Could the 2016-17 season be the beginning of the end of the Chicago Blackhawks’ dynasty?
No team in the NHL has seen as much success since 2009 as the Chicago Blackhawks. With three Stanley Cups and two additional Western Conference Finals appearances, Chicago has emerged as a near-dynasty thanks to its star-studded core. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Marian Hossa have been around for each of the cup wins, and the team has done a terrific job in navigating the salary cap in recent years.
Sadly, things seem to be on the decline for the Blackhawks, who have paid for their three titles with some bad contracts. Though they have jettisoned most of them, they have given up prospects in order to do so. That is quite concerning for a team that heavily relies on young, cheap players. With 2015-16 Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin needing a new deal after this season, this could be the last hurrah for the Blackhawks’ dynasty. Chicago is coming off a first round exit in the playoffs after finishing with a 47-26-9 record, good for third in the Central Division.
Additions: D Brian Campbell (Panthers), F Jordin Tootoo (Devils)
Losses: F Andrew Shaw (Canadiens), F Bryan Bickell (Hurricanes), C/F Teuvo Teravainen (Hurricanes), F Andrew Ladd (Islanders), F Dale Weiss (Flyers)
Retained: F Richard Panik, F Michal Rozsival
While the Chicago Blackhawks are worse off without Teravainen, at least they got rid of Bickell, allowing them to sign Brian Campbell to a cheap one-year deal. He should significantly help a blue line that desperately needs depth. Campbell will not solve all of their problems, but he at least gives them four capable top-four defensemen.
Chicago wisely sold high on Andrew Shaw, trading him to the Canadiens for two second-round picks. With those two picks, Chicago drafted Alex DeBrincat and Chad Krys. DeBrincat has a ton of upside as a scorer while Krys should be a steady defenseman in a few years.
Richard Panik could be a diamond in the rough for Chicago. Head coach Joel Quenneville loves him and he could see some time alongside Jonathan Toews on the first line. He plays with a lot of energy and is efficient defensively.
Jordin Tootoo could be a fourth line option for the Blackhawks, while Rozsival provides solid forward depth to a team that needs it. Chicago couldn’t do too much in the offseason because of their young players that they want to give roster spots too.
Player Spotlight: Jonathan Toews
Patrick Kane might put up all the gaudy point totals. But the Chicago Blackhawks’ true leader is their captain Jonathan Toews. He takes on a ton of responsibility. Under the tutelage of Toews, Chicago has won three Stanley Cups and has never missed the postseason with Toews as their captain.
Kane’s primary role is a scoring one. He faces weaker competition and his deployment is heavily tilted towards the offensive zone. Toews is a huge reason why the Chicago Blackhawks can afford to use Kane in such a specialized role. He plays during all situations and shuts down his opponents’ top lines. That gives the Blackhawks a lot of flexibility.
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Toews isn’t known for his scoring, but he quietly puts up solid numbers. Last season, Toews had 58 points (28 goals and 30 assists). He consistently has a shooting percentage of around 15 percent. While he might not put up the numbers of Sidney Crosby, Toews is still one of the NHL’s elite centers. And he might be the Blackhawks most important player — even more so than Kane.
It’s hard to argue that the Chicago Blackhawks have improved since last season. But while the Blackhawks have efficiently replaced players in the past, their depth is steadily dwindling.
Once again, the Blackhawks will be relying heavily on Toews, Kane, Panarin, Hossa, Keith, and goaltender Corey Crawford to keep playing at an elite level. With a lot of new faces potentially in the lineup, the pressure is on their veterans to produce.
This could be the season that the Blackhawks miss the playoffs. The Central Division has improved in a variety of ways and so has the Western Conference. Kane and Panarin each had record setting seasons in 2015-16. Should they take a step back, the Blackhawks’ offense will have trouble scoring goals.
Chicago’s defense must be better than last season. Too often the Blackhawks had Corey Crawford bail them out. Brent Seabrook put up good numbers on paper, but his puck possession stats are extremely worrisome. Duncan Keith can play over 25 minutes a night and not show an ounce of fatigue.
Overall, the Blackhawks are still a good team. But a playoff berth is no longer a guarantee.