.

MORE BLACKHAWKS:
2019-20 season summary

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Looking at the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks

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With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago Blackhawks

Record: 32-30-8 (70 games), seventh in the Central Division, Out of Playoffs
Leading scorer: Patrick Kane 84 points (33 goals and 51 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

• Traded Robin Lehner to the Vegas Golden Knights for Malcolm Subban, Slava Demin, 2020 second-round pick.
• Acquired T.J. Brennan from the Philadelphia Flyers for Nathan Noel.
• Shipped Erik Gustafsson to the Calgary Flames for a 2020 third-round pick.
• Traded Graham Knott to the Pittsburgh Penguins for Joseph Cramarossa.
• Acquired Alec Regula from the Detroit Red Wings for Brendan Perlini.
• Sent Aleksi Saarela to the Florida Panthers for Ian McCoshen.

Season Overview:

The Blackhawks didn’t get off to the greatest of starts in 2019-20. They began their campaign with a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the Czech Republic and then came home to play seven consecutive games at the United Center. How did those games go? Well, they only managed to win two of the seven. When October was all said and done, the ‘Hawks had a 3-6-3 record.

They managed to rattle off a four-game winning streak in November, but quickly followed that up by losing five of their last six games to close out the month.

Get the picture?

There was no semblance of consistency with this edition of the Blackhawks. Sure, they still have an elite talent in Patrick Kane and, yes, Jonathan Toews is still a really good player. They also have Dominik Kubalik, who scored 30 goals in his first year, and Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and Brandon Saad. Those are all talented players, but the entire roster just doesn’t stack up with the elite teams in the Western Conference anymore.

Their defense still features Duncan Keith, but the unit got old in a hurry. Keith has played a lot of hockey, Seabrook was struggling badly before being shut down with an injury and the acquisition of Calvin de Haan and Olli Maata helped, but not enough.

Management has to decide what the next step is for this group. It’s always tempting to “go for it” when you have Kane, but the supporting cast just isn’t strong enough. Can they make it work by tweaking the roster, or is this a team that needs a major overhaul?

Whenever the off-season starts, they’ll have to address the goaltending position too, because Corey Crawford isn’t getting any younger and he’s scheduled to become a free agent on July 1st. He had been playing well down the stretch, but he’s become a question mark when it comes to staying healthy.

Big decisions are coming.

Highlight of the Season:

Kane has been one of the few bright spots on the ice for the this team and he continued to pile up incredible numbers throughout the season.

On January 19th, in a game against the Winnipeg Jets, Kane picked up a secondary assist on Saad’s goal late in the third period. That point allowed the Blackhawks forward to reach the 1,000-point club.

MORE BLACKHAWKS:
Biggest surprises and disappointments

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

It looks like Blackhawks are sticking with Bowman, Colliton

Blackhawks
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Before the 2019-20 NHL season went on pause the Chicago Blackhawks were headed toward their third consecutive non-playoff season and their fifth consecutive season without a playoff series win (with only three playoff game wins during that stretch).

It has been a pretty sudden fall from the top for an organization that was once the gold standard for winning in the salary cap NHL.

They are not only no longer a Stanley Cup contender, they are not even all that close to being a playoff team in what has been a mostly watered down Western Conference the past two years.

Despite the sudden descent into mediocrity, there does not appear to be any significant changes coming to the coaching staff or front office after this season.

In an interview with the Athletic’s Scott Powers, Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said the trio of team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, and head coach Jeremy Colliton will all be back next season.

From the Athletic:

Wirtz isn’t on the same page as those fans. Asked about his confidence level in the trio, Wirtz replied, “I think they’re all good.”

Does he envision all three returning next season?

“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Wirtz said. “There’s not going to be any changes in the front office.”

Wirtz reiterated that when he was asked about a rumored Bowman contract extension.

“I’ll let John (McDonough) get into all the details,” Wirtz said of Bowman’s contract. “But there’s not going to be any changes, so let’s put that away.”

The level of confidence there is a little surprising given the current state of the Blackhawks’ organization, especially as it relates to the key people in the front office responsible with building the team.

