Let's kick this one off with a few notes from Thursday's game vs. the Arizona Coyotes.
Did I cover it all?
Honestly, it was another stinker of a game. At this point, there's a combination of poor effort, as well as, just not having the talent/depth to compete every night.
It is not looking good for the Hawks with these injuries. To be honest, there would be a dozen teams in the NHL that wouldn't be able to sustain long-term injuries to their #1 and #2/#3 defencemen and 2 regular forwards to their lineup.
So let's put that 5-2 loss to Arizona off to the side. The Hawks have back-to-back games this weekend vs. St. Louis and Minnesota.
Will it get any better? Where are the Hawks at with their season right now? Have they already flamed out?
This is an interesting crossroads for Stan Bowman and Jeremy Colliton; with the injuries mounting up, the depleted Hawks with continue to struggle on a nightly basis to claw their way back to the 2020 NHL playoffs.
I'm not completely writing the season off, I just want to be realistic at this point. The sample size is now 32 games and the Blackhawks are 8 points out of the playoff spot.
The reality is if they don't go on a serious tear here soon, Bowman needs to start planning for the future of this team, whether he's at the helm or not.
Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun Times wrote an article this week titled, "Blackhawks' recent salary cap issues forewarn of impending crunch in summer 2020".
This was a timely piece for me as I was starting to explore the 2020 offseason as I researched for this blog.
If you ready Ben's story, he's not wrong.
I thought the Hawks were going to be in better shape heading into this summer, but it's going to be tighter than I anticipated after I started to crunch the numbers.
We all know that the Hawks will need to pick either Lehner or Crawford to lead the way in net. If neither wants to stay in Chicago (or if Corey retires) than the Hawks will need to find a goaltender on the UFA market.
The big fish upfront will be re-signing Dylan Strome. He will be in the $5-$6M AAV range.
Then you have Kubalik and Caggiula as RFAs.
Erik Gustafsson is as good as gone as his salary demands will exceed what the Hawks can afford.
The report is the NHL salary cap could be increased anywhere from $3-$4M next season. The Hawks would like that to be closer to the $4M range because another thing I wasn't aware of was the potential performance bonuses.
According to CapFriendly, the Hawks players have a combined potential performance bonus amount of $7.6M+(!).
Dylan Strome ($2.4M) and Kirby Dach ($2.5M) lead the way with potential extra earnings.
A less-than-ideal scenario is if the Blackhawks flame out, miss the playoffs but some individual players have hit these performances markers, which could carry over to the 2020-21 cap hit.
While it might seem like I'm going off on a tangent, I swear I'm not.
I'm looking to evaluate this Blackhawk team from now until at least next Fall – as Bowman and the rest of the executive team do on a regular basis.
Therefore, if this rollercoaster of a team continues to struggle and flame out completely by the new year, what might they look like post-trade deadline?
What decisions could be made to possibly better the situation for the summer of 2020 and beyond?
Well, I've got my suggestions for you to ponder.
First, let's identify who are realistic assets for the Blackhawks:
* Z. Smith
Some names on there might make you uncomfortable. Don't worry, I'm not suggesting Bowman launch all of these players into the sun for picks and prospects.
Also, some of you might be screaming to have Brent Seabrook or Duncan Keith on that list, however, I don't think trading any of the core four (Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook) are realistic.
Now, here's what I would do:
* Trade Erik Gustafsson
– I was getting the inclination after talking to some people the Canadiens were interested in Gus, however, this Blackhawks might be pumping the breaks on this for now with the recent de Haan news.
Still, I would move him in the new year if Gilbert and Boqvist prove that they can handle 15-18 minutes/night with consistency.
* Trade Olli Maatta
– I like Maatta for what he is. Most nights, he has been that steady defensive dman that the Hawks were looking for when they traded for him. He's also only 25 years old.
The problem is that he makes $4.08M / year which, when I do my future planning, doesn't really work. The Hawks will likely have Boqvist and Mitchell playing full-time in 2020-21, so Maatta would be the odd man out at that price tag.
I don't think there would be a long list of suitors to take on Maatta and his contract, but there could be a couple of teams interested at the deadline in a 2-time Stanley Cup defender. I just wouldn't expect much back.
* Trade Drake Caggiula
– once he gets healthy and gets his feet back under him of course.
The Drake makes $1.5M this year and is an impending RFA. I like him and his game, however, he's a bottom 6 guy that could easily be replaced with Matthew Highmore or .
* Trade Zach Smith – easier said than done, right? I will rephrase this one to "trade Zach Smith… if you can."
I doubt there will be many takers, but if there are, it's a given that the Hawks would part with him.
* Trade Corey Crawford – once again, this would be with the caveat of "if you can trade Corey" and "if Corey wants to be traded" as he has a M-NTC.
Honestly, I can't see him accepting a trade anywhere, so you probably have #50 for the season.
My main rationale for moving Crawford doesn't have anything to do with the return, rather getting a better look at what you have in Kevin Lankinen and/or Collin Delia.
* Sign Robin Lehner – I'm an advocate of signing Robin Lehner as soon as you can – which is 1/1/2020.
Ideally, if you could get him for 3-4 years, that would be great, but I would also be comfortable with Lehner getting locked in for 5-6 years.
* Sign Ian Mitchell - hopefully you can get him in for a couple games this year in the AHL/NHL to see where he's at. Then give him some pointers to work on over summer and tell him to get ready to play in the NHL in 2020-21. They're going to need him. #nopressure.
With those moves in mind and not accounting for any return, the Blackhawks could be setting themselves up for a roster that looks something like this:
UFA - Toews - UFA
It, unfortunately, looks very similar to what the Hawks went into this season with. Therefore, those UFA spots are very important. The only problem is - that if my math is correct (which includes those carryover performance bonuses) – that Stan would only have 2-3M to fill those remaining spots. That's not enough to sign the impact players the Hawks are missing.
The Hawks need to do whatever they can from now and forever to get faster. Find fast (physically and those who think the game fast) and talented players.
Hopefully, some of that will come with the next wave of Dach, Boqvist, and Mitchell who need to take massive leaps if the Hawks hope to turn the ship around.
One last thing to touch on before I leave you to scream at me about the my 2020-21 lines (please note these are subject to change), I haven't touched on the biggest question of all.
What if the Blackhawks flame out… will Stan Bowman and Jeremy Colliton last the season?
My thinking before last night's game was, yes, they will last the season, however, both will be gone the second the offseason hits.
During the game last night, I had this feeling run through my entire body that, if the Hawks drop both games this weekend, both Stan and Jeremy might not be employed on Monday.
This has been more than enough crystal ball gazing for one blog.
Let's remain optimistic (please refer to "What if" the Blackhawks catch fire blog for that) and hope for some healthy bodies to return… and possibly a Christmas miracle.
See ya out there!