After another off-season of shredding contracts the Blackhawks have a pillaged roster that’s a solid playoff bet, but not much more.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN’s Prediction: 4th in Central, wild-card team
Stanley Cup odds: 14-1
Key additions: Brian Campbell, D; Jordin Tootoo, RW
Key departures: Andrew Ladd, LW; Teuvo Teravainen, LW; Andrew Shaw, C; Dale Weiss, RW; Bryan Bickell, LW
-Can youth help Stan Bowman weave cap magic? Gone are Teuvo Teravainen, Andrew Shaw and Andrew Ladd, squeezed by the Hawks’ annual salary-cap crunch. GM Bowman has replaced priced-out vets time and again with effective young players complementing his star core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford. But this year’s depth chart is thinner than ever.
Prospects Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman have solid potential, especially the offensively gifted Schmaltz, but any team is better off having its kids earn NHL jobs rather than being forced into them by default.
-Is Brian Campbell the year’s best bargain? Campbell took a page from Brad Richards and signed a one-year deal at the dirt-cheap cap hit of $1.5 million. Campbell won a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2010, and that’s the goal this time around. He fills a major need, as the Hawks’ D-corps struggled last season after Johnny Oduya’s departure. Shoehorning Trevor van Riemsdyk into a second-pairing role didn’t work. Campbell will take that spot now and, if he plays anything like he did as a Florida Panther, he’ll provide tremendous bang for his buck. The only caveat: he’s 37.
-Is Artemi Panarin really this good? Panarin was the first rookie to finish top-10 in scoring since Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin in 2005-06. Panarin’s smashing debut defied the stereotype of KHL stars struggling in the NHL. It also coincided with linemate Kane’s scoring title and the MVP. ‘The Bread Man’ benefitted from the company he kept and, while there’s no reason to split him and Kane up, it’s mildly concerning that Panarin’s possession numbers tanked whenever he played without Kane.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
After years atop the NHL food chain the Chicago Blackhawks are finally vulnerable. This isn’t the team that won the Cup in 2010, or 2013, or 2015. These are the remnants of those championship teams, what remains after many cap purges.
How bad has it been for the Hawks? They’re projected for 96 points here. If there was no cap and they were able to keep all their talent (assuming they all wanted to stay) they’d be a true-talent 113 point team, eight wins better than they are now and six points better than the league’s best team this season. Great for parity. Bad for dynasties.
What remains from that pillaged roster is a team that’s a solid playoff bet, but not much more. It’s a big change for a club that usually has championship aspirations.
Chicago’s biggest strength is goaltending. Corey Crawford used to be an afterthought, a slightly above average netminder who didn’t lose games for the talented team in front of him. As the team has deteriorated, he’s become the guy who has to win them. He’s quietly developed into one of the league’s best.
On defense is a decent group that only got better with the signing of Brian Campbell. He doesn’t produce much individual offense, but he tilts the ice anytime he’s out there and that’s something Chicago has been lacking recently. Once the preeminent puck-possession club, they’ve slipped toward average, Campbell should help right the ship.
What might keep that ship at bay though is their forward corps, specifically the bottom half of it. We all know how good Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are, and ditto for Artemi Panarin and Marian Hossa, but the other eight forwards are as weak as we’ve seen in a long time for the Blackhawks. The stars get the headlines, but this isn’t the NBA where Joel Quenneville can keep throwing out his top guys for the whole game. The bottom of the roster will play significant minutes and the team will be very vulnerable during that time.
Maybe their depth forwards surprise and turn out much better than expected. If that does happen, Chicago has the star-power to remain in the Stanley Cup conversation. But things can go off the rails quickly and it’s entirely possible they’ll be fighting for a playoff spot instead of their usual cruise to the post-season. Unless they get a lot out of their scrapped together bottom six, it’s unlikely they’ll be contending as usual this season.
Up next: Pittsburgh Penguins
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