Calvin de Haan

Long-term outlook for Blackhawks: salary cap, prospects, and more

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 long-term outlook for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Both at age 31 with matching $10.5 million cap hits through 2022-23, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews remain the headliners of the Blackhawks’ core.

While Toews in particular isn’t what he once was, the biggest problem is shaky support.

Duncan Keith is far removed from his prime at age 36, yet his contract ($5.54 through 2022-23) lingers. Quite a bit of this structure has broken down, to the point that it would be preferable for both Brent Seabrook and Andrew Shaw to stay planted on LTIR.

Credit Stan Bowman with trying to improve a shabby defense. Unfortunately, Bowman whiffed with Olli Maatta, Connor Murphy, and Calvin de Haan to varying degrees. Those three contracts stay on the books through 2021-22.

To Bowman’s credit, he’s experienced significant successes finding forward talent, sometimes off the beaten path. While the Blackhawks galaxy-brained themselves out of Artemi Panarin, they locked up Alex DeBrincat to a team-friendly extension.

One key question remains: can the Blackhawks find the cash to re-sign Corey Crawford? Actually, that folds into other questions. Being that Crawford is 35, should they?

Also, will Dominik Kubalik and/or Dylan Strome become core members, or stay in limbo with “bridge” deals. Can Alex Nylander cement himself? The supporting cast continues to go through auditions as if they’re in Chicago’s Broadway.

Long-Term Needs for Blackhawks

The Blackhawks face plenty of long-term needs.

Still, sometimes the biggest needs go deeper than “scoring depth” and “some actual, above-average NHL defensemen.” The Blackhawks organization needs to let go of the past, even if it means some extra suffering in the present. Otherwise, the future could be plagued by half-measures.

It would be understandable if the Blackhawks struck a short-term deal with Corey Crawford. He quietly put together a surprisingly strong 2019-20, particularly down the stretch.

Yet, how many times should Chicago really go to that nostalgia well? (To say nothing of how tough it might be to fit Crawford under the cap, as Mark Lazerus discussed here [sub required].)

This team needs more difference-makers. Adam Boqvist and other prospects figure to boost the competence of Chicago’s crummy defense, but how much?

Ultimately, the Blackhawks need to add “blue chip” talent, and hope that Boqvist, Kirby Dach, and others fall in that category. By trying to enjoy the best of both worlds of competing while getting some young talent, Chicago risks falling short of both marks. They’ve seemingly accrued good-but-not-great talent, and were moderately competitive but not legitimate contenders.

Pull off the Band-Aid already.

Long-Term Strengths for Blackhawks

As mentioned with Panarin and DeBrincat, the Blackhawks have shown some ability to unearth talent even when they didn’t have no-brainer picks like they did with Kane and Toews. (Panarin was a Euro free agent, DeBrincat went 39th overall in 2016). Dominik Kubalik looks like he could be the latest hidden gem.

Such successes have been a bit of a double-edged sword, as referenced in the long-term needs section. By finding ways to be semi-competitive, the Blackhawks have sometimes added good where a “tank” season may have provided great.

Still, there’s decent talent to work with. DeBrincat, Strome, Kubalik, and maybe Nylander can help on offense. Dach’s development is crucial.

Boqvist ranks as vital on defense, too, but he’s not alone. In ranking Chicago’s prospect pool 12th overall (sub required), The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler frequently listed defensemen. Wheeler highlighted Ian Mitchell almost as much as Boqvist, so help could be coming there. Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed Chicago’s under-23 core at a respectable 13th, so it’s not as if there’s nothing beyond Kane and Toews.

Lately, “almost” has been in painful supply for Chicago. An optimist might squint and see how things could break the Blackhawks’ way, but improving this long-term outlook will require more long-term thinking.

MORE BLACKHAWKS:
2019-20 season summary
Surprises and disappointments

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.

Blackhawks’ Seabrook to return in 5-6 months after latest surgery

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The Chicago Blackhawks announced that veteran defenseman Brent Seabrook underwent successful hip surgery on Thursday and that he will be ready to return in five-to-six months. That would put him on a timeline to be ready for the start of training camp for the 2020-21 season.

His most recent surgery was his third — both hips, shoulder — over the past six weeks.

He has not played since Dec. 15, while the team announced a couple of weeks later that both he and Calvin de Haan (shoulder injury) would both be out for the season. He appeared in 32 games this season, scoring three goals with one assist.

