The Chicago Blackhawks have defined excellence over the past decade. The team has nine consecutive playoff appearances, second only to the Pittsburgh Penguins (11). However, this year has been a struggle for the historic franchise and the team finds themselves on the outside looking in. The Blackhawks sit dead last in the Central Division standings. The last time the Hawks missed the playoffs, Patrick Kane was in his rookie season and Alex DeBrincat was just 10 years old. A lot must change if the Blackhawks want to see their postseason streak hit double digits.
This is an organization that expects to win each and every year. Having won three Stanley Cups in a span of six years, this team is held to a higher standard than most. Despite these expectations, Chicago has disappointed to this point in the season. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith have been the headliners of this show for over a decade, now. There is obviously a veteran presence on this team, but at the same time this is still a roster littered with young, inexperienced faces.
The “old school meets new school” dynamic has not worked well for the Blackhawks, so far. Some younger guys have actually been impressive at times this season, namely Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz. Schmaltz is second on the team in scoring with 32 points and DeBrincat is fourth on the team with 28 tallies on the campaign. Besides the team’s top-four leading scorers, however, no other forward has been able to provide consistent production.
Brandon Saad started off the season red-hot. The 25-year-old forward, now in his second stint with Chicago, notched a hat trick in his first game back with the team. He put up seven points in the first four games of the year, but has since cooled off. Patrick Sharp was also re-acquired by GM Stan Bowman in the offseason, but has had trouble finding a spot in the lineup at times. The injury to Artem Anisimov has proved to be a big blow to this group. Anisimov was second on the team in points at the time of his injury and has been fantastic for Chicago over the past few seasons.
Defensively, the Blackhawks just aren’t what they used to be. Duncan Keith is still an exceptional player, but the Blackhawks lack depth. Brent Seabrook has slowed down this season and has even been scratched this year by Joel Quenneville. Besides Keith and Seabrook, any hockey fan outside of Chicago (hell, probably some in Chicago) would be hard-pressed to name another Blackhawks defenseman.
Connor Murphy was acquired in the trade that saw the Hawks ship off Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona and has not yet lived up to the billing. Michal Kempny has had trouble making the lineup consistently. Cody Franson hasn’t been a constant fixture in the Blackhawks’ defensive lineup to this point, either, but he provides good depth to this group. Gustav Forsling, Jan Rutta, and Jordan Oesterle have all played decent this year, but none of them have been able to fill the void left by Hjalmarsson’s departure.
In net, Corey Crawford was garnering all sorts of Vezina Trophy praise early in the season. He had 16 wins in 28 games prior to his injury over Christmas break and his .929 save percentage still ranks third in the NHL. There is fear that he may miss the remainder of the season, and if this is true, the Blackhawks are in serious trouble. Crawford had been the Hawks best player all season long and the combination of Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass, though they may try valiantly, cannot replace the two-time Stanley Cup winner.
The Blackhawks recently traded Richard Panik to Arizona in exchange for Anthony Duclair in an attempt to free up some cap space and get some new legs in the lineup. Whether or not the Blackhawks continue to make trades to improve the team has yet to be seen. Stan Bowman has been known to be quite active this time of year and may be on the hunt for a goaltender. If he can make some moves before the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 26, the Blackhawks may get the jumpstart they so desperately need.