The Blackhawks came in to the 2015-16 season celebrating their 6th Stanley Cup Championship in franchise history, and 3rd within the last 6 seasons. The marking of a true elite team in the Salary Cap Era, and a modern dynasty. It seems that no matter how many cornerstone pieces that Stan Bowman loses, someone else steps up and takes the mantle. Plenty of talented signings and talent acquisitions via trades, Bowman has set his team up to be a force for the foreseeable future. One can only wonder, when is the end of the foreseeable future?
Currently, just over 87% of the Hawks forward Cap hit (54% of total cap) is invested in to 5 players (Kane, Toews, Hossa, Anisimov, Kruger). Of course, this does not include the contracts of defensemen Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and goaltender Cory Crawford. Adding those contracts up leads to a whopping $61.38 million or 84% of the total cap. Nine players will be leaving the Blackhawks management left with $11.6 million to fill 13 roster spots. There is no denying the talent, the ability, and the legend that most, if not all these players will be leaving behind. However, it certainly leaves Bowman in a VERY tough spot. Especially when a 10th player on the squad (Panarin) is looking for a contract in the $6 million per year range. Who stays and who goes? Bowman’s foreseeable future just may be right around the corner.
After finishing 3rd in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks lost Game 7 to the St. Louis Blues in what was a fast and heavy hitting first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You could say that the usual suspects got the job done offensively. Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Jonathan Toews, Andrew Shaw and Duncan Keith all did their jobs and provided offensively. However, it would be faulty defensive plays and lapses, lucky bounces, and at times just being outplayed that cost them a chance at another Stanley Cup. The depth players that the Hawks went out to get at the trade deadline (Ladd, Ehrhoff) did not show up in their projected way. Consequently, leaving the Hawks stranded to only the performance of their Top 6 forwards, Top 4 defensemen, and a hope that goaltender Cory Crawford would have an out of body experience in Game 7.
Now that the Cup repeat chances are over and a new season is nearing, what details should we be paying attention to?
Noteworthy New Additions:
Standings: 3rd Central; 3rd Western Conference
Postseason: 4-3 games, First Round Playoff loss to St. Louis
Who to Watch Out For
Note: We all know the usual suspects. We all know what Kane and Toews and company are capable of. So for these purposes, I’ve decided to exclude them from this group.
The “Bread Man” came to the NHL and set it on fire. Starting his career in North America with some of the best forwards in the NHL certainly has its benefits, but doing so and putting up 77 points in 80 games is a whole other story. After one season in the NHL and a proven track record in the KHL, the 24 year old Russian has shown that he has what it takes to be the next big thing in Chicago. In 2015-16, Panarin lead all rookies in scoring and was Top 10 amongst skaters in the NHL. With a Calder Trophy already to his name, and on his way likely to a big contract extension, it shouldn’t be too far off to think Panarin could be the Marian Hossa replacement for Chicago. The question does need to be asked however: what does Panarin’s production look like without Patrick Kane on his line? Will he still be looking at Top 6 minutes or will he be looking at First Line? Can he repeat his production? All of these questions should be asked before Stan Bowman starts looking in to ways to fit Panarin in his cabinet for a long-term basis.
An aged veteran who is still a threat every time he sets foot out on the ice. Three Stanley Cup’s and at the age of 37, the Czech still wants more. 1,236 career games and 1,089 points (and counting) accumulated. It’s funny to say that 2015-16 brought on a down season for Hossa when he managed only 33 points in 64 games, when the year prior he scored 61 points in 82 games. Hossa should look to build off of his “training camp” at the World Cup of Hockey and successful offseason training. The biggest factor going into the 2016-17 season at this age and level of play will be his health. If Marian can stay healthy, Quinnville will likely lean on him for as a threat on the power play and a mentor to upcoming players.
Buffalo, San Jose, Chicago, Florida, and Chicago again. At 37 years of age, Brian Campbell has, needless to say, been around the NHL a few times. From 2011-2016, Brian Campbell has been part of an evolving Florida Panthers team that has likely outgrown him. He will now look to return to Chicago and finish out his career as a Hawk. Don’t let his age fool you though. Over the last 3 seasons with the Panthers, Brian never once missed a game and registered 95 points, landing him still at a 0.386 point per game pace. Worst case scenario for the Chicago, Coach Q can use Campbell’s experience to help out the likes of van Riemsdyk, Pokka, DeBrincat, Schmaltz, and even help Kempny with his adjustment to the NHL. Though he may not be the player he once was, Chicago should use him to any advantage they can get.
With never having played in the NHL before, this is an interesting “prospect” to look at. At 26 years old, the Czech has played seven seasons for the ELH and most recently, in the KHL playing for the Avangard Omsk. Kempny played in 59 games, scoring 5 goals and 21 points along with 46 penalty minutes and was noted as the team’s top defenseman. With his inexperience in the NHL, Kempny could very likely start out on the bottom pairing for Chicago. However, with the defensive talent and two-way ability that Michal brings to the fold, he could also very likely be Top 4 by Christmas break. He will certainly be an interesting addition to this squad’s thinning defensive talent.
At 27 years old and having only played just over 40 career NHL games, Darling is a little late to the party. However, just what is too old? Ask Tim Thomas who started his NHL career just over the age of 30. Darling may not be a Thomas in the making, but he sure seems ready to carve his own path if and when Crawford starts to falter throughout the regular season. Crawford was lights out during the regular season with a 35-18-5 record, a 2.37 GAA and a 0.924 SV%. It would be his 3-4, 2.54 GAA and 0.907 SV% playoff performance that marked a sign of concern After two season already with Chicago, Darling is looking to build to his experience. A career 2.36 GAA and .922 SV%, Darling could very well look on to more games this coming season than the 29 appearances made last season.