Blackhawks’ long-term outlook on defense

What Seabrook’s role will look like next season remains to be seen. His play has not only rapidly declined the past few years, but he will be coming off of three major surgeries and be 35 years old when the season begins.

Seabrook still has four more years remaining on a contract that carries a salary cap hit of $6.875 million per season.

The Blackhawks have managed to hang around in the playoff race and play their way back into contention but still have some major flaws and question marks defensively and remain one of the league’s worst teams at preventing shots and scoring chances. The goaltending duo of Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford has helped mask that, but both are free agents after this season and remains to be seen if either one of them will be back next season.

The Blackhawks tried to revamp their defense this offseason with the additions of de Haan and Olli Maatta, but it has not really worked. Almost everyone currently on the defense is signed long-term.

Seabrook, Maatta, de Haan, Connor Murphy and Duncan Keith are all signed for at least the next two full seasons (Seabrook and Keith beyond), while rookie Adam Boqvist remains on his entry-level deal.

Erik Gustafsson, their most productive defenseman offensively over the past two seasons, is an unrestricted free agent after this season.

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.

Blackhawks moving on without Seabrook, de Haan

CHICAGO — Reality set in for Jonathan Toews when he got to the Chicago Blackhawks’ locker room Friday morning.

Brent Seabrook‘s stall was empty.

”Day 1, pretty much. He’s not around,” Toews said, ”and you notice it right away.”

Seabrook has been ruled out for the rest of the season after years of physical play finally caught up to the steady defenseman, who had right shoulder surgery on Friday. The 34-year-old Seabrook then will have surgery on his right hip in January and left hip in February.

The Blackhawks also will be without Calvin de Haan for the rest of the year. The 28-year-old defenseman had his own right shoulder surgery on Friday.

Seabrook and de Haan were placed on long-term injured reserve, creating significant salary-cap space, but leaving Chicago with a huge void on the back end.

”From the (coaching) perspective, we’re focused on the players we have and find a way to get it done,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. ”But of course those guys are really big parts of the group, both on and off the ice. A lot of leadership and solid, dependable-type players, which, of course, we’re going to miss.”

De Haan was acquired in a June trade with Carolina. He had surgery on the same shoulder last offseason.

Colliton said both defensemen are expected to be ready for training camp next year. But in the meantime, a run of injuries is making it more difficult for last-place Chicago (16-17-6) to work its way into the the playoff race.

Brandon Saad is expected to miss another three weeks after he hurt his right ankle during Chicago’s 4-1 victory at Winnipeg on Dec. 19. Fellow forwards Andrew Shaw and Drake Caggiula are on LTIR due to concussions, though Caggiula has been skating and could return soon. Rookie defenseman Adam Boqvist missed Friday night’s 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders because of a right shoulder injury.

”I don’t manage expectations,” Colliton said. ”We expect to win. We expect to compete, give ourselves a chance with how to we play.”

The 6-foot-3 Seabrook has been a key player and leader for Chicago for more than a decade. He has 103 goals and 361 assists in 1,114 games since his NHL debut in 2005, plus 20 goals and 39 assists in 123 playoff appearances.

He helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015.

”Such a huge part of our room,” forward Patrick Kane said. ”So hopefully he gets his injuries fixed and comes back better than ever.”

Seabrook was a healthy scratch for the third time this season when Chicago lost 4-1 to Colorado on Dec. 18. The Blackhawks then announced the next day he was undergoing further medical evaluation.

Seabrook, who is under contract through the 2023-24 season at an average annual value of $6,875,000, missed a total of nine games over the previous six seasons.

”He’s battled through these injuries for a long time,” defenseman Duncan Keith said. ”Anybody else, they probably would have been missing a lot more time than that over the course of the last several seasons. It shows the kind of mentality and the type of person that he is.”

Keith and Seabrook have been connected since they entered the league together. Keith, a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the league’s best defenseman, said he has played his best hockey alongside his longtime pal.

”We sit beside each other in every locker room,” Keith said, ”so it’s different, you know, not having him on the bus and things like that. He’s definitely missed, but like I just said, nothing we can do about it now.”

Blackhawks’ Seabrook, de Haan out for the season

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The Blackhawks return from the Christmas break Friday against the Islanders and they’ll do so without three players.

