The Chicago Blackhawks have made it through their “Hell Month” of March and have lost their once seemingly comfortable lead for the fourth and final Stanley Cup playoff spot out of the Central Division. Our Blackhawks writing crew of Greg Boysen, Brooke LoFurno, Shaun Filippelli, and Gail Kauchak are back to discuss everything that happened this past week and look ahead to another big week on the schedule.
Biggest Concerns of the Stretch Run
The month of March has come and gone. At the beginning of this hellacious month, we all predicted they would still be in the fourth and final playoff spot at the end of the month. We are one game into April and if the Stanley Cup Playoffs started today, the Blackhawks would be just like us and watching from the couch.
There are many reasons that a once comfortable lead has all but evaporated. The power play has come back down to earth. The goaltending hit a bump in the road but has since recovered. They are getting outshot by big margins. The overall play in the defensive zone has been brutal and the team can’t win a faceoff to save their lives. As we advance, which one of these issues is the biggest concern, or is it something I didn’t mention?
The biggest concern, I think, is faceoffs. It’s concerning when we have a plethora of centers and it seems like no one is up to the challenge. Jonathan Toews being out shows how much center depth we need. It’s affecting our power play and overall play. So, I think it needs to be addressed immediately.
I think the Blackhawks’ biggest issue is their lack of consistency, combined with not being able to close out games. They’ve shown they can hang with the elite clubs such as the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes. They’ve gotten to where they’re usually pretty happy with at least 40 minutes of their effort. But a complete 60-minute game remains elusive.
Also, the Blackhawks need to work on closing out games. They know how to come from behind and stay in a game, which is a positive step in their resiliency as a team. But they have a tough time actually winning games where they come from behind. And I don’t even want to talk about the numerous contests where they’ve given up the lead!
I think this all stems from just not having the confidence and swagger they need to win. The Blackhawks are still working on believing in themselves and finding that killer instinct. This should come in time. Hopefully, we will see more of this as the season winds down; I’m uncertain it will be enough to make the postseason.
While Kevin Lankinen is the most important player heading into the stretch run, I am most concerned about the play in the defensive zone. I am sure you are sick and tired of me complaining about Jeremy Colliton’s defensive system, but not as exhausted as I am about having to say the same things over and over.
We still see the slot get left uncovered time and time again. They are allowing far too many shots on goal and second, third and fourth chances. We have seen numerous goals being given up off of bad turnovers because the system wants the forwards to try to break out early instead of helping out their defenders. If the Blackhawks want to make the postseason, they have to shore up the defensive zone.
Goals win games and shots are a necessary component to that equation. The fact that the Blackhawks seem to be playing catch-up in this area, right from the start of every single contest of late, is far from being a smart strategy. They are playing on their heels as a result, which inevitably affects other areas of their game. And not in the right ways.
They need to treat some of the simple aspects of the sport as such. Do whatever it takes to get the puck into the offensive zone and throw as much towards the opposing net as possible. That’s the first step towards seeing better results. With more shots, only good can come.
Is it Time for the Young D to Take Over?
Focusing on the defensemen, as these games get more important, would you increase or decrease the playing time for the youngsters like Adam Boqvist, Nicolaus Beaudin, Ian Mitchell and Wyatt Kalynuk? Or do you ride your veterans even though their level of play has not been great of late? Granted, the trade deadline might make this decision for us, but if these young players are ever going to learn how to perform when the pressure is on, this is the perfect time to give them bigger roles. Agree or disagree?
I agree. I think we all know this is a “growing” year. Realistically, we know where this team is. So, I think this is the perfect time to play them more and see what we have. Knowing what the team has can also help expedite the rebuild process.
I’m actually extremely impressed with how Colliton has handled the usage and ice time of his defensive corps. There’s the “veteran” group of Duncan Keith, Connor Murphy, Calvin de Haan and Nikita Zadorov. He’s leaned on them all to not only fulfill a given role but also to mentor the younger group. That newer group consists of Boqvist, Mitchell, Beaudin, Kalynuk, Lucas Carlsson and Madison Bowey. That’s 10 players altogether to keep on a positive trajectory. Not a simple task, but Colliton is trying his best to do just that. I commend him for juggling the growth and development of his defensive prospects while also balancing the talents of the vets.
The young players are ready to take on an elevated role. Intertwine them with the vets and good things will come.
