In my opinion, the 2018 NHL Playoffs have been the most exciting playoff the Blackhawks have been mostly uninvolved in since the 2011 season. For those of you who don’t remember, that was the year the Blackhawks lost in the first round in game 7 to the Vancouver Canucks. The same Canucks that thankfully went on to lose to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Finals. It was a postseason, and a Stanley Cup final, that I will never forget.
Fast forward to this year, which has been fast paced, exciting, physical, and has no shortage of exciting storylines. Brad Marchand is licking people, there have been multiple suspensions, and Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals have finally beat the Pittsburgh Penguins to reach the Eastern Conference finals. All of which would be a major league headlines if it weren’t for the record setting expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights, who are playing the exact opposite of the way an expansion team should.
As purely an NHL fan, I am loving every minute of these playoffs, and it has also been a great year for the overall health of the league. But, I am not paid the big bucks to write for The Rink to be an, “NHL fan.” Well, I am not paid big bucks at all, but I am here to write about where my postseason depression stems from, the Blackhawks.
If I swap out my new and improved NHL glasses, for my outdated Blackhawks glasses, all I see is pain, misery, and regret. The pain of realizing how far away the Blackhawks are from the elite teams in the NHL, the misery of having to watch those teams display their talent every night, and the regret of wishing Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman had a lot better foresight into the future of the league.
With all that being said, here are the three major qualities the remaining playoff teams possess, that the Blackhawks are clearly lacking.
1 – The Combination of size and speed.
5’7 – 165
5’11 – 191
5’9 – 173
5’11 – 177
5’11 – 158
6’0 – 177
6’0 – 176
6’0 – 182
In my opinion, the heights and weights listed above would constitute as an, “undersized” player. Again, that isn’t based off an average, that is completely opinion based statement.
That said, those are the heights and weights of 8 players that ended the season on the Blackhawks roster, that also figure to be at least in competition for 2018-19 roster spots. In order, the players listed above are: Alex DeBrincat, Anthony Duclair, Vinnie Hinostroza, Patrick Kane, Dylan Sikura, Nick Schmaltz, Erik Gustafsson, and Jordan Oesterle. If those 8 players are on the opening night roster, that’s nearly half of a lineup featuring “undersized” players.
To bring some substance to that large number, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, one of the two final teams left standing in the Western Conference, have one player in their lineup under 6’0 tall, and that is 75-point scorer Jordan Marchessault.
To take that point further, not only are the Golden Knights significantly bigger than the Blackhawks, but any half a meatball who watched the two teams play this year, saw how much faster the Knights were than the Hawks.
Now, I am not one of those old-fashioned hockey fans, who just want a bunch of goons running around, (cough cough, Anaheim, cough cough, Bieksa and Kesler).
On the contrary, I am not a new age fan who wants a team full of Marchessault’s and Johnny Gaudreau’s (5’9), dancing around the ice with the puck. Those players aren’t bad to have, but too many on one team will not lead to postseason success.
In today’s NHL, it is clear you can’t just have one or the other, size or speed; it is imperative to have both. As I write this piece, the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, Las Vegas Golden Knights, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals are left standing. With maybe the exception of the forwards of the Lightning, I would argue those five teams have the best combination of size and speed in the entire NHL. It is no coincidence that those teams are left standing, and the Blackhawks are at home watching. The combination isn’t easy to find, but essential in today’s NHL to obtain.
2- Production from the organizations highest paid players. (Salaries according to Cap Friendly)
Patrick Kane – 76 Points – 10.5 Million Cap Hit
Jonathan Toews – 52 Points – 10.5 Million Cap Hit
Brandon Saad – 35 Points – 6 Million Cap Hit
Artem Anisimov – 31 Points – 4.55 Million Cap Hit
Brent Seabrook – 26 Points (-3) – 6.875 Million Cap Hit
Duncan Keith – 32 Points (2 goals) (-29) – 5.53 Million Cap Hit
Connor Murphy – 14 Points (-3) – 3.85 Million Cap Hit
Corey Crawford – 28 Games Played – 6 Million Cap Hit
While going through some of this information, the 2017-18 season was worse than I thought. It was well reported how many Blackhawks had bad seasons, but this is next level stuff for a 3-time Stanley Cup Winning core.