On Thursday afternoon the team made a trio of long-term injury announcements. First, Brandon Saad will miss the next three weeks with an ankle injury. The two other injured Blackhawks, Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook, will be out for the remainder of the season. de Haan will undergo surgery on the same shoulder he had repaired one the summer. Seabrook will have surgery on his shoulder and both hips over the next two months.

“[Seabrook]’s had some medical challenges he’s been dealing with for a while and we wanted to finally go get some diagnostics,” Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman told the Daily Herald earlier this week.

Seabrook, who turns 35 in April, has struggled this season having been a healthy scratch three times. He has four more seasons on a contract that carries a $6.875 million cap hit. Both players have been placed on long-term injury reserve, which will give Bowman some help with their cap situation, especially if he wants to make a desperation move to salvage the season.

Through 38 games the Blackhawks are fifth in the NHL with a minus-20 goal differential and are seven points out of a wild card spot. These injuries won’t help any hopes of a turnaround. For Bowman, time is running out to make a decision on what he wants to do with a team that’s currently trending downward.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blackhawks have plenty of problems right now

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Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman took a big gamble this offseason that after consecutive non-playoff seasons his core was still good enough to compete and was only in need of a couple of tweaks.

He brought in Robin Lehner to give them some insurance in goal behind Corey Crawford, he traded for defenders Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta to try and fix what had become a terrible blue line, and brought back two-time Stanley Cup winner Andrew Shaw because, well, he has never been able to let go of the people that he won with.

So far, there is not much to suggest that gamble is paying off.

At least not yet.

After dropping a 4-0 decision to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon the Blackhawks are now riding a four-game losing streak and remain near the bottom of the league standings with just two wins in their first nine games. (Remember, they were 5-2-2 after nine games in each of the past two non-playoff series — they have two wins now.) It is their worst start through nine games since 2000-01, and if franchise history is any indicator it has already made a return to the playoffs a real long shot. The only times they have really been able to overcome a start like this were in the Original Six days or the old Norris Trophy days when they could sneak in with a losing record. Neither one of those days are coming back to the NHL anytime soon.

The other problem right now is there isn’t any one particular problem holding them back. It is everything.

The offense has gone cold

The one thing the Blackhawks had going in their favor last season was that the offense went through a bit of a resurgence and was once again among the best in the league. Jonathan Toews bounced back, Patrick Kane was still elite, and Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome looked like they were on the verge of becoming cornerstone players. There were still serious depth concerns, but the top players were still making an impact. Right now, nobody is scoring goals. The Blackhawks have just two goals in their past three games and for the season are 26th in goals per game. They needed Toews to show his rebound wasn’t a fluke (he has been invisible so far), Kane to remain elite (he has only been okay), and DeBrincat and Strome to take big steps forward (they have three goals between them in nine games) while also finding secondary scoring somewhere. None of it is happening.

The defense doesn’t look any better

Maatta and de Haan were intriguing additions, but the biggest problem with this group as constructed is the complete lack of mobility. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are franchise icons, but they are 36 and 34 years old respectively and have absolutely lost a step (or more) from where they were when they were foundation players for a dynasty. Maatta is a solid defender, but is also probably one of the slowest defenders in the league. After being one of the worst teams in the league in preventing shots the past few years they have again opened this season near the bottom of the league. They are a bottom-10 team in shot attempts, shots on goal, and scoring chances against during 5-on-5 play, and are also giving up more than 32 shots per game in all situations. None of that is close to good enough. Especially when…

Corey Crawford still doesn’t look right

The big wild card for the Blackhawks this season was going to be the goalie duo of Lehner and Crawford because there was always the possibility they could mask a lot of flaws on defense and steal some games. They have split the starts so far this season, and Lehner has mostly done his part. He has a .922 save percentage in his four starts and has probably stolen points for the team in two of them (he stopped 37 of 39 shots in a 3-2 win against Columbus; then stopped 33 out of 34 shots in a 2-1 shootout loss against Vegas). Crawford has been a different story, posting a sub-.895 save percentage in four of his five starts and now carrying around an .887 mark for the season. He has struggled to stay healthy the past two years, he was not particularly good a year ago when he was on the ice, and he has been even worse so far this season and is turning 35 in a couple of months. Not a promising start.

Put it all together, and you have what is now looking like a bad hockey team.

It is also a team that has missed the playoffs two years in a row and has not won a playoff series in four years. With the three-time Stanley Cup winning coach already gone all of the focus for that is going to start going in the direction of the general manager.

MORE: Brent Seabrook to be healthy scratch Sunday for second time in NHL career

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.