It was just a little over a year ago that the team parted ways with a three-time Stanley Cup winning coach (Joel Quenneville) after a slow start to the season 2018-19 season. It wasn’t a stretch to think that move would have started the timer on Bowman given that the attention would eventually drift toward the team’s roster management. Especially after the Blackhawks seemed to go all in this offseason on trying to fix their flaws with the hope of squeezing another run out of this remaining core. Obviously, that gamble has not paid off.

While the Blackhawks have to deal with salary cap restrictions that come from paying a pair of superstars big money at the top, that alone isn’t enough of a justification for the drop in success, especially while teams like Washington and Pittsburgh have maintained consistent success with a similar cap structure. The issue still comes back to roster management and some questionable decisions over the years. The Blackhawks tried to get ahead of their salary cap issues over the years but simply made things worse in the short-and long-term.

They needed to dump Bryan Bickell’s contract and did so by attaching Teuvo Teravainen to it and trading him to Carolina for next to nothing. Today, Teravainen is one of the Hurricanes’ best players and would easily be a top player in Chicago.

They feared how much Artemi Panarin would cost on his next contract and dealt him to Columbus to bring back Brandon Saad and some cost certainty. Talent-for-talent, the trade was laughably one-sided and saw them deal a superstar for a good player. Maybe they couldn’t have re-signed him for his current contract and lost him anyway, but how much more competitive would they have been the previous two years with him at forward with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat?

Then there were smaller, minor deals this offseason like trading Dominik Kahun and Henri Jokiharju for Olli Maatta and Alex Nylander, and then getting an underwhelming return on Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson at the trade deadline. There are big mistakes. There are a bunch of small mistakes adding up into big mistakes. It all just keeps building up into what the Blackhawks have now.

That is not to say there have not been some successes.

Acquiring Dominik Kubalik has been one of the Blackhawks’ best steals in recent years. DeBrincat has turned out to be an outstanding second-round pick, while recent top picks Adam Boqvist and Kirby Dach look like they can be young building blocks going forward. But even with those successes and the promise they bring there are still more questions than solutions throughout the roster. Without dramatic change somewhere, the mediocrity might only continue to build.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks host Blues on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Blues saw their eight-game win streak snap in Friday’s 4-2 loss at New Jersey, meanwhile, the Blackhawks also saw their four-game win streak come to an end in a 2-1 loss at Detroit on the same night.

Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko is back on the ice and has skated in separate sessions with assistant coaches and scratched players but hasn’t been cleared to practice at full speed. The 28-year-old underwent shoulder surgery in late October and has been sidelined for the last 58 games.

After losing to the Blues on Feb. 25, the Hawks went on to win four straight games and remained in the Wild Card mix. But a 2-1 loss Friday night to the worst team in the NHL, Detroit, halted the Hawks’ momentum in the crowded West wild card race.

Patrick Kane scored Chicago’s lone goal in the loss at Detroit on Friday, tallying his 31st goal of the season. It was the third consecutive game in which the American-born forward has scored. Kane has also recorded points in nine of his last 11 contests, giving him 13 pts (6G-7A) in that span.

Chicago netminder Corey Crawford started his 8th consecutive game on Friday night, a streak that began on Feb. 21 vs. Nashville. The two-time Cup champ stopped 23 of the 25 shots he faced against the Red Wings, but fell to 15-19-3 this season.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks
WHERE: United Center
WHEN: Sunday, March 8, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Blues-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Jaden Schwartz – Ryan O’Reilly – Brayden Schenn
Zach SanfordRobert ThomasDavid Perron
Alex SteenTyler BozakJordan Kyrou
Ivan BarbashevOskar SundqvistSammy Blais

Justin FaulkAlex Pietrangelo
Marco ScandellaColton Parayko
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

BLACKHAWKS
Domnik Kubalik – Jonathan ToewsBrandon Saad
Alex NylanderDylan Strome – Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatKirby DachDrake Caggiula
Matthew HighmoreDavid KampfRyan Carpenter

Duncan KeithAdam Boqvist
Nick SeelerConnor Murphy
Olli MaattaSlater Koekkoek

Starting goalie: Corey Crawford

Kate Scott will call the action alongside U.S. Olympic gold medalists Kendall Coyne-Schofield and AJ Mleczko from United Center in Chicago, Ill. Game production will be led by producer Rene Hatlelid and director Lisa Seltzer.

