By Sidney Brown (@sidkid80)
The release of the NHL schedule doesn’t get quite the attention as the NFL and NBA releases have in recent years, but this year is different if you’re a Chicago Blackhawks fan.
After falling short of returning to the playoffs last season, the Hawks still felt encouraged with the emerging star power of Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome showing itself to support the established stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and the Men in Red are looking ahead towards their next competition in the 2019-20 campaign.
The Hawks will open the season on October 4th against the Philadelphia Flyers in Prague, Czech Republic, as announced back in March. Following the trip overseas will be seven straight home games, including matches with San Jose, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Washington, Las Vegas and a rematch versus Philadelphia. October 29th thru November 5th will feature the Hawks’ first road trip of the year, which will take them thru Nashville, the Los Angeles area to see the Kings and Anaheim and San Jose.
Monday, December 2nd will see the Hawks and the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues do battle at the United Center in those rivals’ first match-up of the year. January 5th will be the only visit from Original Six rival Detroit Red Wings while on the 21st Chicago welcomes back former head coach Joel Quenneville as the Florida Panthers visit the United Center.
Beyond the all-star break will see Chicago host only three games for the month of February (Boston, New York Rangers, Nashville) and see their longest road trip of the season, a total of five games from Feb. 9 thru 16th — Winnipeg (2x), Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary. The Blues will visit the Madhouse again on March 8th while the Montreal Canadiens will close out the home portion of the schedule on the 31st. The Hawks end the season with two games on the road in New York City against the Islanders on April 2nd and the Rangers on April 4th.
The 2019 off-season has been busy for Hawks general manager Stan Bowman, not surprisingly as the Hawks are feeling the pressure to make a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
With glaring issues on defense in mind, Calvin de Haan was acquired earlier this week from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg. The 28 year-old defenseman brings energy, a capability to major minutes and is a plus on the penalty kill.
De Haan underwent shoulder surgery in May and his return for the start of the season is in doubt. The top six defensive core, which features Connor Murphy and veterans Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, is set with youth, experience and toughness. With low rankings in the Goals Against Average (30th – 3.55 per game) and penalty kill departments (72.7 – 31st), expect vast improvement on the defensive end with this established talent.
In 74 games played at Carolina last season, de Haan scored one goal and tallied 13 assists while averaging over 18 minutes of ice time. More moves could be on the horizon come July 1st as free agent frenzy begins once again in the NHL. Expect Chicago to focus on adding additional scoring with options likely including Anders Lee, Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski to name a few. With the potential addition of a veteran scorer, the Hawks could be set up for a surprise comeback in 2019-20 and perhaps a potential long playoff run.
On the youth movement side, we have to give a big congrats to Kirby Dach, who last week became the sixth player in Hawks history to be selected third overall in the NHL Draft, joining the likes of Eddie Olyczk and Denis Savard.
The 6’4, 198-pound center totaled 38 goals and 91 assists for the Saskatoon Blades of the Western Hockey League in Canada. A talented but youthful prospect, it should take 18-year-old Dach another year before we see him in a red sweater.
Learn more about the rest of the Hawks’ 2019 draft class here.
Sidney Brown covers the Chicago Blackhawks for WARR