Other than Kane, the three forwards listed above, Anisimov, Saad, and Toews, all had extremely disappointing seasons. For Toews, the Blackhawks spent about 200,000 dollars per point; that is not going to get it done.
On the back end, Keith scored a whopping two goals, Murphy couldn’t stay on the ice consistently, and Seabrook…. Well, on paper, Seabrook didn’t have as bad a year as it seemed, but, for almost 7 million dollars a year, 26 points and a -3 rating is also simply not enough.
Lastly, Crawford, who did have serious injury issues, only played 28 games. Injuries are not in his control, I get it, but 6 million dollars was up in the press box for two-thirds of the season.
Excluding Kane because he had a solid season, the Blackhawks had over 43 million dollars in underperforming cap space. I am not a mathematician by any means, but I am confident that isn’t a winning formula.
3- Overall Team Depth
The Blackhawks have counted on largely unproven players the last few seasons, and are still showing no signs of stability. Taking a stab at what their opening night lineup could look like this fall, without any additions that will inevitably come this offseason, let’s see what the front office is working with.
Saad – Toews – DeBrincat
Schmaltz – Anisimov – Kane
Hinostroza – Ejdsell – Hayden
Sikura – Kampf – Duclair
Keith – Oesterle
Gustafsson – Rutta
Murphy – Seabrook
Before breaking down this roster, I encourage all of you to go to daily faceoff, and just briefly review the lineups of any of the teams who participated in the conference semi-finals. Once doing so, revert back to the lineup listed above, and seriously ask yourself, do the Blackhawks have a shot at beating any of those teams? When conducting the activity myself, the answer was a resounding……. “HELL NO!”
Now, ignore the exact combinations and focus on the players for a moment. Even IF Toews, Saad, and Anisimov have bounce bank years, Look at that bottom six. I trust two, maybe three of those guys to be bottom six contributors on a playoff team. The Blackhawks will need to find either better production out of multiple players listed above, or better replacements to fill the bottom six.
Looking at the defense, Keith may be the only top four guy of the group. Rutta showed signs early last season, but hasn’t proved it to be consistent. Seabrook could be a second pairing player with a strong partner. Murphy is probably a fifth defenseman on a good team, and Oesterle and Gustafsson are unknown commodities at best.
Don’t worry Blackhawks fans, have no fear, Crawford is here? Well, not exactly…. I wouldn’t assume Crawford starts next season healthy, and even if he does, there is no guarantee he will be the Crawford of old. Also, considering the shaky season Anton Forsberg had, the Hawks goalie situation is shaky at best.
Overall, I’d say the Blackhawks needs are as follows in no order:
- Top 9 Center
- Top 9 Forward
- Top 4 Defenseman
- Top 6 Defenseman
- Top 2 Goalie
That is quite the shopping list for momma Bowman to retrieve from the off-season grocery store. Even if the Blackhawks had the salary cap space and assets to acquire those types of players in one off-season, finding 5 experienced NHL players with the talent that level would still be extremely difficult.
Conclusion: The Blackhawks are in more trouble than many fans may be willing to admit.
Now, can they solve some of these problems in the short-term? Sure, they could acquire a few solid NHL players with good size and speed to contribute. And hey, maybe those guys even help bring them back to the postseason, but is that really the end goal? To use the final prime years of Toews and Kane as first round exits? I hope not.
And if watching this postseason has taught me anything about the Blackhawks, it’s that they are small, slow, and lack the quality depth needed to make deep playoff runs.
My solution? I will share that sometime next week.
Thanks for reading, please share your comments below!!