Corey Crawford

Blackhawks long-term outlook DeBrincat Toews Kane
Getty Images

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

Leave a comment

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

  • Corey Crawford (UFA)
  • Drake Caggiula (RFA)
  • Dominik Kubalik (RFA)
  • Dylan Strome (RFA)
  • Malcolm Subban (RFA)
  • Slater Koekkoek (RFA)
  • Matthew Highmore (RFA)

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.

Chicago Blackhawks: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

Blackhawks surprises and disappointments Kubalik Crawford
Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.

Wednesday Night hockey: Blackhawks look to keep slim playoff hopes alive

Getty
1 Comment

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the San Jose Sharks 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 Blackhawks’ playoff chances are hanging by a thread.

As of right now, the ‘Hawks are eight points behind Vancouver for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. The other problem is that they have to leap over four teams to get there.

So, the odds aren’t exactly in their favor right now.

But they’ll have an opportunity to get themselves back in the race on home ice (mostly). Eight of their next 11 contests will be played at the United Center. The bad news is that just three of those games will be played against teams that they’re trying to catch

Chicago has dropped back-to-back games to the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues.

“It sucks,” defenseman Connor Murphy said. “Losing sucks, especially having a couple in a row. When they seem to get more heated and obviously the games matter more, it’s frustrating for sure.”

One of the interesting storylines to follow for Chicago will be the future of their goaltending position. One of the reasons they still have a tiny shot of making the postseason is because of the play of Corey Crawford, who is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season.

Since Feb. 21, Crawford is tied for first in game’s started (9), he’s tied for fourth in wins (5), and he’s 4th in save-percentage (minimum six starts) at .928.

The 35-year-old has had a long history with vertigo and concussions, so general manager Stan Bowman might want to look elsewhere for a starting goalie. But what if he continues performing at a high level down the stretch? Do they keep him as the undisputed starter? Do they bring in another 1-B goalie to split starts with him? It’s an interesting dilemma.

Before they have to make a decision on that, they can continue to evaluate his play in games that are still technically meaningful for them.

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.

Blues beat Blackhawks in a 6-5 barn burner

2 Comments

What’s the best way to summarize the Blues finding a way to beat the Blackhawks 6-5 on Tuesday? Maybe we should just make the “fanning self” hand motion and call it a night?

This was a wild one from the start, with Brayden Schenn scoring 33 seconds in. Maybe that opening goal implied that this would be an easy one for the Blues, but that was far from the truth. Regardless, St. Louis has won all three of its games against Chicago this season. This marks five straight wins for the Blues overall.

The mark of a good — and versatile — team is to win in multiple ways. Even so, Craig Berube’s facial expression in the moment captured by Getty Images probably captured his mood for much of the night:

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Blackhawks roared back after falling behind early, flipping a 1-0 deficit to a 3-1 lead. Jonathan Toews found ways to make subtle picks during those first goals, setting the stage for Duncan Keith to break a 40-game goalless streak, and reach 100 for his career.

Wild get games wildest during the third period

Chicago scored two power-play goals during that stretch, and three overall on Tuesday.

Maybe it was just that kind of night, really, as the Blackhawks went 3-for-4 while St. Louis managed two on four power-play chances.

The seesaw really wobbled during the third period, in particular. Ryan O’Reilly made it 3-3, then Zach Sanford continued his blazing streak to make it 4-3 16 seconds later. That Blues lead only lasted for 1:13 before Matthew Highmore tied it up.

Brandon Saad regained Chicago’s lead three minutes later only for (catches breath for a moment) Justin Faulk to tie it up again 1:12 later.

The above two paragraphs describe a span of five goals during less than six minutes of game time.

A bit more than four minutes after Faulk tied it up, Sanford scored the game-winner for St. Louis on the power play. Phew.

The end result is that the Blues strengthened their Central Division lead, while the Blackhawks saw their playoff hopes fade even more with a regulation loss. Many likely expected the two teams to reach this sort of destination on Tuesday, but the journey was quite unexpected.

