Everyone, Your 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks: Current and Future Thoughts
I told you I would reserve judgment on this Chicago team, and Stan Bowman until the final roster was decided.
Well, here we go. A 2-4 record in the preseason, which, yes puts them at 4 points and last in their division has left a lot to be desired.
Now, that's not 100% fair to the Hawks as some team in the Central Division had a 7-game exhibition loop, thus giving them more opportunity to earn points.
The Hawks did very much underwhelm though, even with their 4-1 win vs. Columbus on Saturday, as that was an AHL team at best that the Blue Jackets iced.
Stan Bowman now has his roster set with a team that will look something like this:
IR: Crawford, Murphy, Forsling
One can assume that the Hawks will put Crawford on the IR on day 2 of the season, giving them a spot to call up someone from Rockford (like Sikura, Highmore, etc).
I do have some questions for Stan now though; wouldn't the roster above look a little better with Hinostroza at least on the 3rd line? Short answer, yes.
The fact that Stan Bowman created cap space by trading Marian Hossa, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle for Marcus Kruger, Mackenzie Entwhistle, some AHL fodder and did nothing with it is extremely confusing.
While he looks like his old self, Marcus Kruger is not enough to make up for dealing a guy like Hinostroza. This is especially true with the emergence of Kruger-esque players like David Kampf and Luke Johnson.
I've been trying to make sense of Stan's offseason and now that October is nearly here, I'm continuing to search for more answers beyond just the active roster, but from an organizational standpoint.
The Hawks really needed Dylan Sikura to make this team and make an impact in the top 9. Sikura has been sent down to Rockford (for now) and this has left Coach Q with a big(ger) gap in depth up front.
That bottom 6 is going to have one hell of a time scoring goals. Is everyone still against signing a guy like Rick Nash? Heck, even if he isn't 100% sure of wanting to play this year, I'd still pick him up from the airport to drive him to the rink. He could still score 20 goals from a 3rd line/PP role.
Sure, it is possible that Stan uses this 4M+ cap space in-season to upgrade this team, but that's never a "plan" because there's too much uncertainty of which players will become available, and at what time.
So what happened? Did this offseason completely get away from Stan Bowman?
It's possible that the Hawks knew that they would be in it tough with the uncertainty to Corey Crawford that they didn't want to invest too much in external help. However, with this organization's pride, I find it hard to believe. There appears to be something bigger brewing here and I've been talking to contacts all summer leading up to the start of this season to determine what this could be… but alas, everyone I talk to is confused as well.
The whispers of a bigger plan have faded a bit from my contacts but some have suggested that a potential lockout and expansion draft is something that has been taken into account in future plans.
Do we have it all wrong? Will the Hawks come out and surprise as they take a Vegas-like underdog approach to every single game? Possible.
Let's see what the odds are saying about this team. Here is a snapshot of over/under of points for the regular season from sportsinteraction.com (last season's points are listed in brackets):
Winnipeg Jets – 106.5 (2017-18 = 114 points)
Nashville Predators -105.5 (117 points)
St. Louis Blues – 96.5 (94 points)
Minnesota Wild – 95.5 (101 points)
Dallas Stars – 94.5 (92 points)
Colorado Avalanche – 90.5 (95 points)
Chicago Blackhawks – 84.5 (76 points)
Eeeek. That's just one publication, however, the rest are quite similar.
The best I've seen is the Blackhawks finishing 6th in the Central for the 2018-19 season.
You can bet that Stan Bowman and the executives at 1901 Madison knew that with the way they finished last season, coupled with their offseason moves (or lack thereof) that the mainstream media and odd sharks wouldn't be doing backflips of excitement for this team.
So, what gives? What is the plan here?
I won't give a detailed prediction of points, but I will give a range of how this season can shake out (for better or for worse), the needed steps from now until April, and what the Hawks could truly be doing to get back to this next level.
My 2018-19 Prediction for this Blackhawks team would be in that 5th-7th in the Central Division and around 10th-12th in the conference.
The best case scenario is that Crawford comes back in the first couple of months and is back to his normal self, helping the team compete for that last playoff spot in the West. That's a large ask and probably not a realistic one.
You know me though, I do like to focus on the positives, so whether they finish 8th in the Western Conference or 15th, the reality is that this team is not on pace to make a Stanley Cup run, but I will seek out some silver lining in all of this.
What are some needed steps in 18-19 to get them trending in the right direction?
The next wave of offence and depth role players up front must step forward. If Nick Schmaltz and Alex Debrincat want those juicy 2nd contracts, then they will have to show they are worth it.
