ANALYSIS: Injuries, Carl Söderberg and questions at center


The Chicago Blackhawks were given a couple of lumps of coal just before Christmas, with news of Alex Nylander’s season-ending knee surgery, as well as the unfortunate wrist fracture that center Kirby Dach sustained in a tune-up game for the World Junior Championship. On Saturday morning, it was announced that the Hawks have come to terms on a one-year agreement with 35-year-old Carl Söderberg to the tune of $1 million. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!

For Nylander, this could not come at a worse time for him. At this stage in his young career, he can still be considered a “prospect,” but those that watched him in the 2019–20 season noticed major deficiencies in his game time and time again. Nylander’s contract will expire this coming summer and he will be a restricted free agent, giving him limited negotiating flexibility. So, not only does this injury impact his development, but ultimately his tenure in Chicago, and possibly the NHL for that matter.

The Dach injury is a gut punch, plain and simple. Many believed that this year was to be Dach’s major coming out party as a premier, young talent in the NHL. The idea that he could be a staple as the No. 2 center and possibly a consistent pivot for superstar Patrick Kane was to be one of few reasons for Hawks fans to be excited heading into the shortened 2021 season. While his timetable for a return has yet to come into focus, barring a playoff birth, there’s a real chance that Dach is lost for the season. We can debate whether or not Dach should have been playing in the World Junior Championship until we are blue in the face; there are arguments for and against it, and both are valid. Still, Dach will be back, but maybe not this season. While this is a pity, he is the future face of this franchise.

ANALYSIS: Injuries, Carl Söderberg and questions at center

The Hawks may have a long road ahead without Kirby Dach. (Photograph courtesy of the Chicago Blackhawks)

Restricted free agent Dylan Strome is still unsigned, and if you asked me as I was unwrapping presents Christmas morning, I would have guessed that due to Dach’s injury, the signing of Strome would have been expedited. “Not so fast,” proverbially said Stan Bowman. With the signing of Söderberg, the message to the Strome camp may not be a great one. Strome and Söderberg have similar numbers in terms of offensive output (Söderberg 17 goals, 18 assists, 35 points and Strome 12 goals, 26 assists, 38 points in 2019–20), but Söderberg has a much better two-way game than Strome. Is Söderberg a better overall hockey player and fit for the Hawks than Strome? Given his experience and the Hawks’ defensive issues, he is. Is he the No. 2 center to replace Dach? He is not and is instead far from it. Finding a player to “replace” Dach this year is not exactly realistic, and not the actual motive behind the Söderberg signing. It is not a panic move either; it is dirt cheap and for more depth up the middle of the ice, and whether or not Strome factors into a bargain deal after this is anyone’s guess. However, if Strome and his agent were hoping the Hawks were going to commit anything north in term or cash than the contract Söderberg just inked, good luck.

Suggesting that this is it for Strome in Chicago, Bowman may be looking to sign him at low cost and term, and then move him to a willing taker. It is not out of the realm of possibility that this is already in the works. If Strome is shown the door or if he comes back, that still leaves lingering questions at the center position. The Söderberg signing does not solve that issue.  The team has Jonathan Toews, Söderberg who may be your two or three and then a who’s who list of well…guys. David Kampf and Ryan Carpenter can play the fourth-line center role, and Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith also have experience in that position. With Shaw and Smith though, their seasons and careers, to be truthful, are in doubt due to recent injuries. During the offseason, Bowman acquired Mattias Janmark and Lucas Wallmark, both of whom can play center but in a checking role. So, the six aforementioned players can help at the center position but in bottom six—more defensive roles. They can help, but their true positive impact is only felt if you do not notice them that much. If you do notice them, it may be in the categories of negative plus-minus or Corsi statistics.

ANALYSIS: Injuries, Carl Söderberg and questions at center

With the signing of Carl Söderberg, what does the future hold for Dylan Strome? (Photograph courtesy of Bill Smith / NHLI via Getty Images)

Philipp Kurashev is an intriguing prospect, but is he ready for an NHL role? Though the 21-year-old turned in a strong season in Rockford, he may still be a year away from being a permanent fixture, and again, probably in a bottom-six role.

So that brings us to Pius Suter. Even before the injuries to Dach and Nylander, and the signing of Söderberg, some have felt that Suter could make the club and have an immediate impact. His candidacy may be more likely now. The Swiss National League-A MVP of 2019–20 pumped in 30 goals and 53 points in 50 games last season. Prior to coming to Chicago, Dominik Kubalik tallied 57 points in that same league in 2018–19, and also won MVP. Is it possible that Bowman catches lightning in a bottle for the second year in a row, and if so, is Suter the No. 2 center for this coming season? That could mean three left-handed shots—Toews, Suter and Söderberg—as your first three centers, but that said, it is possible it shakes out this way. And truthfully, Strome could still re-sign in Chicago, and if that is the case, Suter would most likely play on the wing, which could ultimately be his longterm position with the club.

As if 2020 could not get any stranger as is, somehow there is still time for more personnel developments within the Hawks’ roster. Söderberg is not the answer, but not a bad signing at that price, and particularly not if the team plans to move away from Strome. None of this has played out the way it has been envisioned and who knows where this will all go from here. Time will tell if any of the Blackhawks’ peculiar puzzle pieces, at any end of the ice, will fit for a good season.

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