Jordan Binnington, Corey Crawford, and Berube certainly don’t want to navigate such a bumpy road most nights, that’s for sure.

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.

The Buzzer: Red Wings eliminated before trade deadline; Spurgeon’s surge

Red Wings already eliminated from playoffs PHT Buzzer
Getty Images
1 Comment

Three Stars

1. Jared Spurgeon, Minnesota Wild

Spurgeon collected a hat trick on Friday. It was the first hat trick of his career, making him the second Wild defenseman to pull off such a feat after Ryan Suter. Spurgeon enjoyed a tremendous all-around performance, managing six shots on goal, a +3 rating, three blocked shots, and one hit in 21:55 TOI.

Spurgeon reached the 10-goal mark in just 53 games. He’s hit double digits in goals during four of his last five seasons, and could top his 2018-19 career-high of 14. He also generated nine goals in 2014-15 and 2017-18. In other words, it’s almost OK to write “Spurgeon, hands of a surgeon” in headlines. Almost.

Ryan Nugent-Hopkins provided quite an effort for the Oilers in their loss to Spurgeon’s Wild. RNH managed two goals and one assist, but Edmonton fell short.

2. Jordan Eberle, New York Islanders

Eberle generated the third hat trick of his career as the Islanders took care of business against Detroit. Eberle supplied the game-winner in a 4-1 win. His last hat trick came on April 9, 2017, while he was still with the Oilers. The only knock against his hat trick is that it came against the Red Wings, who have already been officially eliminated from playoff contention.

The Islanders decided to re-sign Eberle despite a down season in 2018-19 where he was limited to 19 goals and 37 points. With 13 goals and 34 points in 50 games, Eberle looks closer to the player he was during his debut season with the Isles. (Interestingly, Eberle is enjoying similar rebounds in his possession stats after a slight dip last year.)

Mika Zibanejad and Colton Parayko also enjoyed strong three-point nights, but the third star goes to …

3. Corey Crawford, Chicago Blackhawks

The Predators received five power-play opportunities, including some 5-on-3 time. They fired 20 SOG on Crawford during the second period alone, failing to beat him during that frame.

Crawford ended Friday making 42 out of 43 saves in a goalie duel with Pekka Rinne (36 saves). Alex DeBrincat ended up scoring both of Chicago’s goals to grab an OT win for the Blackhawks. Crawford broke a four-game losing streak (0-3-1) with this splendid performance.

Highlights of the Night

Now, this is one strange goal credited to Leon Draisaitl:

DeBrincat broke loose for the OT-winner:

(This Petr Mrazek save ranks as a runner-up.)

Red Wings already eliminated and other factoids

  • The Red Wings became the first team to be eliminated before the trade deadline since the Penguins suffered that ignominious fate in 2003-04. Hey, at least that paved the way for better things for Pittsburgh, eh?  Getting mathematically eliminated in game 63 is the quickest boot-out since the 1995-96 Senators. (Sportsnet Stats)
  • Colton Parayko has been a nightmare for the Stars this season. The big Blues blueliner collected one goal and two assists on Friday. Parayko increased his output to seven points (4G, 3A) in three games vs. the Stars in 2019-20.
  • Pavel Francouz celebrated his contract extension with a steady performance for Colorado with his first career shutout.
  • Spurgeon’s hat trick was of the natural variety. He became the 12th player listed as a D to score a natural hat trick. Justin Faulk and Dustin Byfuglien authored the most recent ones that preceded Spurgeon’s surge. (NHL PR)
  • The Rangers pushed their road winning streak to seven consecutive games, tying a franchise record. (NHL PR)
  • The Bruins fell behind the Flames 3-0 less than four minutes (3:23) into Friday’s game. Despite that, Boston ended up winning. This marks the seventh instance where a team fell behind 3-0 within the opening four minutes of a game, only to win. (NHL PR)

Scores

NYR 5 – CAR 2
NYI 4 – DET 1
CHI 2 – NSH 1 (OT)
STL 5 – DAL 1
BOS 4 – CGY 3
MIN 5 – EDM 3
COL 1 – ANA 0

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.