As the 2017-18 season looms closer, Chicago Blackhawks fans are thoroughly examining the moves of general manager Stan Bowman as thoroughly as ever, particularly as the lineup of a team which has been dispatched in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs two consecutive years appears to have more questions than answers.
This morning, I’m about a half hour into my religious-like catch up with James Neveau and Jay Zawaski’s Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast, and a commentary between the two has really widened my eyes. In discussing the skimpy depth on the Chicago Blackhawks’ back end supplemented by a need for breakout seasons from rookies like forward Alex DeBrincat, Neveau actually deemed the Blackhawks’ current roster as the most questionable it’s been since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane came into the league.
Furthermore, in their discussion of the team’s re-signing of defenseman Erik Gustafsson, Zawaski went as far as to claim that, if the defensive lineup is set for the 2017-18 Blackhawks, they are, simply put, “not a good team”.
And his lack of optimism is not unique to him. Popular voices from all around Blackhawks fandom and media alike are providing their takes on the biggest holes up and down the roster.
On the dark side of things
As we move through prospect camp week, isn’t it a uniquely uncomfortable feeling to be somewhat dependent on the readiness of players like DeBrincat, Ville Pokka, Alexandre Fortin, Graham Knott and company? I can’t help but sort of cringe at the sentiment that DeBrincat will be the hero the 2017-18 Blackhawks need.
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Perhaps equally troubling has been the general consensus regarding DeBrincat’s appearance at Johnny’s West IceHouse, in which he’s reportedly looked less than Calder Trophy worthy, and at times even “a bit uninterested,” per Puckin’ Hostile.
I guess what I’m getting at here is the increased sense of uncertainty regarding the Blackhawks’ upcoming season is more likely cause for concern than it is optimism. There’s a lot of apparent holes in this lineup that the organization has no choice but to look to rookies or inexperienced players to remedy.
Furthermore, make no mistake, there’s really nobody at fault for the ‘Hawks’ current predicament. A decade of almost unrivaled dominance and success has begun to take its toll on the Blackhawks financially — and that is unavoidable.
General manager Stan Bowman has done an excellent job managing the steadily declining available funds to complement arguably the best core group in hockey — but couple some money trouble in that regard with some aging and progressive decline from certain players and you have yourself what could play out potentially to be the perfect storm of mediocrity.
Looking on the bright side
Now that I’ve done a good job of shattering any potential optimism regarding the upcoming season, let’s try going the other route.
While there’s plenty of arguments to be had in regards to the play of Toews over the last two years or so, there’s certainly no denying the reality that aside from a very promising second half to last year’s regular season, he hasn’t been up to his own standards.
One of the more popular narratives you’ll read on this is that concussions and other wear and tear have taken an irreversible toll on the superstar, and that his days of well-rounded dominance are behind him. Personally I think that’s ridiculous, for good reason.
Da Windy City
Toews showed the world last season that, when provided a set of wingers who suit his talents, he is still every bit as capable of being an ever-present offensive threat who will come up with pucks in the corners and find the open body in the slot.
“Wingers that suit him.” Has anyone ever fit that role better than No. 20, Brandon Saad? I’d be hard pressed to name someone — and if I tried, I’d probably come up with a guy named Patrick Sharp. Oh, or Richard Panik. You know, his current linemate.
I’m not entirely sure what Sharp will bring to this team aside from a thorough boost to the energy and camaraderie in the locker room, and a veteran presence who has been there before and won championships. For the price the ‘Hawks paid though, anything more than that is free money.
Saad on the other hand is a huge summer acquisition — especially as a replacement for Artemi Panarin. Before you all blow up on me, let me explain my reasoning here. Aside from a play style that doesn’t translate into playoff hockey (see Alex Ovechkin’s playoff troubles for clarification here), Panarin did something well that a lot of better than average wingers can do: play next to Patrick Kane.
I’m of the belief that, unlike his “C” wearing counterpart, Kane has the skill to essentially run the show offensively with a line full of traffic cones. Taking from him an awesome linemate like Panarin in order to aid the Toews line will, in my own humble opinion, even the threat levels of the ‘Hawks’ top two lines, forcing opposing coaches to pick their poison in regards to matchups — as seen in years past.
Ultimately, there’s still a lot to be worked out with this lineup. The final disposition of this unfortunate Marian Hossa situation will play a crucial role in mitigating or aggravating the Blackhawks’ cap issues. Admittedly, the particulars of that ordeal are way above my pay grade, and so I sit anxiously in wait as many of you do.
So there you have it, a general analysis of the Blackhawks’ offense reveals some worrisome contingencies. Scared? Just wait until we take the time to discuss that scary defensive lineup. Be weary though, ‘Hawks fans, a mid-summer analysis is rarely a good indication of what’s to come.