Analysis: Anatomy of a Soft Rebuild



Introducing Bill “Wiz” Placzek, the newest writer at, and our prospect/draft expert. Bill will be providing more and more coverage leading up to the draft. But for now, here’s his take on the Blackhawks’ personnel moves of the last several months—and looking forward. 

My personal disappointment prior to last year’s NHL draft in Chicago was the news the day before of the departure of Nik Hjalmarsson, and Artemi Panarin.

My shock wasn’t that the team again felt forced into a cap corner, and made these moves, as much as what they decided to take in return.

As a Blackhawk fan, it was a stark reset.

I wanted to be angry—and when arriving at the United Center door and starting conversations with the fans around, I felt even worse, because almost all were of the opinion that Brandon Saad was a better player than Panarin; that Saad’s history with his former team and his style was just as important as Panarin’s contributions.

Sure, I understood these were moves in reaction to a tight cap, but was surprised that most saw the Columbus deal as a winner for Chicago, especially because the Hawks got an up and coming goaltender in Forsberg—besides Saad.

And I honestly thought that one deal was made based on their familiarity with Saad, and that Arizona’s GM John Chaka was the only GM willing to send a young defenseman that was signed long term back in the Hammer deal. No Cap space to pay Panarin and the comfort of a still developing young defenseman limited to a reasonable acap number led to the start of the soft rebuild.

I have read fan comments the entire year about the sudden decline of the Hawks core, especially two players who are still the team’s best two defenders, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and how the youth of the league was rapidly skating rings around the Blackhawk forward contingent.

The 2017-18 season officially closed the playoff window, they said, and even making an appearance couldn’t lead to success, as the roster depth had declined to a point where Coach Quenneville had no choice but to play new players.

Window closed and the management quietly started a reboot.

In my humble opinion, Panarin was the only reason the window stayed open up to the 2015-2017 seasons.

It was the add of the Breadman that provided an impact player who was able to mesh with Kane and maintain the ability to score and change outcomes the entire two seasons he was a Blackhawk.

Sure, they knew already that Patrick Sharp’s deal had to be discarded, and that as much as Andrew Shaw was their heart and will, they probably got the best years of his battle torn body.

And I, for one, really want to know why Trevor Daley was unable to play for Quenneville, but moreover why the decision was made so quickly to not end up being on the hook for they rest of his contract.

But losing Saad and Shaw and the oft-injured Sharp still cut deep into the roster and roles they provided.

So, last summer’s moves, including the “retirement” of Marian Hossa, with a remaining albatross cap hit (that the league slapped on them), should not have taken us all off guard.

The soft rebuild was on the way from game one.

It didn’t quite work out, because although there was some encouraging on the job training by the farm system’s defenders and the free agent signing of Jordan Oesterle, these players were still not savvy enough to do what the veteran-laden defensive corps in the past had done: quickly move pucks out in transition so that defensive zone time would stay comparable to the past team’s.

To me, that was the gist of it; the season began as one where management was willing to allow the young forwards the time and experience necessary to become better all around NHLers, and even philosophically bite the bullet on deficits, as long as the additions could play fast on the attack.

(Granted, Q expects his forwards to be strong on the puck even more so the bigger a forward is, and also expects constant backside pressure from all forwards or you sit—just as Anthony Duclair did the other night.)

But the long possessions in their own defensive zone caused more losses of confidence than the entire team could handle. And that’s ignoring the loss of any semblance of NHL goaltending.

I am going to take a stab at what the organization and coaching staff was thinking from the beginning of the season.

Now let’s have a go at projecting what the long and short range plan to right the SS Blackhawk, when and if they have an NHL goaltender to anchor on.

1) Should he stay or should he goal?

“Anton Forsberg is young and his best years are still ahead of him…. that he would learn quickly to be a strong backup.” Unfortunately, in my opinion, it hasn’t happened. Even in the early OT games where we heard of his tenacity, he simply gave up goals he shouldn’t have. This continued through his tenure as starter and it is only recently that I feel there is starting to be better feel to his game.

