Following a six-year stretch in which the Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups, Chicago has been eliminated in the first-round in each of the last two seasons.
The Blackhawks finished the with third best record in the NHL last season, winning the Central Division for the second time in five years. Following the first-round exit and on-going salary cap issues, Chicago made a number of significant changes this summer. They attempted to get the old band back together, starting with acquiring Brandon Saad (along with Anton Forsberg and 2018 5th round pick) from the Blue Jackets for Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte and a 2017 6th round pick. It was a curious trade after all of the success Panarin had alongside Patrick Kane in his first two NHL seasons. When free agency began the re-acquiring of old players continued when they signed Patrick Sharp to a one-year, $800K deal.
The Blackhawks also signed Tommy Wingels and Lance Bouma to one-year deals and traded rugged defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Coyotes, bringing Connor Murphy into the fold to replace those minutes.
The re-acquiring of Saad likely means that he will be re-united with Jonathan Toews on the top line. The duo carried a 56.1 CorsiFor% and 61.7 GoalsFor% (via Puckalytics–we miss you) when they played together in 2014-15 and Richard Panik, who enjoyed a lot of success on Toews’ wing last season will likely be the third member of that line. Kane remains a top-3 fantasy pick even with Panarin now in Columbus and Sharp will look to rediscover his goal-scorer’s touch after struggling in Dallas last season. The 35-year-old is no longer a 30-30 threat, but he should be able to top 20 goals and 30 assists on a line with Kane is not out of the question.
Their blueline is a group mostly made up of veterans. Duncan Keith has been one of the most consistent fantasy defensemen over the years—he is tied for 11th in points among defensemen over the last four seasons and remains a low-end No.1/high-end No.2 fantasy D-man entering 2017-18. Brent Seabrook has been equally consistent, but has had great moments when leaned on as the Blackhawks No.1 with Keith out of the lineup. The younger group of blueliners consists of Murphy, Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling. Murphy and Kempny are the bigger physical defensemen while Forsling is undersized, however none of them are expected to have a big fantasy impact. They’ve shown the ability to put up numbers at lower-levels, but likely won’t see enough PP time to carry any weight.
The Blackhawks goaltending situation will look a little different this season after they traded Scott Darling to Carolina this summer. Corey Crawford is obviously back as the Hawks’ No.1 and Forsberg should serve as the No.2. Crawford has started 55-plus games and won over 30 games in six straight seasons, making him a safe No.1 fantasy option. Forsberg has not had a lot of success at the NHL level in a small sample size, but had a great AHL season in 2016-17. Forsberg registered 27 wins with a 2.28 GAA and .926 SV% in 51 games with Cleveland (AHL).
Some other Central Division teams took steps in the right direction while Chicago looks like they regressed. It’s impossible to pick against the Blackhawks making the playoffs, but I like them to finish middle of the pack in the Central and claim a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
- Chicago Blackhawks
Fantasy Rankings (Top 350)
- Patrick Kane-#45 (#1 RW)
- Corey Crawford-#33 (#8 G)
- Duncan Keith-#68 (#14 D)
- Jonathan Toews-#71 (#19 C)
- Brandon Saad-#89 (#16 LW)
- Brent Seabrook-#165 (#35 D)
- Patrick Sharp-#230 (#47 LW)
- Artem Anisimov-#269 (#62 C)
- Richard Panik-#312 (#61 RW)
- Anton Forsberg-#336 (#50 G)