After missing the playoffs for the first time in the last ten years, the Chicago Blackhawks had to find a way to respond after last year’s disappointing season. Unfortunately, the way the season started, it looked like there was going to be another long road to the finish for the Hawks. What followed suit: major coaching changes, few free agent signings and lots of trades.
General manager Stan Bowman wanted this upcoming season to be a rebound from last year’s struggle and be the competitive team that Chicago has been for the last ten years in the league. In order to help out starting goaltender Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks signed free-agent veteran goalie Cam Ward to a one-year deal. In addition to Ward, Bowman decided to sign forward Chris Kunitz as well to a one-year deal, who has been with the Pittsburgh Penguins during most of their championship reign. Their age certainly plays a role as to why most fans were unhappy with the free agent acquisitions with Ward being 35 and Kunitz being 39.
One of the brighter spots of the start of the season was dumping Marian Hossa’s contract. While Hossa is one of the best players to play the game, his serious allergic reaction to the equipment had prevented him from playing hockey and forced him to retire. Chicago traded the rest of his contract as well as Jordan Oesterle and Vinnie Hinostroza to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for former Blackhawk Marcus Kruger and much-needed cap space. What comes next still angers fans to this day.
In November, a poor start to the season led to the firing of the second-winningest coach of all time, Joel Quenneville. It, however, would not help the Blackhawks for months as new head coach Jeremy Colliton would have had a hard time gaining any momentum as the team would reach an eight-game losing streak from the end of November into mid-December. What also transpired in the same month was a trade with Arizona: Nick Schmaltz to the Coyotes in exchange for Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini. While Schmaltz was deemed as their “center of the future”, Strome had made quite the presence with his new team, being paired with sophomore phenom Alex DeBrincat.
The month of December hit and Bowman made another trade: Drake Caggiula was sent to the Blackhawks while Brandon Manning got sent to the Edmonton Oilers. Physicality has been what’s missing in the team and having a play-maker like Caggiula will certainly spark things up. While the offense itself had been heating up, there were other aspects of the game that needed improvement.
With Jan Rutta being dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning in January, Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling dealing with injuries and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook trying to right the ship, the defence was a struggle all year long for the Chicago Blackhawks. Whether it’s Crawford, Cam Ward or young Collin Delia in net, it was a challenging task to keep pucks out and away from the goalie’s crease. The penalty kill was the worst in the league while their power play was 12th in the league.
While they made it interesting in the last couple of months in creeping for a second wild card spot, the Blackhawks fell six points short. With the second season in a row being excluded from the playoffs, there is a lot of uncertainty going into the NHL offseason: what’s the future of Crawford? How will they improve the defence? How much of their remaining cap space will they use? Is any player on the team safe from trade or will they be seen in a new sweater come next season? Nothing is set in stone as Bowman and the Blackhawks look to bounce back after another shortened season.