I believe they will continue to view him as their second tier goalie, due to his age, and upside, until they finally lose patience and feel they have to secure someone who has a better chance of handling duties. Just like it is rare to trade for a first pair defender, it is rare to see a quality goaltender prospect bartered—I believe Tukka Rask was the last one when the Maple Leafs sent him to the Bruins. (Toronto management had deemed Justin Pogge their potential goaltender of the future, thereby rendering Rask expendable. GULP!)

So, that in itself explains my reasoning on why he stays on the roster.

2) Should they stay or should they go?

Don’t expect big fat contracts to any of these youngsters except for Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat, and they will be pressured to take what is offered, no matter what they think they can become. My reasoning is the organization wants them to feel wanted, so won’t simply try and force “just business” RFA deals on them, but the Hawks GM cannot commit to high percentage of cap deals and will try and get these two players and their representation to agree to long manageable money, unless Schmaltz has a break-out year next year, or if in the next two years, DeBrincat not only scores 20 goals but shows that his on-ice impact exceeds third line status, no matter which line he plays on.

The salary decision on Ryan Hartman is aided by this season’s reduced goal and point totals, so his agent is not going to be able to get him an overpay.

And quite frankly, the Hawks are in a good position to control the dollar figures on all these players and Vince Hinostroza, and Tomas Jurco (cough), and for that matter, defenders Erik Gustafsson this summer, and Carl Dahlström, next summer. (It is clear Dahlström is viewed as sixth defender and cap safety)

Oesterle is a different matter, as he may seek to leave if he succeeds in the Blackhawk framework.

So much of the re-signing process is dependent upon whether the players feel gratitude that they were given opportunities, and want to stay and build something.

I think there will be little room for reward deals, because being a non-playoff team is also a strong bargaining chip for management to use against forwards seeking deals of high dollar and term.

3) Trades: Who should stay and who should go?

As the possibility of making the playoffs slipped by, I remarked that the first thing Chicago will do is try to recoup the 2nd and 4th round draft picks that were traded, because from all indications this is a stronger draft class than usual.

You have to wonder if the Michal Kempny trade to the Capitals for a low 3rd rounder was more necessitated by his frustration with the logjam on defense and resulting lack of chances or that the Hawks don’t see him as a long term solution.

Maybe a trickier decision is whether they need to launch Jan Rutta, who can go anywhere, if he doesn’t like the numbers and opportunities the Hawks can bring. You have to think that the Hawks would love a hometown discount, based on the positive play we saw from him for a long stretch this season. Does Stan Bowman know where all parties stand? If he does, maybe he goes shopping for a pick by that route.

I have been barraged by calls from friends, convinced that the soft rebuild will definitely include trading Artem Anisimov, who has a ten team list clause that kicks in 7/1, which I am certain he would waive and/or amend if he doesn’t feel wanted, and include more than ten teams if teams want him for the next three upcoming seasons.

Personally, I don’t think you subtract him, because while you are attempting to develop a young forward unit, you need that big center to play against the big centers that line the Central and West Divisions. Is he a luxury at 4.55 Million? I think not. I guess a lot would depend upon what the offer is. As reported here on, Columbus inquired but was told by the Hawks they were not interested, but maybe that was because the offer wasn’t appealing enough?

As stated, Keith and Seabrook are still their best backliners, and today I heard that the Blackhawks might not be done trading and may be working on a deal that shakes the defensive core.

Does that mean Keith agrees to go to Toronto and be the left side glue they are rumored to be sniffing around for?

The friendship between Winnipeg’s Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Blackhawks organization might make things easily candid, and Chevy really isn’t going to have roster room for the next four years of first round picks, because he won’t have the cap space to pay them, and he is going to start having sleepless nights if he doesn’t bolster his roster with a bona fide Cup experienced forward, and maybe even defender. Word has it that as well as Jack Roslovic and Kyle Conner have played, the Jets feel that now is the time to make moves that bring their locker rooms strong leadership and more than depth to the current group. Certainly three players in forwards Adam Lowry, Brandon Tanev and defenseman Jacob Trouba may get healthy enough to dance in the post season, but they are going to have more players than they can sign to big deals, so they are in a position to make a mutually beneficial deal for both teams.

And just how much salary will the Hawks eat on any deals?