Also, do we see guys like Kahun, Highmore, Ejdsell and Sikura start to emerge as the season progresses as players that the Hawks can count on moving forward?
On the backend, it would appear Stan and the organization is looking to build their team from this area based on their last few drafts.
The best case scenario would be Henri Jokiharju plays all year in Chicago and at some point as the season goes along, shows that he is a consistent top 4 defender.
There are others that could prove a lot of value as well (in Chicago and Rockford) from Erik Gustafsson taking the next step as an offensive defenceman to Blake Hillman and Dennis Gilbert crafting their defensive-first skill set under Colliton in big situations.
Of course, all eyes will be on Adam Boqvist in London as well. However, I'm not just looking at him this year. It will be interesting to see how Beaudin and Mitchell grow in their respective junior leagues.
I would have to think that staggering these "Four Horsemen" into their professional careers would be the ideal plan moving forward.
When looking at what the Hawks could do to benefit this team long-term, you have to wonder if trading a guy like Duncan Keith could be a thing this year.
The obvious downside would be that the Hawks really lack high-end skill and poise in the top 4, but also you would want no one else in this league showing Jokiharju, Boqvist, Beaudin and Mitchell how to play the position and become an elite pro in the NHL.
However, there's not much else to trade to garner a big return.
My vote would be to keep him as his cap hit and impact is worth it, but it's something to keep an eye on as the season progresses.
With that being said, how does this master plan of Stan look in 2019 and beyond? How the Hawks get back to the next level?
As mentioned above, my guess is the Hawks are banking on the Nashville and/or Anaheim model of building from the defence out.
If the Hawks can strategically roll out in stages over the next 3 years a defence that consists of (at least): Henri Jokiharju (2018-19), Adam Boqvist (2019-20), Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell (2020-21) and these guys are about 75%+ of what people (professionals outside of Chicago) are predicting, then the Hawks could be in really good shape.
There are also others, like Hillman, Gilbert, Carlsson, etc. but those 4 are the ones that the Hawks really need to let develop to become impact players for them.
What they really need to discover is their next set of scoring strength from the forward position.
Guys like Maxim Shalunov (boy, he'd be a welcomed site this year), Alex Fortin, Victor Ejdsell, Matthew Highmore, Jake Wise, Niklas Nordgren, Andrei Altybarmakyan, Artur Kayumov, Evan Barratt, Tim Soderlund – do they have anything in those guys?
On the wings the foreseeable future should have Kane, Saad, Debrincat for a while, so your top 6 should be able to get by.
At centre, the Hawks will have Toews, who will most likely be a No. 2/3 centre on a good team here soon. So, the more reason the Hawks need to sign and continue to develop Nick Schmaltz.
If I were the Hawks, I would keep Max Shalunov in the middle. He was shifted there last year in the KHL and has been performing well there. While he has started slower this year with 1 G and 2 A in 10 games for CSKA Moscow in the KHL, he has averaged 19 goals in his last 3 years.
For the Hawks to have success in at Cup Contending level, they will need to sign, trade or draft (a stud) at the centre position though to compete with the rest of the Western Conference.
Goaltending is also a factor and this year, more than any will reveal a lot to the organization as to how they are going to move forward with a couple players/situations.
I heard the Hawks are prepared to move on from Corey Crawford if need be. He is signed until 2020 and the Hawks have no clear heir apparent to him.
They have to see what they have in Colin Delia and Kevin Lankinen. Also, if Anton Forsberg stays with the team, he could end up being a real X-factor. Forsberg is just 25-years old and is a good technical goalie. If he had Colin Delia's mental strength, WOAH… the Hawks would have something there. We'll see if Anton can improve and I'm sure he's working with the Hawks mental coach.
You also have to think the Hawks are paying very close attention to Ivan Nalimov. The former 6th round pick from 2014 switched teams in the KHL this season (Kunlun Red Star) and after 4 games sports a 1-3 record, 2.83 GAA and .917 SV%. Earlier in the offseason, he and his agent appeared to be requesting a trade (as per Scott Powers), however, Stan must have promised there was a potential future for the 6'4 / 213 lbs Russian. I wouldn't be surprised to see him brought over next year which could cause a bit of a logjam again in net.
This was a long-winded way of saying that I'm exciting for the start of the season, however, remain disappointed (and confused) from what Stan did in the offseason. I feel bad is Joel Quenneville is the scapegoat out of all of this because he's being handed a tough hand.
I will continue to look for the positives and silver lining in all of this and hoping that we will all be pleasantly surprised with this Hawks team.
I will be back with a couple more articles this week to get you prepped for the season opener on Thursday.
See ya out there,