After a 50-win campaign in 2016-17, the Chicago Blackhawks struggled to a 33-39-10 record last season, ending a streak of nine-straight playoff appearances. Their aging core took a step back in terms of production last year, with the notable exception of Patrick Kane. Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook all posted their lowest 82-game point total of the 2010s last season. Trading Artemi Panarin to the Blue Jackets before the season amplified the Hawks’ offensive struggles last year. Brandon Saad, the return for Panarin, registered a career-worst 35 points last season. A lack of offense and a nagging injury to franchise goalie Corey Crawford was enough to derail the Hawks’ season entirely.
The Blackhawks aren’t likely to contend for a playoff spot this season and will have a tough time navigating through a very difficult Central Division. The decline in production did signify the aging of the Hawks’ core, but a terrible SH% exasperated that issue. At 7.1 percent, the Hawks had the fifth-lowest even strength SH% in the league. That should regress and correct itself to some degree this year, given the high-end talent that remains on their roster. They don’t dominate the puck like they did in years past, but the Hawks should be fortunate enough to convert at a more reasonable rate this season. The health of Crawford will make or break their season.
➕ Cam Ward (Free Agency)
➕ Dominik Kahun (Free Agency)
➕ Marcus Kruger (Trade)
➕ Chris Kunitz (Free Agency)
➕ Brandon Davidson (Free Agency)
➕ Brandon Manning (Free Agency)
Kane did suffer from the poor SH% of the Hawks last season; his on-ice SH% finished at 8.1%, his lowest since 2008-09. Still, Kane was able to churn out 27 goals and 49 assists in a down year. He is the lone member of the Hawks’ dynasty who shows no signs of slowing down. He is one of the top offensive threats in the league and is a threat to break 100 points in any given season. Head coach Joel Quennville will hope Kane’s brilliance can help reignite the production of Saad. After spending 70.7% of his 5v5 minutes with Toews last season, Saad will get a look with Kane to open 2018-19. A full 82 games alongside the dynamic playmaker would push Saad’s production back towards his career averages.
Alex Debrincat is expected to open the season alongside Toews on the top line. DeBrincat was a rare beacon of hope for the Hawks last season, scoring 28 goals and adding 24 assists in his rookie season. The 2016 second-round pick nearly had himself a 30-goal season despite playing under 15 minutes a night. His 15.5 SH% might take a hit, but his 187 shots on goal suggests he can maintain his production in an increased role. The sharpshooting winger might be the answer to Toews’ problems. Toews dominated the puck at even strength, posting a 56.8 CF%. That low on-ice SH% was the only thing holding back his production. He could reverse the decline in his production and get back to 60 points if all goes to plan.
Chicago signed free-agent Dominik Kahun out of Germany’s top league at the end of last season. He is set to start the year with Toews and DeBrincat after registering 41 points in 42 games in the DEL last year. He’s looked good in the pre-season and could be a speculative play in deeper fantasy leagues. The Hawks also picked up free-agent Chris Kunitz this off-season. He’s long past the perennial point producer he was when he skated with Sidney Crosby, but he’s a solid addition to the Hawks’ bottom-six. Him and Artemi Anisimov would be the most likely candidates to move into Chicago’s top-six.
19-year-old Henri Jokiharju is expected to start the season on the NHL roster. The former 2017 first-rounder was excellent for the Portland Winterhawks (WHL) last season, piling up 71 points in 63 games. He’s seen major minutes through the pre-season, spending time on the Hawks’ top pair. He’s started the last few nights with Keith, but don’t be surprised to see Keith back with Seabrook on opening night. Either way, Jokiharju’s performance in training seems to have earned him a spot on a thin Hawks’ blueline. Keith is looking to bounce back from a dreadful season in which he scored just twice on 187 shots. His 5v5 numbers should experience some fortunate regression but Keith might not see the powerplay time that he’s become accustomed to.
Seabrook’s production has waned in recent years, highlighted by a 26-point campaign a year ago. He posses little offensive upside at this point in his career and only carries fantasy relevance in the deepest of leagues. Gustafsson is set to start the season in Chicago’s top-four after a respectable 35-game audition a year ago. The 26-year-old picked up five goals and 11 assists in his first NHL action since 2016. He is set to assume a larger role after posting a 55.4 CF% a year ago. The Hawks’ might have somewhat of a steal in the No. 93 overall pick from the 2012 NHL Entry Draft.
Gustav Forsling and Connor Murhpy should both compete for time in the top-six once healthy. Forsling is expected to be out until November after undergoing wrist surgery in July. Forsling registered 13 points in 41 games last season for Chicago. Murphy is expected to be sidelined 8-12 weeks with a back injury, also setting his approximate return for some time in November. Murphy dressed in 76 games for the Hawks last season but averaged just 16 minutes a night. There are worst defensive corps out there, but the Hawks’ blueline pales in comparison to the other defensive units in their division.
Since the start of the 2014-15 season, Crawford is second amongst all NHL goalies with a .923 SV%, trailing only the Cotoyes’ Antti Ranta. He’s been incredibly consistent, posting a .917 SV% or better in six straight seasons. The only concern with Crawford coming into the 2018-19 season is his health. Crawford is still experiencing symptoms from a concussion that caused him to miss the last 47 games of the 2017-18 season. He is reportedly progressing well but has yet to practice with the team and is not expected to be ready for opening night. In the meantime, Anton Forsberg and longtime Hurricane Cam Ward will compete for starts. Forsberg had a .907 SV% and a 2.97 GAA in 35 appearances last season. Ward looked no better, registering a .906 SV% in his final season in Carolina. Neither goalie has looked particularly impressive in the preseason.
|Patrick Kane (34)||Patrick Kane (52)||Patrick Kane (86)||Patrick Kane (9)|
|Jonathan Toews (29)||Duncan Keith (36)||Jonathan Toews (62)||Jonathan Toews (6)|
|Alex DeBrincat (25)||Jonathan Toews (33)||Alex DeBrincat (56)||Alex DeBrincat (5)|
- 10. Patrick Kane — RW2
- 119. Corey Crawford — G20
- 126. Jonathan Toews — C32
- 158. Duncan Keith — D39
- 181. Alex DeBrincat — RW37
- 215. Brandon Saad — LW34
- 233. Cam Ward — G40
- 250. Brent Seabrook — D64
Predicted Central Standings
The Blackhawks are better than what their record showed last year, but they are a longshot to make the playoffs out of a stacked Central Division. Their core players should produce at a more familiar rate, but they’ll have a hard time keeping up with the likes of St. Louis and Dallas. Crawford could be the saving grace of the Hawks’ season, but it’s undetermined when he’ll be back on the ice. Three Stanley Cups and nine playoff appearances later, this dynasty seems to have run its full course.