I am thinking they will try to subtract, while bolstering their future, and whether it comes in the form of a young Jet, or Toronto picks, the Blackhawks are not going to be shy about talking about just about every guy on this roster.

Center Ice Forums Analysis: Anatomy of a Soft Rebuild

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      Introducing Bill “Wiz” Placzek, the newest writer at, and our prospect/draft expert. Bill will be providing more and more coverage
    [To continue reading full article, click here: Analysis: Anatomy of a Soft Rebuild]



    Excellent read. Always enjoy your stuff about the HAWKS. The HAWKS would be remiss not to look at possibilities at this point. Anything that makes them younger, faster and cost controlled works in my opinion.

    I like many parts of this team. A healthy Crawford is a must. Natural gifted scorer (like The Breadman) and a top tier D are must adds (like most teams), or our beloved HAWKS will struggle for playoff contention years to come.


    Go HAWKS




    Good article, thanks!

    I’m of the same mind about Anisimov.

    I have to admit I thought the Panarin trade was a huge win for the Hawks at the time. I’m eating those words now.

    Mister Ricochet

    Great to see you on staff here, Wiz.  You belong and this is a solid start…………

    My thoughts are a bit scattered as far as what happens next but IMO we are all reading tea leaves not knowing if either of or neither of Q and Stan Bow are back.  If replaced who does so and what is their systems, philosophy, strengths, vision?  … So keeping an AA for instance might fit one but not another although I’m with you that AA is coveted moreso than most Hawk fans think.

    Do we even know if there is a soft or hard rebuild?  No word out of the Hawk bunker in that regard.  Honestly I don’t think they know as they haven’t evaluated Q and StanBow yet and won’t completely until yrs end.

    So as old and stale as so much message board banter on contracts and the core eroding has become looking to what is left of management and who replaces them gives us something to look for.  My simple mind looks at things that way and have said for a couple yrs now if the GM and coach aren’t on the same page during good times you get bumped early and in bad times any kind of rebuild or retool you’re pissing in the wind as far as who plays 1RW or 2C cuz it doesn’t matter as a GM’s plan will never be given a chance and yrs are wasted.

    Thoughts on Sanheim?  As much as I think AA has value to the Hawks he’s one of 2-3 guys anyone would want that would bring back blue chippers.



    I think I posted something here on Sanheim, to the effect the Flyers already know he isn’t going to learn to play his position as a defender for awhile.

    Hard or SOFT rebuild?

    I think we find out by the deadline at least a little; if they were to deal a core guy, or even deal Anisimov, to me that indicated they aren’t looking to win quickly.

    Even though the Blackhawk season ticket holders didn’t get a NY Rangers type letter that we are rebuilding, the Bowman rhetoric and the entire staff and homer Steve Konroyd seem to keep reminding us about the number of young players, and the growing pains, they are no so much making excuses as saying it is happening in front of your eyes, we are changing the dynamic the speed of the attack on front and backend.

    And I wouldn’t be all that surprised if the season ticket holders get that letter as soon as the season ends.

    And they go to work when teams get Cap space to retool, not necessarily filling their roster with top talent from outside as much as more draft picks and vets with manageable deals, because they (like so many teams) have to get as many of their already in place pieces (whether vets or the youngsters) resigned.


    My simple mind looks at things that way and have said for a couple yrs now if the GM and coach aren’t on the same page during good times you get bumped early and in bad times any kind of rebuild or retool you’re pissing in the wind as far as who plays 1RW or 2C cuz it doesn’t matter as a GM’s plan will never be given a chance and yrs are wasted.

    In as much, as I am completely convinced Stan Bowman didn’t make one “I am the GM, and I am doing this” deal,  I am fairly certain that all the guys above Bowman and Q were probably dragged into the tug a war between Bowman wanting to send some vets packing earlier so that the prospects would be given long stretches with solid linemates, but Q knew the winning formula that had him in love with his guys.

    Do I think Q went crying up stairs crying he needed his vets to win?  I doubt it, but I bet if McDonough or Al MacIsaac came to Q and asked him, he said what he wanted.

