The Chicago Blackhawks are currently last in the Central Division and 12th in the Western Conference. They won the entire Western Conference last year. So what happened?
Last year, the Chicago Blackhawks wound up with 109 points to take the Western Conference. This year they are on pace for 90 points. There are three areas of interest that jut out for the difference: one-goal games, goaltending and defense.
The bickering and debate can go on for years of the trade that sent Artemi Panarin to Columbus in return for Brandon Saad. They now suddenly have no scoring on the team.
Yes, they are definitely in a rut these last six games, but let’s take a look at the rate they are scoring goals this season. As of right now, they are scoring exactly at the same pace as they did last year, 2.98 goals per game.
Last season, the Blackhawks had seven players with 19 or more goals. No one else on that team had more than six. This year, with 33 games remaining in the season, the Blackhawks already have six players that have 13 or more goals. There are also four other players who are on pace for 10 or more goals as well.
Scoring is not an issue. If anything, this team is more balanced and can score from more than just one line. Come playoffs, having a balanced team that can threaten to score from more than one line often means a better result. Maybe that explains the four-and-out last postseason.
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In the 2016-17 season, the Blackhawks had a mind-boggling 41 games, half of the entire season, that resulted in one-goal games. Their record during that time: 24-8-9 (57 points). Of their 109 total points last year, nearly half of them came from results of one-goal games.
This year, through 49 games, they have had 18 games resulting in one-goal affairs, in which they have gone 7-4-7 (21 points). Not nearly the percentage of last year, and not nearly the record in those games.
Let’s face it. If you thought that the Blackhawks were not going through pains last year, you are mistaken. There were seven games last year in which they lost be three or more goals. In those games, they were outscored 40-5. Five of those games were shutouts in which the opposing team scored four or more goals.
This year, they already have had five games of losses of three or more goals. They’ve been outscored in those games 46-15, two of those being shutouts.
Where does this lead?
Goaltending. Their goals-against mark is a little worse this year compared to last year, with a 2.59 goals-against average (2016-17) compared to a 2.77 .GAA this season. From this, it doesn’t look that bad, right? Let’s take a closer look.
Last season, Corey Crawford was 32-18-4 (2.55 .GAA, .918 SV%). His backup, Scott Darling, was 18-5-5 (2.38 .GAA, .924 SV%).
This season, Crawford had put up much better numbers of 16-9-2, 2.27 .GAA, .929 SV%. His backups have not had nearly the success of what Darling had last year.
Anton Forsberg: 4-7-3, 3.00 .GAA, .909 SV%
Jeff Glass : 3-3-2, 3.15 .GAA, .910 SV%
Jean-Francois Berube: 0-0-0-, .2.73 .GAA, .875 SV%
Before you start complaining about letting Darling go, his numbers this year in Carolina are 9-13-6, 3.02 .GAA, .892 SV%. Would his numbers be better with the Blackhawks? Marginally, perhaps. But is he the answer to their problems? Not by a long shot.
Da Windy City
The last argument I’ll state about the Forsberg/Darling debate is that Forsberg is four years younger than Darling. Darling has a four-year, $4.15M contract, compared to Forsberg’s two-year/$750k contract.
The Blackhawks are trying to bank on Forsberg as their near future. A salary cap will restrict you that way. And no, Crawford should not have been traded. Please see the stats above.
Forsberg still has promise and could be that guy in the next two years when Crawford’s contract ends, and Forsberg has four to five years under his belt. We’ll have to wait and see.
Glass is not that person, nor is he a backup. The defense plays more so in front of the ‘Hawks net with Glass in net because he swings like a pendulum from post to post.
Numerous times the defense is clearing pucks while Glass is on the opposite side of the net. Has Glass played well at times? Yes. But by no means is he an answer to any of the problems going on with this team.
Where has all the defense gone?
We can’t pin the problem of the Blackhawks solely on the goaltenders. The Blackhawks have been running with loaded dice on defense all season.
They’ve gotten younger, bigger and quicker on defense, with Jan Rutta, Connor Murphy, Jordan Oesterle and Gustav Forsling. They lost a ton of veteran experience in Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya.
Time will tell if this defensive corps will turn out OK, or if it will even stay intact. Forsling was sent back to Rockford recently. The veterans in back, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, are getting older, slower and have forgotten how to score goals.
Seabrook scored his third of the season a few games ago. Dating back to January of last year, he has scored just those three goals in 86 games. Keith is no better.
Dating back to February of last year, he has scored one goal in 77 games. He has not scored in his last 63 games. So in their last 163 games combined, the duo of Seabrook and Keith has delivered four goals.
Their combined $12.4M cap hit isn’t looking too healthy right now. Keith has five years remaining on his contract, while Seabrook has seven.
This team needs to find a defense more than anything right now if it wants to build a solid core for the future.
So now what?
That is a very good question. Can they make the playoffs? Yes. Will they? Possibly, if they start playing like they should be. The core players on the team could carry them to the playoffs, but not far.
General manager Stan Bowman, if he trades anyone, needs to trade for defensive talent. He needs to draft defensive talent. He needs to trade for draft picks for defensive talent.
This team cannot play the run and gun game anymore. Other teams are younger and faster than they are. They need to change their way of gameplay, and that starts with coaching.
Could this be the end of the Joel Quenneville era? Possibly. Coaches can only be effective for so long before that effectiveness wears off.
Strap in, folks. It could be a bumpy ride.