We’re just a few short months away from the 2019-20 season for the Chicago Blackhawks. General manager Stan Bowman has done his best to make the team better this summer. Jeremy Colliton is primed for his first full season as head coach. Now it’s simply a matter of whether the players can pull it all together on the ice.
In this month’s roundtable, the usual suspects of Meghan Dillon, Greg Boysen, and Gail Kauchak are at your service! We dive into some questions most Hawks’ fans are contemplating as we wait for puck drop on Oct. 4. Let’s get started.
Kirby Dach: To Play or Not to Play?
The Blackhawks selected 18-year-old Kirby Dach third overall in this year’s NHL Draft. While many questioned this pick, Dach has since impressed at Blackhawks’ development camp and for Team Canada at the recent World Junior Summer Showcase. It’s not at all uncommon for high draft picks to jump straight to the NHL. So should Dach play full-time with the Blackhawks next season?
This all depends on how Dach performs during training camp. He did very well at prospect camp. If he continues to grow, I won’t be surprised if he makes the team. However, I think it’s important to read up on the pros and cons of Dach.
The most important aspect of training camp is to see how well Dach gels with the veterans. His numbers mean nothing if he doesn’t work well with some of the top players on the team. He has a lot to prove, but I’m sure Dach will have no problem fitting in with the rest of the Blackhawks.
Dach looked good at the Blackhawks’ development camp last month. However, a player drafted third overall should stand out when playing against a group of fellow teenagers. Excelling against other prospects in drills is one thing; holding your own against grown men and NHL veterans is a completely different animal.
If the 18-year-old proves during the preseason he can succeed at the NHL level, he should absolutely start the season in Chicago. The Blackhawks can play Dach in nine games before deciding if they should send him back to juniors or keep him in the NHL for the whole season.
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I would guess he would get at least a couple games to see what he can do. There’s no harm playing the youngster in a handful of contests in October before making the decision.
The Blackhawks have made it very clear their goal is to make the playoffs this season. So Dach will only play if they feel he can immediately benefit the team. While it’s evident he’s very talented, can an 18-year-old fill a role on a much-improved squad?
Probably not. Dach would have to really wow the coaching staff at training camp to earn a spot. Otherwise, it’s back to the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL for another season (he isn’t eligible for the AHL). Which could prove to be the best for his further development.
Although the Blackhawks do have some options. Dach can play in as many as nine NHL games without it counting as the first year of his three-year, entry-level contract. If they feel he’s an option, the Hawks could utilize Dach on a trial basis at the beginning of the season. Or they could bring him in at the end of the season after more development time in the WHL.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dach make his NHL debut with the Blackawks this season. But I also don’t think it will be long-term.
Seabrook’s Role This Season
We all know veteran defenseman Brent Seabrook was an integral part of winning three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks. He brings experience and leadership to the table. But he also has a cumbersome contract with a $6.875 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season. And his play isn’t exactly what it used to be; not to mention where it will be through the next five years.
But it doesn’t appear Seabs is going anywhere. He loves Chicago, and presumably wants to retire a Blackhawk. So the coaching staff must make the most of what Seabrook still has left in the tank. Which brings us to our next question. What will be Seabrook’s role this upcoming season?
It’s no secret Seabrook is getting older and his game has dwindled in the past few seasons. If he didn’t have such a complicated and expensive contract, he probably would have been traded last season or the season before.
I think it’s important to see if he finds a good pairing with some of the newer defensemen. But he should also take on more of a leadership role. He has an “A” on his sweater for a reason, and he needs to embrace it further. Seabrook can make a strong impact with other players off the ice with his leadership.
In a perfect world, Seabrook wouldn’t have ANY role on the 2019-20 Blackhawks, but nobody wants to take on his contract. This is right about the time of year the local media gets their “Seabrook is in the best shape of his career” articles ready for publishing. But we have to face the facts. Seabrook is old, slow, and bad at hockey.
