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.

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