The BU Roundtable: Where do the Chicago Blackhawks go from here?
By Stephen Yatsushiro
The 2018-19 NHL season is winding down with 10 games remaining for the Chicago Blackhawks. We asked our team of writers, “What is the most important aspect the ‘Hawks should concentrate on during their final games?”
Unlike our Chicago Blackhawks mailbag (coming soon) where you asked and we answered, we’ve decided to ask ourselves one of the most burning questions ahead of the last few weeks of the season. Here are each of our writers’ answers to the question: “What is the most important aspect the ‘Hawks should concentrate on during their final games?”
The ‘Hawks have climbed out of the cellar and have been playing winning hockey since January 20. NBC Chicago’s Charlie Roumeliotis went in depth on this in his article:
"Let’s dive into the numbers and break down what’s behind it all, courtesy of naturalstattrick.com. Since Jan. 20… — The Blackhawks have the best points percentage (.727) and most wins (16) of any Western Conference team. In the 49 games before that, they had the worst points percentage (.418) and fewest wins (16) of any NHL team. — The Blackhawks have a plus-14 goal differential at 5-on-5; they had a minus-21 goal differential in their previous 49 games. — The Blackhawks rank No. 1 in the league with 94 goals (4.27 per game); they had previously ranked 14th with 145 goals (2.96). — The Blackhawks have the best 5-on-5 shooting percentage at 10.6; their percentage before that was 7.7, which ranked 23rd. — The Blackhawks have converted on 25.0 percent of their power plays, which ranks fifth-best; they previously had a power-play percentage of 18.9, which ranked 17th. — The Blackhawks’ goaltenders have a high-danger 5-on-5 save percentage of .859 which ranks fifth; their high-danger save percentage previously was .843, which ranked 10th. — Four different Blackhawks have averaged more than a point per game: Patrick Kane (1.55), Alex DeBrincat (1.46), Jonathan Toews (1.32) and Dylan Strome (1.27). They had only one before that: Kane (1.35). — Duncan Keith has a plus-19 rating in the last 22 games, which ranks No. 1 among all NHL skaters over that span. He had a minus-8 rating in his previous 49 games."
All things considered, the Chicago Blackhawks still don’t stack up against the powerhouse teams such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and San Jose Sharks. Even if they were to gain a playoff berth, they just don’t have the defensive depth to advance very far into the playoffs.
Nevertheless, these recent stats are incredible, especially considering just how bad this team was in the first half of the season. With this insane offensive surge, the ‘Hawks should continue their pursuit of a playoff spot. The veterans need to have fun playing again, and the youngsters need the experience of high-stakes hockey. A key component of the offensive surge has been the restructured power play. It has slumped a bit recently, and this is an item they should continue to develop.
Captain Jonathan Toews recently stated that this final push is their playoffs, as they are fighting to avoid elimination. The important caveat here is that the ‘Hawks should go all in, but not by increasing the workload of the veteran players. The young players should be pushed to step up their games to a playoff-intensity level. Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Dominik Kahun, Brendan Perlini, David Kampf, Dylan Sikura, Erik Gustafsson, Gustav Forsling, Carl Dahlstrom, Slater Koekkoek, and Connor Murphy need to be given every chance to experience pressure-packed situations and learn what playoff hockey is all about at the NHL level. They might not reach the final destination, but the journey is what matters.
With their recent surge, the Chicago Blackhawks have significantly reduced their odds of landing a top pick in the 2019 NHL draft. Since they’ve been trending up, they should continue on this track. They need to learn how to play like contenders and make themselves better prepared to legitimately contend next year. With an all-in competitive level, ‘Hawks management can also evaluate who the keepers are for next year.