Analysis

Chicago Blackhawks: What to Expect With Erik Gustafsson in 2019-20

By Nikos Michals
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images) /
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Chicago Blackhawks’ defenseman, Erik Gustafsson, is playing on an expiring contract. Here’s what to expect from him in the 2019-20 season.

To Chicago Blackhawks fans, he is perhaps the most polarizing player on the Blackhawks’ roster. To Erik Gustafsson, he had a breakout season last year that probably made him wish there were more games on the schedule.

In the 2018-19 campaign, Gustafsson’s 60 points ranked him 6th among NHL defensemen, while also scoring 17 goals, which tied him for 3rd in the same vein.

Gus will not only be looking to repeat his breakout season, but will be looking to secure a huge payday with one year left on his contract.

With the Blackhawks’ current cap situation and other key players needing a new deal, such as Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome, Gustafsson’s payday will likely come from another team.

Since signing with Chicago back in 2015, Gustafsson only really got his foot in the door last season.

He played in 79 games compared to the combined 76 he played in from 2015-18. That included not getting called up at all during the 2016-17 season. Let’s fast forward to now what is to be expected out of Erik Gustafsson in 2019-20.

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Ice Time

The first thing that comes to my mind is how Blackhawks’ head coach, Jeremy Colliton, will handle the ice time on this veteran-laden defensive unit.

The current defensive group in Chicago is shaping up to be Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan, Connor Murphy, and Gustafsson.

As of now, the only pairing that looks to be set is Seabrook-Maatta. Most are under the assumption that Keith-Gustafsson will continue to be a pairing, so this leaves de Haan-Murphy as the other two players to find their way onto this loaded lineup.

Duncan Keith having held the title of most minutes played by a ‘Hawks blueliner for the last 12 seasons, could be in trouble. The shift of who will play the most minutes will likely happen as Keith is entering his 15th NHL season at the age of 36. In 2018-19, Keith led all Blackhawks defensemen with 23:01 TOI per game, which was a career-low for him. Gustafsson was right behind him averaging 22:35 TOI.

I can see Gustafsson getting around 23-24 minutes this season, depending on his play in his own zone. With so many veteran players on this backend, and only so much time per game, it seems whoever gets the most ice time will have earned it.

How Many Points Will Erik Gustafsson Tally in 2019-20?

It’s hard to say just how many points Gustafsson will score in 2019-20. He could have another showing like he did in 2018-19 or he could also see a drop-off.

As you can see from Gustafsson’s career point totals, last year was his best statistical season by far. Before his 60 points, his closest totals were 30 in the 2016-17 season with the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL.

To say that he has a track record of putting up massive amounts of points would be a lie, and to this point, last year was definitely an outlier for Gustafsson.

Erik Gustafsson is also in a contract year. If you’ve watched any pro sports in your life, you know players tend to overachieve in contract years.

One could also say that he overachieved with his 60 points last year as well. It’s hard to say what you are going to get out him.

Gustafsson also was tied for 3rd in the entire NHL in goal scoring by a blueliner with 17 goals. Again, his closest goal-scoring output was 7, way back in the 2012-13 season while playing in the Swedish minor league.

It’s just another storyline to watch for this season. If Gustafsson falls back to his career averages, his goal total could fall off a cliff. The thing is, he has one of the top offenses in the league at his disposal, so he’ll have every opportunity to score over 10 goals again.

If Gustafsson can play a full season, projecting anywhere between 45-60 points would be fair. With the ‘Hawks offense scoring the eighth-most goals (267) in the 2018-19 season, plus possibly playing alongside defensive defenseman, Calvin de Haan, at some point this season, Gustafsson could have all the offense he wants.

My Prediction: 43 points (8 Goals, 35 Assists)

43 points is a bit of a drop off from his 2018-19 season totals, but it’s going to be very difficult to replicate the kinda season he had last year. I am also taking the low-end here.

The Possibility of a Trade

All signs are indicating that Chicago Blackhawks’ GM, Stan Bowman, is not going to re-sign Erik Gustafsson due to the number of defensemen already on contract for the next couple seasons.

Plus, there are some very promising defensive prospects on the way. There hasn’t been one word on negotiations for this pending UFA.

I am no detective, but I doubt ‘Gus is in a Blackhawks sweater once the start of the 2020 season rolls around.

Now, the question is: if not now, then when?

It all depends on where the team is, as they approach the February trade deadline. If they are fighting for a playoff spot come late February and early March, I highly doubt they would be willing to part ways with him. Instead, keeping Gustafsson as their own “trade deadline acquisition”.

This also means that he is having a great season, because if he isn’t, then I would ship him off for anything while he still has high trade value.

If the team is out of playoff contention by the trade deadline, then there’s a 100% chance he is gone by, or before, the trade deadline. If Adam Boqvist, or any of the other defensive prospects are ready now, it just makes this trade scenario that much easier.

Where could Gustafsson go? Your guess is just as good as mine. If I had to guess, possibly Edmonton.

With the ‘Hawks having made trades with them recently, and Edmonton seemingly ready to do anything to make the playoffs, this seems like a perfect match. I could see them moving anything from a 1st round pick to one of their prospects.

In an ideal world, Gustafsson scores 80 points, wins the Norris Trophy, and signs a 4-year, $4 million deal. Expectations will be high for him.

While I don’t think he will live up to them, Gustafsson is an exciting player to watch in the offensive zone. Enjoy it while it lasts ‘Hawks fans, this will likely be the farewell tour for Erik Gustafsson.

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