One of the biggest hurdles last season was the Blackhawks’ inability to kill a penalty and shut down an opponent in the defensive zone.
When the Chicago Blackhawks’ season ended in April, fans knew there would be changes to the ‘Hawks defense and penalty kill.
Stan Bowman changed the entire dynamic of his defense when he traded for Calvin De Haan, and Olli Maatta; two capable defenders who now have an opportunity to rise to the occasion. Maatta has been criticized in the past for his lack of speed and injury-prone seasons, but if the Blackhawks can help him overcome those issues, they will compete next season.
We already looked at some potential forward units we could see next season, so without further ado, let’s take a look at some potential defensive pairings and special teams units we could see going into next season.
Potential Defensive Pairings
I know a while ago I threw out the idea of potentially moving Erik Gustafsson to forward, but that ship has sailed for the most part. The idea of moving Gustafsson to the fourth line hinged on the ‘Hawks trying to find a spot for Henri Jokiharju. The Blackhawks opted to move the young, talented defenseman believing they have enough depth in the position.
Gustafsson and Keith will be the Blackhawks’ top offensive pairing going into next year. The two will be seen in a lot of offensive draws, and could be a force to reckoned with in the offensive zone. Keith had a bounce-back year last season while playing alongside Gustafsson.
Keith went from being a -29 in 2017-18 to a +13 in the ± department last season, and did it while averaging about 50 seconds less ice time per game. As Keith continues to age, it would be wise to gradually reduce his workload to increase his effectiveness.
Keith and Gustafsson will be a great pairing for the Blackhawks, as long as they are used in the right situation such as offensive zone draws with the Blackhawks’ top offensive players. This will help increase their effectiveness.
Olli Maatta was not at his best last year. The former Penguins defenseman had been sidelined with multiple injuries over the past few seasons. Maatta could be just what the Blackhawks need in the Top 4. Alongside Connor Murphy, the two players can use their size to help the Blackhawks in the defensive zone.
Murphy had a very strong season last year with the Blackhawks, it will be interesting to see if he can continue to build off of last years success.
Calvin de Haan can play about 18 minutes of ice time a night, but he can help contribute on the Blackhawks’ blue line. De Haan might be the complete package for a defenseman. Brent Seabrook is more of a liability than an asset at this stage of his career, but next to de Haan, he might find success.
De Haan was instrumental in the Carolina Hurricanes’ postseason run last year. Although they ultimately fell short of the Stanley Cup, their success was in large part thanks to de Haan’s play in the defensive zone.
Things get interesting when you look at the potential 7th defensemen for the Blackhawks next season. They could rotate 8 defensemen like they did last year, and if Adam Boqvist makes the jump to the NHL next year, things could be even more interesting.
The Blackhawks also have Carl Dahlstrom and Slater Koekkoek under contract next season and could use either of them as their seventh defenseman. Dahlstrom played well last season with Connor Murphy, but with players like de Haan and Maatta joining the team, Dahlstrom might be the odd man out.
The Blackhawks have a very good problem to have when it comes to goaltending. Robin Lehner was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season. You could argue Lehner is one of the top goaltenders in the NHL, and Corey Crawford is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion.
Chicago has two of the top goaltenders in the NHL, and possibly even the best goalie tandem in the entire NHL. The Blackhawks will have to decide how to split Lehner and Crawford’s games. Here is what Jeremy Colliton had to say about it:
I believe the Blackhawks should opt with a 50-30 game split with Lehner getting the majority of the starts. Crawford has not played in more than 40 games in 2 years due to injuries, and I do not know if that will change.
Last season’s top powerplay unit should not be changed. I like what they did last season and hope they can expand on it heading into this season. If anything were to change, I think that Andrew Shaw could take Dylan Strome‘s position on the top unit to help add to the unit’s net-front presence. That would also allow Strome to center the second power-play unit for the Blackhawks.
I like the potential in the Blackhawks’ second power-play unit. Brent Seabrook does have a nice shot and should score some goals from the point next season. Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad bring the physicality the second power-play unit needs, and the skill. Saad and Kubalik can help pass the puck around and shoot with Shaw providing screens in front of the net.
However, do not expect the second unit to get much ice time. The Toews and Kane unit will probably take up about a minute and thirty seconds of the power play.
Ryan Carpenter was not traded to the Blackhawks to score goals. The ‘Hawks failed last year with their penalty kill. It was a historically bad unit and needed a major overhaul. Hopefully, the ‘Hawks fixed it by bringing in Maatta, Shaw, and Carpenter for the top PK unit.
De Haan and Seabrook are two of the biggest guys the Blackhawks have to offer amongst defenseman. The two should be able to throw their weight around at the players on the power play and block shots.
The PK will also have Toews and Saad if they need a third unit. When the Blackhawks were winning championships, they had a penalty kill they could rely on. Hopefully, that is the case again this season.
Things Can Change
The Blackhawks have a long way to go before the season starts in October. Players are not handed spots in the NHL, they earn them. Over the next few weeks, there will be plenty of training camp battles for the last couple of roster spots. There’s also preseason games. In the meantime, these are my projections on who could be playing on the Blackhawks’ power play and penalty kill in 2019-20.