After selling Ryan Hartman and Tommy Wingels at the trade deadline, the Chicago Blackhawks clearly have there eyes fixed on next season. With less than 20 games to start building for next year the Hawks need to evaluate what they have in the organization, which mean they need to look at these key areas:
Here are the areas the Hawks need to evaluate:
The Blue Line
The Hawks need to figure who remains on the Blue line. This seems like the obvious choice for some, with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook guaranteed to return because of their contracts, the Hawks must determine who fills out the rest of the blue line. While there will be some free agent options and Scott Powers has stressed that the Hawks will have Cap space to address the issue. The Hawks need to look at who they have in their organization first.
The Hawks can only change out these players on the Blue line: Connor Murphy, Jan Rutta, Erik Gustafsson, Jordan Oesterle, and Carl Dahlstrom. The big decision will come on Connor Murphy. Murphy who was acquired for Niklas Hjalmarsson. While Murphy was praised last month for being the most reliable defender on the Hawks, there are still people are debating why Jordan Oesterle plays more than Murphy. There are still quite a few questions on Murphy and some believe that he could be moved in the off-season. I do not believe that the Hawks will pull the plug on Murphy after one season, but we have seen stranger things happen. If Bowman decides to move Murphy, he should look at his recent trade history before doing so.
I also believe that Jan Rutta should be re-signed. If the Sharks game was any indication of how well Gustafsson and Dahlstrom are capable of playing, the Hawks should be looking for two more defensemen. I believe that Gustafsson will be gone and Dahlstrom will be at Rockford next season. Let’s not forget that Gustav Forsling could still factor in the defensive picture next season although at what point do you write him off also?
Let’s assume that Corey Crawford will return from his mystery injury next year, and he is your starting goalie. The question facing the Hawks, who is his backup? The Hawks have gotten a long look at Anton Forsberg this season and in my opinion the jury is still out on him. He is still more of a project at the NHL level than we were lead to believe. While he has performed well enough to warrant consideration for the backup spot next year, he could be supplanted by J-F Berube. Berube is going to get some run here with the Blackhawks to end this season. Berube might have to be judged on how well he plays in front of a lifeless Hawks team and very shaky defense.
The last area the Hawks must evaluate is their young players especially at the forward position. We know Alex DeBrincat is lock to make the team next season. I would assume Vinnie Hinostroza will be get another contract next season. So the players to look at are Anthony Duclair, John Hayden, Matthew Highmore, Tomas Jurco, and David Kampf.
Duclair is probably the best player of the bunch, and he should be back next season. He has shown flashes with the Hawks and we know when he is playing well what he can produce based on his numbers in Arizona.
Hayden will get a chance to show the Hawks that if he time at Rockford helped refine his game. Hopefully his progression is similar to that of Hinostroza.
Highmore is an interesting case, will he get more of a chance than Mark McNeill and Spencer Abbott? He has shown the organization that he can score at the AHL level, but can it translate to the NHL level. He has worked hard to get here, can his hard work pay off?
Tomas Jurco should be gone after this season. This was a bad trade and the Hawks should acknowledge that it was bad and move on.
Kampf has shown enough to be back next season. He can provide some jump on the fourth line.
So those are the areas and players that Hawks need to evaluate for the rest of this season. Those are my thoughts, what are your thoughts with less than 20 games left in the season?