Chicago Blackhawks State of The Union: June 11th, 2018
For some reason I woke up and my mind started racing about my beloved Blackhawks. It’s been 4 days without hockey and withdrawal is already kicking in. But don’t you worry child, there are a lot of things to talk about and a lot of things to look forward to this offseason, so buckle up and hold on cause this could be a YUGE offseason for this current regime.
This was one of the things that immediately popped into my head this morning and actually inspired this very blog. On the Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Blackhawks mouthpiece Pat Boyle brought up a very thought-provoking topic and it actually turned into a harsh reality for me. Basically, it was suggested that Patrick Kane has more leadership characteristics than Jonathan Toews, and after a little bit of thought and persuasion, it’s hard to disagree at least from the outside looking in. Let’s just consider what us fans can see.
It’s no secret that Patrick Kane is the first one out there and last one off in both practices and in games. This isn’t a big deal right? Not quite. As we stand, the Blackhawks roster is very young, and it is only going to get younger. When you have an impressionable group of 2nd/3rd year guys, it’s shit like this that actually can have an impact on a locker room, even if marginal. Toews is among the first guys off. Now there could be a very valid reason for that, but regardless, it contributes to a main argument that I will get to in a bit.
When you think of the Blackhawks’ presence off the ice, you see one guy who is consistently representing this franchise, and that would be Patrick Kane. From things like captaining his country’s team at World Championships (I know Toews can’t do anything about this, but it helps Kane’s case immensely), to being a participant in the CPHL (Chicago Pro Hockey League – definitely worth checking out this summer if you’re local). Basically anything in which the Blackhawks are being publicly represented, Kane’s there.
The Blackhawks’ Athletic contributor Scott Powers has mentioned ad nauseam how Kane makes a concerted effort to make his rounds in the locker room and make new/young guys feel welcome, even if that means going out of his way to actually hang out with his teammates. Being a 29 year old and hanging out with 22/23 year olds is certainly a change of pace, but it’s all for the benefit of the team and for the sake of camaraderie. Kane has certainly matured since the dreaded 2015 offseason from hell, being a more productive scorer and winning an MVP in the process while being a model teammate/public figure.
My main point is this: Like I said, It’s really hard to tell without being in the locker room, but from the outside I think it’s fair to say it looks like Kane cares a heck of a lot more than Toews. Now don’t get me wrong Toews is an unbelievable captain; the best this city has ever seen and one of the most accomplished in the league’s history. But over the past few years it just seems like things are snowballing for 19 in negative ways. Could it be just a slow build up of disappointing play from Toews? Possibly, but if that’s the case I think there is a lot to be said about how you respond to failure and what that says about you as a leader.
The Defense Situation/Free Agency
The Blackhawks’ defense this year was absolutely brutal. Just gonna be blunt here, but you all knew this. The defensive core is dwindling if not already non-existent. There is currently one player with a roster spot who is of any significant value on defense, and that is Duncan Keith. Brent Seabrook can still be a useful player, but only in selective situations, and it’s really hard to have a significant impact with limited opportunities, aside from the other time he spends on the ice getting burned down the boards. Gustaffson stinks, Murphy and Oesterle can’t quite find a consistent pace, and that 6th/7th defenseman spot has sort of been a revolving door. It is of utter importance that this team finds a blue-chip, puck-moving defenseman that can be a cornerstone of the Chicago blue line for years to come. The names that are popular in certain circles are Justin Faulk (2 years under contract at $4.83 AAV), Jacob Trouba (RFA), John Carlson (UFA), and maybe Noah Hanifin (RFA) just to name a few of the more prominent ones.
The most intriguing option to me is Justin Faulk. The cap hit is very manageable, he fits our need of a RHD, and he is an asset in the offensive zone especially on the powerplay. But there would still need to be some players sent away to clear some more space. Scott Powers mentioned the Hawks have been in talks with Carolina about a potential swap with Faulk, former Hawks netminder Scott Darling, and the contract of Marian Hossa. It’s really hard to think of a scenario in which we don’t give up a significant piece to get this done. Hossa’s contract needs to be moved. Doesn’t matter where, it just needs to be done.