That doesn’t take away from what he’s accomplished in his career. But this version of Seabrook is hard to watch and just makes me angry.
The Blackhawks have a ton of younger defensemen who should be getting playing time but won’t because the team has to dress Seabrook every night. The addition of Calvin de Haan means coach Colliton can slot Seabrook further down the lineup. He should play on the third pairing and see a major decrease in his minutes. Both de Haan and Olli Maatta are good penalty killers, so his role while the team is shorthanded should be minimal.
You shouldn’t have to shield a defenseman making what Seabrook does from tough matchups, but this is where we are. Hopefully he can succeed in a more limited role on the bottom pairing while providing that leadership the Blackhawks love to tell you about.
I’d like to see Seabrook in a much more limited role this season. Of Blackhawks’ defensemen, he logged the third-highest overall time on the ice, and the second-highest time on both the power play and the penalty kill in the 2018-19 season.
In other words, he still played the role of a top defenseman for the team. Hopefully, the additions of Maatta and de Haan can take the pressure off Seabrook moving forward. With limited or no time on special teams, Seabrook can concentrate on being the best he can be during 5-on-5 play. It remains to be seen where he will fit into the pairings (second or third pairing, for sure!), but hopefully, Colliton can find the right balance to make this a win/win situation for both sides.
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Blackhawks’ Goaltending Tandem Predictions
The Blackhawks gave themselves an insurance policy in net when they signed netminder Robin Lehner to a one-year contract this past July. Presumably, Lehner will share goaltending duties with two-time Cup winner Corey Crawford. While the latter still brings an awful lot to the table, his durability has been questioned the past few seasons due to concussion issues. With essentially two No. 1 netminders available, how do you foresee this goalie tandem playing out?
Crawford will likely be a wildcard for the Blackhawks. He plays well when healthy, but the question remains if he can stay healthy for an entire season. However, Lehner remains a big question mark as well. He had strong numbers with the New York Islanders last season. This appears very promising on the surface, but we have no idea how that will translate to the Blackhawks.
Lehner has the potential to make a positive impact and is a good choice as a backup if Crawford gets hurt again. But nobody will know for sure until October and beyond.
Finally, it’s smart to keep Collin Delia in Rockford to help his development, but he shouldn’t be put on the backburner completely. He could be very helpful if either Crawford or Lehner gets hurt.
The addition of Lehner was a surprise, but very welcome addition. The Blackhawks were six points shy of a playoff berth last season. Had they signed Lehner last summer instead of Cam Ward, they likely would have made it to the postseason.
It’s become quite clear the day of penciling in Crawford for at least 55 starts are long gone. If the Blackhawks had any faith in his health, Lehner never would have been brought in. Ultimately, Crawford’s health will decide how Colliton uses his new goaltending tandem.
If Crawford can stay in uniform, he should start the season with a set rotation splitting games between the two. When one of the goalies gets hot, ride him until he comes up short. Having two goaltenders playing well on the roster is never a bad thing.
If Crawford is bitten by the injury bug again then this is Lehner’s team, and the Blackhawks’ fate is in his hands.
If healthy, the reigning Blackhawk Crawford will begin the season as the starting goaltender. But there are more back-to-back games in the schedule as the season progresses. Lehner will have opportunities to fill in. I think Colliton will end up rotating each goaltender in streaks until one starts to slump.
Then the fresh goalie can come in and excel. Once it’s all said and done, expect a 50-50 split of Crawford and Lehner. Come playoff time, neither netminder will be fatigued from being the workhorse all season long.
Now Crawford certainly has the advantage in playoff starts (87 to Lehner’s 10). But you never know who will be at the top of their game come April. It’s a win/win for the Blackhawks.
There are certainly numerous questions to ponder as we get closer and closer to the start of the season for the Blackhawks. Hopefully, this roundtable discussion has given you some insight heading into training camp and preseason. Soon enough we will have more definitive answers.
Is it October yet?!