Editorials

5 Chicago Blackhawks Actions That Must Happen Before October 2018

By Colin Likas
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Brandon Saad
CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 11: Brandon Saad /
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The Chicago Blackhawks are unlikely to go from struggling team to Stanley Cup contender between now and the start of the 2018-19 NHL season, but there are several things that can happen to make the team better

Could the Chicago Blackhawks be worse next season than they are today? Yes, absolutely. They’re not sitting in prime position for the No. 1 draft pick later this year, so they’re not as bad as they could possibly be. But they’re certainly not a good team, at present.

So that means they can get better before the 2018-19 campaign. What’ll it take to make that happen? There are plenty of things that can be done. But there are also things the team just cannot afford to mess up on at this juncture.

Maybe some of my guesses in that regard are totally wrong. But here are my five offerings for what the Blackhawks must do before we reach October 2018 in order for the team to get competitive more quickly.

Stick with Brandon Saad

Much hand-wringing has been done over the fact Brandon Saad has not proven a statistical equal to Artemi Panarin this season after the two were essentially swapped for one another last offseason.

But there’s also acknowledgement by some that he’s suffering through the unluckiest season of his NHL career despite averaging his most minutes on ice. Saad’s shooting percentage is at a hideous 7.5, well below his career average of 11.0.

This has been seen in spite of Saad holding the best 5-on-5 Corsi-for mark on the team behind current AHLer Cody Franson, with Saad carrying a 56.78 percent even-strength possession share.

Now, I know a lot of conjecture about giving up on Saad has been spread by fans on social media, but I do recall seeing a story/post somewhere suggesting the Blackhawks were fielding trade offers for him. Perhaps that source was not reputable, but it at least leads us into this thought.

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  • The Blackhawks must not give up on Saad so quickly. OK, so he’s not flashy and dazzly like Panarin. So Saad isn’t helping Kane put up career-high numbers. (On this topic, Kane is still at nearly a point-per-game basis. Though he’s claimed he misses playing alongside Panarin, it’s not as if Kane is suddenly useless without Panarin.)

    Saad is just having a brutal season as far a getting a good bounce or 10 goes. Ever since the opening couple weeks of the season, he just can’t find the back of the net. Sure, he’s passed up some good opportunities from time to time, but more often than not, we’re seeing the same Saad with very different results than in the past.

    The Blackhawks need a not-over-the-hill guy to build around moving forward. Saad should be that guy. Kane is about the only part of the old guard who isn’t battered and bruised to the point of concern, but Saad can still be the leader of a new wave of Blackhawks. Just don’t give up on him so quickly, because we’ve seen him perform far better over longer stretches of time.

    Field offers to bring in a goaltender

    I would make a separate point on this, but I have no idea why we’re still having a discussion about it. The Blackhawks need to stop messing around with the “will he, won’t he” drama surrounding Corey Crawford and just make an announcement about shutting him down for the season. I really don’t need to explain why.

    That being said, the Blackhawks should simultaneously be aware of offseason trade offers that give them an opportunity to bring in an NHL-quality netminder.

    Crow’s future is murky as of now, with head injuries nothing to mess with. The guy could be facing a career-threatening situation. A ton of rest is the best thing for him now, but what if he comes out of that without improved health?

    Then, you have Anton Forsberg and J.F. Berube waiting in the wings, with Collin Delia and Ivan Nalimov doing some good things in the minors, of late. That’s not promising for a team that appears to desire a rebuild on the fly, to cash in while Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and the like are still around.

    So the Blackhawks need to seriously consider reasonable offers that see them acquiring an NHL-quality goaltender in return. Forsberg was brought aboard to be that guy — more so for the future than for situations like this, but you can’t predict such events. Coach Joel Quenneville has promptly blasted Forsberg’s confidence to smithereens, and Berube is arguably still worse than Forsberg.

    I don’t know what caliber of NHL-level goalie you could find on the trade market in the 2018 offseason, but if the Blackhawks have a chance to find out, it wouldn’t hurt to explore.

    Be as locked in as possible during the draft

    Unless you have a top-five draft pick in the NHL, you’re probably not getting someone who will jump right in and make an impact the following season. And that’s fine. This is the one talking point on my list, however, that focuses not only on the present, but also the later future for Chicago.

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    The Blackhawks’ farm system has gone on a roller coaster ride with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman trying to keep the Stanley Cup window open. As such, Bowman has piled up draft picks during the 2017-18 campaign in hopes of drafting well later this year, and thereby beefing up the minor league segment.

    As such, the Blackhawks need to know exactly what they’re looking for in this draft. They’ve got a quality buffet of young forwards, while there are some issues at defense and goaltender.

    At the same time, they also need to be mindful of draft-day trade proposals that could help the organization either in the immediate future or in the far-out future. This all seems like very obvious stuff, but a bad draft day can damage a team far beyond the following season.

    The Blackhawks are not in a position to have a bad draft day. Not with the goals this team has year in and year out, and not with the way they’ve rebuilt their roster of late. No wasted picks, and no wasted movements.

    Be ready to move Artem Anisimov

    Speaking of draft-day deals, we turn to the big Russian who has gone from second-line center to expendable in a hurry.

    Yes, he provides some value standing in front of the net and playing hard in that regard, but the Blackhawks have made clear the direction of their franchise. Less-mobile guys who remain on this roster will be those whose contracts either can’t be moved or won’t be moved (unless an amazing deal comes along). I’m not sure Anisimov falls into either boat.

    A team that feels it is one or two pieces away could certainly inquire about Anisimov. He’s not yet 30 years old, and while he’s not a great faceoff guy, he does pretty much everything else well, as far as being a center goes. You could do a lot worse when looking for a second- or third-line center.

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    Perhaps that salary hit will be too much for some teams to consider Anisimov as a third-liner, but crazier things have happened. The Blackhawks reportedly shopped Anisimov before the trade deadline, so it’d be surprising if his name didn’t come up against around or on draft day. The Blackhawks could get a nice little haul for him, in theory, so they should pay attention to such offers.

    Get the big guns on the same page

    I’m not sure this has happened since Quenneville became Chicago’s coach. Clearly, it hasn’t always mattered whether or not Q and Bowman have seen eye to eye, because the team kept winning. But now … things have changed.

    While I dropped that line about Q shattering Forsberg’s confidence, I’ve still gone on record time and again about not wanting the Blackhawks to part with Q just yet. And I think if they were going to, they would’ve done so already this season.

    There are moves being made, and Q has a say in them. The moves are switching the Blackhawks to a younger squad that falls in line more with the present-day NHL. This would imply that Q and Bowman are getting on the same page.

    I guess it could also mean Q is just riding out the term, but is there really any reason for that? You’re better off starting a head coaching search sooner rather than later. So I think the Blackhawks are sticking with Q at least another season.

    If the Blackhawks are serious about rebuilding on the fly, they need the coach and GM to finally get on the same page. With acquisitions like John Scott and Daniel Carcillo, as well as hang-ons like Brandon Mashinter, you always got the feeling Bowman was just appeasing Q. But very suddenly, such traces have disappeared.

    Next: Blackhawks Closing Out Season With A Purpose

    Are Q and Bowman winding up for 2018-19 like it’s their one last shot? That’d be a bold statement, and we’ll learn more about such an idea on draft day. But regardless, if the Blackhawks are maintaining Q as coach (and I think they are), they need to make sure he and GM aren’t behind-the-scenes angry at one another. Otherwise, this team is unlikely to get any better any quicker.

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