Sidney Brown provides dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
A lot has happened since the Chicago Blackhawks last played hockey on April 20th while in the process of being swept by their division rival Nashville Predators.
During the team’s season-ending press conference, General Manager Stan Bowman promised fans that changes would be made and stated that the finish to this past season was unacceptable. Both of the Hawks’ assistant coaches were let go and in succession familiar names found their way out the door — backup goalie Scott Darling was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, Trevor Van Riemsdyk was lost to the Las Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, Marian Hossa announced he would need to sit out the upcoming 2017-18 season because of a skin disorder, and topping all those developments was two unexpected trades: defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson being traded to the Arizona Coyotes and second year star Artemi Panarin being sent packing to the Columbus Blue Jackets for a returning Brandon Saad.
Some think that these moves were made out of panic while others see the moves combined as an upgrade to a team so restricted under the NHL’s hard salary cap. Chicago has come accustomed to dealing with roster changes since their first recent cup victory in 2010. This time feels a little different because of the back to back first round exits that proceeded it as well as the age of key veterans involved in most of the moves.
Looking to the Future
After engaging in a “going for it all” approach with key veteran acquisitions at the trade deadline the last two seasons, the Hawks are now forced to getting back to the basics by building depth through the draft, an approach which made them successful in the first place. This year’s draft proved to be a year of need for the Hawks regarding defensemen with the team selecting blue liners with five of their nine picks. It will be a while before we see some of these players on the main roster, but it proves to be a starting point of building depth.
2017 Blackhawks Draft Picks
1st Round: Hemri Jkiharu (D)
2nd Round: Ian Mitchell (D)
3rd Round: A. Altybarmakyan(D) 3rd Round: Evan Barratt (C)
4th Round: Tim Soderlund (F)
4th Round: Roope Laavainen (D)
5th Round: Parker Foo (F)
7th Round: Josh Ess (D)
While the Hjalmarsson move was made for salary cap reasons, bringing back a couple of young defensemen in the process, the Brandon Saad deal may be the move that will keep the Hawks as a top-tier playoff team. Saad is one of the best young power forwards in the NHL and playing alongside captain Jonathan Toews will give a much needed boost to the top line.
The 2nd line of Patrick Kane, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin was the best line for two seasons during the regular season, but when the lights shined during the playoffs, they were nowhere to be found. With the lack of net presence on the roster currently, Saad is a welcome presence, he brings that skill along with his speed and playoff experience, which will be of need as the Hawks try to end their current run of 1st round exits.
Defenseman-wise, the only proven blue liners on the roster — Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith — are aging fast.
Rookies Gustav Forsling and Michal Kempny will play major roles going into their second seasons while trying to assist the veterans. Replacing Marian Hossa is suddenly an issue as well seeing as he will sit out the coming season and possibly retire. The salary cap for this year is set for $75 million and the Hawks will have a little room to work with even assuming that they’ll get an exemption from the league if Hossa is put on the long term injured list.
As free agency approaches on July 1st, what moves could we see next for Chicago? Will another high profile player deal be made? Could Brent Seabrook and or Marcus Kruger be next on the trading block? Does head coach Joel Quenneville trust the front office after his assistants were let go without his approval? How long is the window open for at least one more Stanley Cup run? Personally, I believe that the window is open for another two to three years.
If the Hawks don’t win another title or at least reach the Stanley Cup Final within that time period, it will be time to take another hard look at the roster and make the most difficult changes yet for the long-term betterment of the franchise.
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