I know it is difficult for fans to sometimes separate the present from the big picture and the latter of those two is more important right now. Guys like Keith, Murphy, de Haan and Zadorov are not going to be core members of this defense if and when the Blackhawks are serious Stanley Cup contenders again. Young players get better with reps and being put into high-pressure situations.
I am not advocating all the veterans get benched and just let the rookies take over, but it is time to start increasing the important minutes for some of the younger blueliners. We have seen this with Boqvist and it has been paying off. The sooner these kids get a taste of the big shifts in meaningful games, the sooner they can permanently take on those roles.
Agree. I think it’s important that Chicago holds true to their word that the focus was to be opportunities to develop. Despite the surprising success that has the Blackhawks in a battle for playoff position, that needs to be looked at as a bonus at this point. The focus should have always been, and still needs to be, helping to find ways for this lineup to grow, mature, and improve.
With that said, I’m not suggesting they let poor play go unpunished. That’s also part of the game. Yet, it shouldn’t be based on the age or tenure of the athlete. Roll with the players that are clicking, deciding who’s in and who’s out on a case-by-case basis.
The Trade Scrapbook
This is our last get-together before the NHL’s trade deadline on April 12, so the team might have a different look the next time we meet. I will not ask you to predict who is or isn’t going to be traded over the next few days. Instead, what is your most memorable Blackhawks’ trade for good or bad reasons?
One of the most memorable Blackhawks trades has to be acquiring Antoine Vermette in 2015. They already had a good chance Stanley Cup that year, and that move just the icing on the cake. Blackhawks’ fans knew right there and then that the team would win just by adding his depth. It was a huge trade and one of the best trades by Stan Bowman, in my opinion.
Niklas Hjalmarsson. This was by far my most memorable trade (in an extremely negative way) for the Blackhawks. The Swedish defenseman was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in June of 2017. He was a salary-cap casualty after the Blackhawks lost in the first round of the playoffs two years in a row. This was after Stanley Cup wins in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
Hjalmarsson was one of seven players who were members of all three championship teams ( along with Toews, Patrick Kane, Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp). Although Sharp was dealt to the Dallas Stars earlier (in 2015), to me, the Hjalmarsson trade signified the end of the Blackhawks’ dynasty. Head coach Joel Quenneville was livid about losing his go-to, shutdown blueliner, and this was the beginning of the downward slide on the back end.
I understand the trade, and in hindsight, it was a good one. I’m certainly not complaining about the younger Connor Murphy, whom the Blackhawks acquired in return for Hjalmarsson. But at the time, it stung to see the fan-favorite warrior depart Chicago.
In typical fashion, I am going to back a few years. The most memorable trade of my fandom was when the Blackhawks traded Chris Chelios to the Detroit Red Wings in 1999 for Andres Eriksson and two first-round picks (Steve McCarthy and Adam Munro). It wasn’t the fact that Chelios was traded to the hated Wings or that the Blackhawks got very little in return that was the most bothersome of this deal. It was that this was really the end of the team really caring after Jeremy Roenick and Ed Belfour were traded in previous years.
Chelios went on to play another decade in Detroit and won two Stanley Cups. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks spent that same decade falling into irrelevancy to the point they had to pay to have their games broadcasted on local radio. It wasn’t until the 2008-09 season when they finally righted the ship and became a model franchise.
This trade also started a long tradition of players whose jerseys I owned getting shipped out of town. My No. 7 Chelios sweater would soon be joined at the back of my closet by my J.P. Dumont, Kris Versteeg (twice), Nick Leddy, Brandon Saad (twice), Teuvo Teravainen and Artemi Panarin jerseys.
Call it recency bias, especially given that this star has since turned into what we all knew he would, but I liked very little about the trade that saw Artemi Panarin head to Columbus in 2017. A potential silver lining was that we got to see Brandon Saad back in a Blackhawks jersey, which at least brought some sense of comfort from the familiarity and feeling of unfinished business he had left behind in Chicago.
Unfortunately, though, it never felt like we got the type of player back in Saad’s return that one should have anticipated from what we had witnessed of his progress and potential before he was shipped off initially, in 2015. So, not only did we lose out on more Kane and Panarin magic, but it quickly became clear that the exchange in talent didn’t do Chicago any favors.
Be sure to keep an eye out for our new episode of Blackhawks Banter, dropping on Tuesday morning, where we’ll delve further into all the subjects above plus review all the news while looking ahead. In the meantime, don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel and like us on Facebook. And for your viewing pleasure, here is our most recent Blackhawks Banter episode.
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.