Dylan Strome

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.

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.

PHT Morning Skate: The case for boring Buffalo Sabres; John ‘Norris’ Carlson?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Leaning toward a boring style of hockey might not excite Sabres fans, but injuries might force Buffalo’s hand. (Die By the Blade)

• Speaking of the Buffalo Sabres, how can they jumpstart Jeff Skinner once he returns. Travis Yost explains it pretty simply: put him back with Jack Eichel. (Buffalo News)

• Bill Daly admitted to ESPN on Ice that the league is concerned about Alex Ovechkin and others skipping All-Star Games. Frankly, it’s tough to imagine this trend ending during a time when sports teams are becoming more intrigued by “load management.” Maybe the NHL should expect less in this regard, at least for high-mileage veterans like Ovechkin and Marc-Andre Fleury? Just saying. (ESPN)

• The Flames signed defenseman Rasmus Andersson to a significant extension. It’s a six-year deal with a $4.55 million AAV. Wow. (Flames)

• The Predators fired Peter Laviolette, but GM David Poile blames the players, not the coaches, for the team’s predicament. (On the Forecheck)

• Capitals defenseman John Carlson continues to enjoy a season for the ages — and aged. Alex Ovechkin calls him “John Norris,” so is Carlson’s middle name Chuck? (Five Thirty Eight/Featurd)

• Add Dylan Strome to the concerning list of Blackhawks injury. If you’re like me, the screenshot of Strome’s injury will make you cringe. Yikes. (NBC Sports Chicago)

• The Stars loaned defenseman Stephen Johns to the AHL. Consider this a fantastic sign, as Johns hasn’t played since 2018-19 because of “post-traumatic headaches.” Here’s more information on post-traumatic headaches, as that term feels fairly new. In a nutshell, it sounds like migraines might rank among Johns’ concussion-related symptoms? A smart person can feel free to chime in on that. (Stars)

• Adam Gretz goes deep on “the Kris Letang discussion.” (Pensburgh)

• Which players should the Avalanche target at the trade deadline? (Mile High Hockey)

• Speaking of the deadline, Mark Borowiecki acknowledges being anxious about his fate with or without the Senators. (TSN)

• Micah Blake McCurdy posted an interesting thread that spotlights skyrocketing scoring in the NHL, among other trends. (McCurdy’s Tweets)

• “They’re coming for you one day — all of us, no matter what, you’re going to get fired.” That’s what Paul Maurice had to say about the many coaching firings recently. Interesting to hear that from Maurice, who is one of those coaches who’s quietly found work for a staggering amount of time relative to his teams’ modest successes. (Chris Johnston’s Tweet)

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 old and new lead rally to beat Red Wings

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January might seem a little early for “must-win” games, but the Chicago Blackhawks cannot afford to fall to lesser opponents. The Detroit Red Wings managed a 2-0 lead on Sunday, yet Chicago rallied to win 4-2.

Kane delivers as usual for the Blackhawks

Hyping up Red Wings – Blackhawks as a battle of two teams trying to build for the future makes sense.

Sure, Patrick Kane leads the way for Chicago. Kane remains far-and-away the driving force of the Blackhawks’ offense, generating his 54th point of the season when he assisted on the first goal of Dylan Sikura‘s NHL career:

But as dominant as Kane is in the present, youngsters drove both sides’ successes.

Red Wings, Blackhawks can look on bright spots for future

First, Filip Zadina scored the 1-0 power-play goal. The sixth pick of the 2018 NHL Draft — who many picked to go fourth or even third instead — stumbled a bit during his development, including dealing with injuries. Shots like that goal remind that he has plenty of time to succeed, and Zadina is delivering reasonably overall, generating 10 points in 18 games so far this season.

Fresh faces paced the Blackhawks’ comeback, too.

Two Dylans scored in just 45 seconds during the second period. Dylan Strome (third in 2015) continues to be a nice point-producer for Chicago, collecting the 2-1 tally. Then, it was that Dylan Sikura goal. Promising defenseman Adam Boqvist (eighth in 2018) ended up producing the game-winner, his second goal of 2019-20.

The sexier Dominik Kubalik goal could have happened after Duncan Keith sprung him for a breakaway, but Jimmy Howard narrowly avoided that with a save. Kubalik instead scored an empty-netter, giving him 12 on the season, second among all rookies.

Sports fans love to imagine potential magically turning into production, but that doesn’t always work out. Sikura, for example, took 44 games to score his first NHL goal.

Still, if a few of the Kubaliks, Stromes, and Zadinas work out, both franchises might be able to wiggle out of these post-dynasty stupors.

The Blackhawks made sure that there’s at least a slight chance that they might end their playoff drought in 2019-20 by not losing to a Red Wings team that, scrappy or not, can’t seem to protect a lead. Sunday represents what they hope is the start of a strong homestand, and playoff push.

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.

Injuries, salary cap crunch will force Blackhawks to play shorthanded

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Times are tough for the Chicago Blackhawks right now.

They enter the week having lost five of their past six games and were completely embarrassed by the Colorado Avalanche over the weekend, being outscored by a 12-5 margin in back-to-back losses on Friday and Saturday.

Now they have to play the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues on Monday night, and will have to do so with a shorthanded roster that will include only 11 forwards due to an unfortunate combination of injuries, an illness, and a salary cap crunch.

It is not uncommon to see teams play with 11 forwards, but it is usually done because they are dressing a seventh defensman.

The Blackhawks do not even have that going for them on Monday.

Here is the situation:

  • Duncan Keith, Andrew Shaw, Dylan Strome, and Drake Caggiula will all miss Monday’s game due to injury.
  • Keith, Strome, and Caggiula were all already sidelined and did not play in Saturday’s ugly 7-3 loss to the Avalanche, while Shaw’s injury (undisclosed) was revealed on Monday morning. The official word from the team is that he is currently being evaluated.
  • Adding to the issues is the fact goalie Robin Lehner (by far their best goalie so far this season) will not be available on Monday due to illness, forcing the team to recall goalie Kevin Lankinen from the American Hockey League. The problem is that move puts the Blackhawks against the salary cap, preventing them from calling up another forward to fill the open spot that all of the other injuries created.

This all paints a very bleak picture for the Blackhawks because it not only illustrates just how tight the team’s salary cap situation is, but it also serves as a reminder that they are spending a ton of money on a team that simply is not very good.

After they play the Blues on Monday, they have a few days to get healthy again and get some players back before they have to go on the road for a back-to-back that will take them through Boston and New Jersey.

While this type of shorthanded lineup is extremely uncommon, it is not completely unheard of. During the stretch run of the 2014-15 regular season the Pittsburgh Penguins were facing a similar situation when they were forced to play with only five defensemen in the lineup because of injuries and a salary cap situation that prevented any additional call-ups from the American Hockey League.

Adam Gretz is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.