The times they are a-changing in the Windy City: fan favorite Patrick Sharp has retired, strange allergic reactions to the sweater forces Marian Hossa to leave the game and we come into a new season with the uncertainty of goalie Corey Crawford’s vertigo issue going forward. Should Blackhawk fans fret? Not necessarily. While it may be a rather difficult task competing with the rest of the Central division (Nashville, Colorado, Winnipeg), their long-term future looks rather promising.
Exhibit A: Alex DeBrincat. At 20 years old, the young right winger scored 28 goals, posted 24 assists and tallied up to 52 total points for the 2017-2018 season. Ranked 10th amongst rookies in the Calder Memorial voting by the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association, he became just the sixth NHL player to record at least three hat tricks in their rookie season in the past 30 years. If this is what the Blackhawks see out of DeBrincat in his rookie season, rest assured going forward, the future looks bright for #12 in Chicago.
Second off, the new (and returning) faces wearing Chief Blackhawk on their chests. As every Blackhawk fan knows (such as myself), the offseason makes us hold our breath, thanks to the dreaded salary cap. Who will we keep, who will we extend, who will we trade? Due to a mysterious skin condition forcing legendary right winger Marian Hossa to retire, general manager Stan Bowman sent the rest of his contract, along with Vinnie Hinostroza and Jordan Oesterle, to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Marcus Kruger (making his second tenure with the team) and a few other prospects and AHL players.
Hoping by getting back some physical presence in Kruger for the Blackhawks, they can stand against some of the powerhouse teams in the division, such as Nashville and Winnipeg.
Bowman made his rounds with free agency, as he picked up backup goalie Cam Ward from the Carolina Hurricanes and veteran winger Chris Kunitz from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
One of the main reasons why Chicago disappointed this past season was the post-Crawford effect. When Crawford was sidelined due to concussion-like symptoms, which led to his vertigo, the Blackhawks had to rely on the efforts of Anton Forsberg and J.F. Berube, which led to a disastrous outcome at the end of it all. However, emergency backup goalie Scott Foster was, not only one of the best stories of the league last year, but currently holds a 1.000 save percentage in a 7-shot shutout against the Winnipeg Jets.
Arriving from Carolina, Ward will arrive to Chicago coming off his 2017-2018 season where he had a .906 save percentage 23-14-4 record to show for. At 34 years old, Cam Ward will look to give fans some hope heading into the season with a good backup.
What has helped the Blackhawks in the past is having players on the team with experience, such as Marian Hossa, rightfully deserving to be in the Hall of Fame in the future. As someone who has played with, who everyone is considering, the best player in the league in Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz looks to bring some of his learnings and expertise to the young and developing Hawks team. Winning four Stanley Cups with Pittsburgh, as well as winning the gold medal with Team Canada in the 2014 Winter Olympics, Kunitz has plenty of experience and moments under his belt.
Turning 39 on September 26th, he will be served as a mentor to the young guns on the squad, like DeBrincat and Kruger, who are still developing their game to a higher level.
Bowman brought back Brandon Saad from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Artemi Panarin because of not only the cost, but to boost the playmaking of captain Jonathan Toews, as well as revitalizing the line combination that was a part of the 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup-winning team. Coming off the second-worst year of his career, Toews posted a 20-32-52, struggling to get anything going. While his teammate, Patrick Kane, had no trouble getting it going even without Panarin, #19 failed to deliver the same numbers he has done earlier in his career.
Entering his 12th season in the league, the Captain will look to right the ship as Chicago attempts to become the same powerhouse team that has dominated the Central division in seasons’ past.
Setting bias aside, I feel the Chicago Blackhawks will finish 6th in the Central division. While Nashville continues to be a Stanley Cup favorite every year, Winnipeg and Colorado continue to develop and get stronger. The Central division is one of the toughest in the league, as every team (excluding the Blackhawks) finished with 92+ points last season. The revamping of the team is necessary but going through St. Louis, Minnesota and Dallas as well is no easy task. Here’s to another hockey season!