5. The veterans have a hold on the cap space.
One of the biggest issues with Chicago’s youth movement is the veterans. This year, only two players that were around during Chicago’s dizzying heights are dressing for games, Duncan Keith and Patrick Kane. Both Jonathon Toews and Brent Seabrook have been sidelined because their health hasn’t allowed them to suit up. Both are poised to come back, but what impact will they have on the team?
Patrick Kane is still an elite player, and he proves this night after night. How much longer he can play at that level is anyone’s guess, but for now, he’s still producing. At the rate he’s going currently, he’ll be a point-per-game player for 2020-21. After more than ten years in the league, and over a thousand games under his belt, that’s pretty impressive.
Duncan Keith has freakish longevity, but in his case, there’s a noticeable decline. He’s not the player he once was, but he’s still logging 20-30 minutes a game at 37-years-old. Chicago’s longtime number-one defenseman has lost a step but is still a capable NHLer.
In the case of Toews, he’s on LTIR, and no one knows what is wrong with him, or when he’ll be back. When there’s something to announce publicly, he and the organization will make that information available. Until then, he deserves his privacy. However, it’s worth noting that when he returns, he’ll likely be 33 and still have term left on his contract.
His game has fallen off a bit, but he’s still a good player. Will he be when he returns though? That is a $10,500,000 question. Even if he comes back tomorrow, he’ll have missed what amounts to half a season and will be older. For an athlete, that’s a lot to recover from.
By contrast, Brent Seabrook was supposed to be ready to go to training camp, according to CBS and a host of other organizations. He was, but then apparently “tweaked” his back, and was put on IR. He could dress for a game any day now, but he hasn’t. Look, I’ve tweaked my back before, but it didn’t take months to recover from.
Maybe he wasn’t as ready to return to the ice as everyone thought. The issue here is that when he does return he’ll have missed a considerable amount of time, and his game has fallen off significantly. At this point, I’d be curious to know how his fitness tests ranked against other players on the team when everyone got back together for training camp. When he does suit up again, it’s going to take time away from one of the blossoming young players Chicago has been able to dress.
All of this begs the question, how much longer can Chicago give big minutes to their veterans? The issue here isn’t simply about on-ice performance. There are other factors to consider, such as salary (meaning cap hits), and roster spots. Aging players, as well as players that aren’t even in the press box, are impacting the team and maybe not for the best. The clock is ticking on their careers, and in some cases, the end is closer than anyone, players included, might want to admit. The youth movement means Chicago will need to transition away from relying on these players sooner rather than later, but when that happens is unknown.
Now, none of this means that the team has to be disregarded. There are clearly building blocks for the future. Probably nothing has been more surprising than Chicago’s apparent depth in net. The defense looks to be taking real steps towards substantive improvement for the first time in years. These are things to applaud. Chicago’s future looks brighter than it has for a while now, but the team isn’t there yet. While “there” is a moving target in regards to being a true contender, Chicago is making progress towards hitting that mark again.