    That would have jammed Bowman and the sword of Damocles was the Cap in Stan’s case…maybe Sharp could have been launched earlier for one?  That one with Johns and Daley switching teams is one where I understand the cap but not the intent; if Daley was thought of as a good fit, by Bowman was he by Q? What else was going on? And I just watched Dallas trust Stephen Johns to be out there in the final sixty seconds and he promptly cleared it to the other team. It just speaks to how frantic it becomes when the cap tightens around your championship club…


    Because I see many of the out of market feeds of NHL games, I get to hear all the play by play and color analysts.

    It has made me appreciate how fair and honest Foley and Olycyk are in their descriptions and opinions.

    (Is it me, but when they are the NBCsports feed, they try to be less biased and more praising of both teams good plays.?)

    I thought about why it bothers me so when the color analyst of so many teams seem to try and build on-ice scenarios and evaluations that a far from what you and I would think we just watched transpire.  A puck can slip of the blade of an opposition attacker and it gets described as a brilliant take-away. Their six foot six defender throws a check and they want to convince you that “…they’re  never come near him again…”

    Goalies are lucky at saving sure goals. Not that the goalies in general are real good at just that

    In many newer markets, you are doing the fans a disservice by not describing the honest, true to life action in a form that is not “interpreted.”  They are going to learn to be fans by watching and the words attached to the live action should fit for the sake of that “teaching moment” to quote the Hawks on leave color man.

    Which brings me to what is bothering me: Steve Konroyd.

    I am sorry, Steve, that you (and Keith Brown) didn’t get to play in the 1992 Stanley Cup Final between the Hawks and Pens. And thank you for being a loyal member of the Blackhawk family since then. But I have detected a pattern I simply am not happy about.

    Late January (the 20th to be exact) more than a month after the Hawks struggled without Corey Crawford, and even if games had long instances of positive play, the outcomes added up to losses, Konroyd blossomed as ultimate Hawk homer.

    I realize being thrust into a substitute role of this magnitude take time to get a feel, and try and mix additional banter as a former player into the broadcasts.

    The definitive broadcast was when the team called up, Erik Gustafsson, who hadn’t been seen for a season and a half, after playing some 40 games in 2015-16. Those of us for any eye for the game, knew the first time around that he had all the makings of a push defender, but we also saw him getting caught down low in the attack zone and that he had a lot to improve on the defensive side. Loyal fans and tickets holders probably knew his name. This player was at last back up, and he wanted to prove from the get go that he was a guy who could play in the bigs. To Gus’s credit he scored a goal and got an assist in that game.

    That was all he needed to do, for Steve Konroyd to place Gustafsson at the head of the line for the reasons the future was going to be bright. He gushed at his feet and skill, this game and the next two. It was as if the television cameras were isolated on Gus for most of the game (they weren’t) and in all three games he managed to be on the ice out of position on many a goal, prompting Konroyd to say, “He still needs to work on his defensive game, but he is an exciting player in the hawk future.” They LOST ALL THREE GAMES and that first one they gave up seven goals Gus was on for THREE goals and got TWO points!

    All I am asking is for tempered enthusiasm.

    Just lately when placing Alex DeBrincat on a pedestal , he told us, “… how it was remarkable the thing he could do with long stick being only 5’ 9’ or 10.”

    That was it.

    I did something I have never done in my life: wrote the hawks of my disappointment in the overly positive spin on almost every player the was a newbie, like I needed to be secure in my knowledge that things were again gonna be happy days, and not one word out of Steve Konroyd’s mouth would be balanced much less negative.

    If I wanted to hear a Tyson Nash clone I will watch the Arizona telecasts.

    Get well Eddie, because I miss you being both concerned and optimistic.

    Mister Ricochet

    Didn’t know where to put this but it’s a good read.   The Journey – Fastest-Rising Prospect Defencemen:  Ian Mitchell


    Didn’t know where to put this but it’s a good read. The Journey – Fastest-Rising Prospect Defencemen: Ian Mitchell

    Around me, is always good. Yeah for a college Freshman there is plenty of smarts and push in his game…he’s pretty much a lightweight now, but  fearless and very fluid and smart in his touches….


    Bill, I was wondering if you had any insight on Daniel Brickley at Minnesota State? A friend has seen him play a few times and told me he looked impressive and is undrafted I believe. Thanks.

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