A popular name brought up as a cap-casualty is Artem Anisimov. Darling had a less-than-desirable year in net and could stand to benefit from being in a familiar environment with a goaltender coach who he’s been successful with. Additionally, Corey Crawford’s condition has been unknown for some time now, and it’s really hard to bank on him consistently being healthy at this point. Darling was a starting-caliber tender during his time here and at the least is an incredible back-up option, albeit an expensive one. I mention Noah Hanifin as a candidate in the case that a deal for Faulk can’t be consummated, but I don’t really see that happening as trading a 5th overall pick who happens to be a damn good defenseman at just 21 years of age is hard to do. However the Hawks are desperate, and top-2 defenseman don’t grow on trees, so it can’t be totally ruled out.
As for Trouba and Carlson, I wouldn’t hold your breath. Trouba is playing for the Jets, who have seemed to finally hit their stride as a group. However he has been itching for a big ole’ payday and there has been a bit of hesitation on Winnipeg’s part according to sources (Google). Might we see an offer sheet? It’s possible. An article came out the other day that the Bruins are considering it as they are also in the market for a RHD.
And as for John Carlson, he is likely going to command a pretty penny as well, especially after his incredible performance in this year’s Cup run. So unless Stan Bowman wants to go all in on the blue-line I don’t expect us to outbid the other teams in the John Carlson market as long as we want to make other additions to this roster. He’s likely looking for term and money, only one of which we may be able to sufficiently offer. Giving lengthy contracts to older defenseman hasn’t been nice to us recently, so while John Carlson could be a nice addition, I’d expect Stan to initially look elsewhere.
Q/Bowman/Rocky Wirtz’s comments
About a week ago in an interview with Crain’s Chicago Business, team owner Rocky Wirtz was asked about what could come of a slow start to the 2018-2019 campaign, and he said “Nothing lasts forever. I think the team will be fine, but if things are off at the beginning of the year, that’s a different story.” In the past, Wirtz has been very supportive of GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville, but this is the first public comment that has come close to suggesting change could be coming. Personally, I have said that firing Q could be the best thing for this franchise.
With a new, young group in Chicago and only a handful of guys being nurtured by Q for nearly the entirety of their career, it could be time for a new voice and a different direction. Twice this year we have seen NHL teams hire NCAA coaches who are more familiar with a younger team dynamic. A while back we had Barstool Chief on Go With The Flow who mentioned that former Denver head coach Jim Montgomery was a name to look out for in Chicago, however it was later announced Q would be here another year and Montgomery took the Dallas gig.
Here’s how I see it, personally. If the Hawks get off to a slow start, Joel Quenneville will be out of a job. Bowman is clearly making an effort to address the defense, drafting Henri Jokiharju and Ian Mitchell last year, signing Blake Hillman who looked nice in his limited time, and looking at a lot of potential candidates with the 8th overall pick this year as well as being transparent about different trade scenarios. I think we need to at least see his plan out for this year.
Bowman is looking to make this team quicker and more skilled, so getting Dylan Sikura signed at the end of this past year was huge, and it is just as big if not bigger to nail this draft, particularly what we do with 8. If we can grab a guy like Quinn Hughes, Noah Dobson, or Evan Bouchard, then it is a win because those are all guys who project to be very well-suited for the NHL. However many draft experts have these guys gone by 8, so it begs the question: does Stan trade up or settle for a forward such as Oliver Wahlstrom? Only time will tell.
I think Stan will be very aggressive this offseason, if he sees an opportunity to improve this roster, he will jump all over it, as the Hawks are in no position to be patient. But being aggressive has bit him in the ass recently with the Panarin/Saad and Murphy/Hammer deals. This is Stan’s year to sink or swim. If he can assemble a talented group then I don’t see why he shouldn’t stay. If the team struggles, I think he deserves the chance to look for who he thinks can right the ship at the head coach position. So if you’re a Hawks fan, don’t worry yet, just brace yourself for quite possibly the most important offseason in recent memory.