This offseason has been a strenuous one for the Chicago Blackhawks, and as much as the Blackhawks community tries to think optimistically, there is a feeling among some that this past season is the beginning of the end, and the light at the end of the tunnel has been extinguished.
There is fear among Chicago Blackhawks fans ahead of the 2017-18 season that the team’s run as a Stanley Cup contender is over for now. It’s hard to say whether that’s true or not, and while I’m trying to be optimistic, there is reason for worry.
Here are five reasons why the ‘Hawks won’t make the playoffs next spring.
1. Our fears are confirmed and Jonathan Toews is officially no longer a superstar
Let’s face it if Jonathan Toews has a third subpar season in a row. Blackhawks fans will have to truly accept the fact that he is done as a superstar. Not only that, but if he is past that phase in his career, the ‘Hawks are pretty much finished for the near future.
I’m not arguing that Toews should be traded, as his intangibles are still invaluable to this team. But without the old-fashioned Toews we all knew and loved, this Blackhawks team is not the powerhouse it was for the first half of the 2010s.
2. The bottom six provides meager supplemental scoring
When Marcus Kruger was traded, the Chicago Sun-Times’ Mark Lazerus said he’s the type of player who makes a good team great, but not a bad team good. Kruger played that role very well during his two championship seasons with the Blackhawks scoring here and there, but after two seasons with fewer than five goals it’s hard to justify a $3 million contract.
One of the biggest weaknesses of the ‘Hawks these past two years has been their lack of scoring from the bottom six or anyone not named Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin or Artem Anisimov. With the departure of Panarin, someone is going to have to pick up that slack, and that will likely fall on the shoulders of the bottom six.
If they aren’t up to the task and point No. 1 is also true, tough to see this team qualifying.
3. The Central Division is looking monstrous again
The Nashville Predators made it to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. The St. Louis Blues made the playoffs’ second round. The Wild struggled in the playoffs but had a stellar regular season.
The Dallas Stars just got loaded in their top six, and Patrik Laine and the Winnipeg Jets look like a team on the rise.
If all five of those teams make the playoffs, that leaves no spots for the Blackhawks ,and to me it’s easier to make arguments that those teams qualify than it is to make an argument for the ‘Hawks qualifying.
4. Hartman regresses, Schmaltz coesn’t improve and DeBrincat isn’t ready
Ryan Hartman was one of last season’s bigger surprises, a top draft pick the ‘Hawks were getting ready to give up on, stepping up and potting 19 goals was a welcome surprise.
The ‘Hawks will need Hartman to score at about the same clip. Anything less could spell an offensively starved team. If Schmaltz doesn’t find consistency, he will have to start questioning his role with this team going forward. And if DeBrincat can’t score at this level, it’s going to be hard to fill spots in the bottom-six with impact players.
5. The blue line does not play above itself
Let’s face it: The state of the blue line after the playoffs was bad. But then you trade Niklas Hjalmarrson and it’s in shambles (I still don’t hate that trade, as it’s good for a rebuild). Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are on the back half of their careers and are really the only two solid options on the back end. This blue line will have to play well beyond its means in its current state, and that is an incredibly tough thing to do.