The first-of-its-kind broadcast will be in celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8, which dates back over 100 years. The broadcast will highlight women who have made their mark on hockey, and sports in general, with the hopes to inspire future generations of women to excel on the ice and behind the scenes.

Sunday night’s coverage will also be surrounded by On Her Turf, NBC Sports’ female empowerment brand. The broadcast will include a number of features highlighting women in hockey during pre-game and intermissions, with custom in-game graphic integration and social coverage.

The Buzzer: Hats off to Ryan, Kubalik; Granlund’s late-game heroics

Mikael Granlund #64 of the Nashville Predators celebrates his game tying last second goal
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Three Stars

1) Bobby Ryan, Ottawa Senators

He struggled to fight off the tears as Senators fans chanted his name at Canadian Tire Centre late in the third period after Ryan completed his fifth career hat trick to seal Ottawa’s 5-2 victory against the Vancouver Canucks. It was Ryan’s second, and first at home, since returning from an extended absence in order to deal with an alcohol addiction problem. Ryan scored in a variety of ways including a slick redirection, a short-side snipe and an empty-net tally as Ottawa snapped a four-game losing streak.

2) Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks

The Czech rookie starred in a five-goal third period for the Blackhawks as they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-2. The 24-year-old collected goals 27, 28, 29 for his first NHL hat trick while Chicago snapped a two-game losing streak. Kubalik knotted the game at 2-2 shortly after Brandon Saad opened the scoring for Chicago. The Blackhawks’ rising star relentlessly followed the puck and finally lit the lamp on his third chance of the sequence. Chicago took a two-goal advantage when Kubalik fired a blistering one-timer past Curtis McElhinney. He would complete the hat trick with an empty netter in the final minutes of the third. The playoffs are out of reach for Chicago this season, but Kubalik’s emergence will help the Blackhawks return to the postseason in the coming years.

3) Mikael Granlund, Nashville Predators

The saying “every second counts” applied to the Predators as Granlund score with one-tenth of a second remaining to force overtime against the Calgary Flames. The Predators didn’t give up during the final moments of a hectic finish and Filip Forsberg slid a puck to Granlund’s stick before the equalizer. Granlund wasn’t finished until he notched the overtime winner to send Bridgestone Arena into a frenzy. A loss would have had costly ramifications on the Predators’ playoff pursuit, but Granlund’s heroics allowed Nashville to slide into the second wild card spot for the time being.

Highlights of the Night

Charlie Coyle batted the puck out of mid-air to even the game at 1-1 late in the first period.

Evander Kane kicked the puck to himself and then fed Logan Couture, who netted the game-winning goal in his second game back from an ankle injury.

Colton Parayko finished off the Islanders with this wraparound in overtime to lead the Blues to a 3-2 victory.

Tomas Tatar stickhandled back and forth until an opening presented itself.

Auston Matthews‘ 44th of the season helped Toronto capture an important 5-3 victory against the Florida Panthers.

Mathew Dumba scored twice including this one-timer as the Wild scored seven in their victory against the Red Wings.

Alexandar Georgiev turned the puck over but recovered with this spectacular save.

Stats of the Night

Scores

New York Rangers 5, Montreal Canadiens 2

Chicago Blackhawks 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 2

Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Florida Panthers 3

Boston Bruins 4, Dallas Stars 3

Ottawa Senators 5, Vancouver Canucks 2

Minnesota Wild 7, Detroit Red Wings 1

St. Louis Blues 3, New York Islanders 2 (OT)

Nashville Predators 4, Calgary Flames 3 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 3, Washington Capitals 0

San Jose Sharks 3, New Jersey Devils 2 (OT)


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.