The Chicago Blackhawks have officially embraced the offseason, and we here at The Hockey Writers are forced to do the same. The 2019-20 season was quite the rollercoaster ride. But it culminated in a playoff run, albeit a short one. While the last teams standing fight it out in their respective playoff bubbles, most of the league is looking towards the future. As of now, the current plan is to start the 2020-21 season on Dec. 1, with the 2020 Draft on Oct. 9-10 and the free agency period immediately after. That’s all right around the corner.
Today in our monthly roundtable we reflect on the Blackhawks’ season, as well as tackle some of the biggest offseason questions for the organization. Brooke LoFurno, Greg Boysen, and Gail Kauchak have you covered. And please welcome the newest member to our team, Shaun Filippelli! Let’s get to it.
The Blackhawks’ 2019-20 season wasn’t as successful as we would have liked. But if you take a closer look, the team did make strides in the right direction. They improved on the penalty kill, they developed their youth, they gained valuable experience in the playoffs, to name a few. In your opinion, what do you see as the biggest positive from this past season (and postseason)?
Biggest Positive From Blackhawks’ Season
Greg Boysen – Kirby Dach
I’m going to go with the progression of rookie Kirby Dach. The difference in his game from his NHL debut to what we saw during the Stanley Cup playoffs is impressive. The speed and hands for a kid his size is just incredible.
If he can make these types of strides in the craziness of this past season, then the Blackhawks could have something really special when things get back to “normal”. Now if they can just get him to shoot more…
Brooke LoFurno – Penalty Kill
The biggest positive from the Blackhawks this season has to be the penalty kill. The fact that they went from being one of the worst in the league last season to one of the best this season was a huge turnaround. This will definitely be something to build off of.
Shaun Filippelli – Combo of Vets & Youth
Its been encouraging to witness how much battle the proven veterans still have left, especially beyond the heights they’ve already reached in their careers. Players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith continue to pour it all out there for this franchise. As a fan, that’s all we can ask for. Unfortunately, team results haven’t necessarily aligned with some of their personal achievements in recent years.
The past few seasons have seen some up-and-coming stars begin to take their share of the spotlight. What a welcomed sight to see Alex DeBrincat net 41 goals in his sophomore season. Through 2019-20, there seemed to be a shift towards youthful energy throughout the lineup. Additions like Dach and Dominik Kubalik encouraged a necessary spark in production, while illustrating that the organization is in good hands for years to come.
Gail Kauchak – The Playoffs
This team had so many ups and down during the regular season; it was frustrating to see. Every time they gained some momentum, it was negated with struggles and inconsistencies. But then they got a golden ticket to the playoffs, and they took full advantage.
The Blackhawks essentially took all the positives from the regular season while leaving the negatives behind. The core played their part and led by example. The youth answered the call with much improved play, all while gaining valuable playoff experience. Injured players returned to the fold to balance out the lineup. And even a weak defense was revamped with at least a decent showing against two very good team in the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights.
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The Blackhawks learned, and showed the rest of the world, that they can compete. And they have a lot of talent and potential. I believe this is a huge steppingstone they will use to provide momentum headed into the 2020-21 season.
Due to salary cap constraints, the Blackhawks will be forced to say goodbye to a few players this coming season. As former Blackhawks’ head coach Joel Quenneville used to say, there are hockey decisions and there are business decisions. And in many cases a decision involves a little bit of both. With that said, which current player do you feel it makes the most sense to let go?
Blackhawk Player to Let Go
Greg – Seabrook! Ok, Maatta
This is the part where I would usually preach about trading Brent Seabrook, but we all know that’s a pipedream. However, getting rid of at least one of your veteran defensemen is the best plan of attack. The Blackhawks have some young defensemen in Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, and now Ian Mitchell that will all need playing time.
Since Seabrook’s contract isn’t going anywhere, the next best option is Olli Maatta. He is owed just over $4 million for each of the next two seasons. He performed well in the postseason, but he might be hard to move. If Stan Bowman is serious about clearing cap space and opening up playing time for his defensive prospects, then he might be forced into trading Connor Murphy or Calvin de Haan. That would not be ideal.
Brooke – Saad
In my opinion, the player that makes sense to let go is Brandon Saad. The team must free up some money due to the flat salary cap. Saad could be a good option to get a possible good return.
Shaun – Saad
I was far from thrilled when Saad was traded away in the 2015 offseason. It felt like he was finally finding a nice fit with the Blackhawks, as he started to become more impactful throughout Chicago’s lineup. I was enjoying his progression with the franchise. Getting the chance to re-sign him in the summer of 2017 felt like it would align with a successful reunion. That was the hope, anyway.
Artemi Panarin had just come off an impressive rookie season, which earned him the Calder Memorial Trophy. He helped create such an obvious and electric synergy playing alongside Kane. When Panarin was traded and Saad came back, it was a transaction that hinged on how effectively Saad would then fill that insurmountable void. Unfortunately, Saad hasn’t done enough this time around to justify his $6 million cap hit. It’s time for the Blackhawks to realize that.
Gail – Maatta
He impressed offensively in the playoffs, but that was nine short games. For the most part, Maatta underwhelmed when you look at the bigger picture of the entire season. Plus, there’s a very crowded blue line right now with all the prospects in the system.
Maatta gives you the most bang for your buck financially as well. If the Blackhawks bought out his contract, that’s $3.4 million they could recoup each season for the next two seasons (from, ‘Blackhawks offseason preview: NHL Draft, Corey Crawford contract top Hawks’ to-do list’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 8/22/20).
They could also look into trading him. After all, his postseason performance upped his trade value.
Moving on to who stays. Most of us would agree getting the goaltender situation squared away is top priority. Based on recent conversations with Corey Crawford, it appears he’s willing to work with the Blackhawks regarding his salary. This is definitely good news. After that, re-signing restricted free agent Kubalik would be the next order of business.
But what about beyond that? Who do you feel is the next most important free agent to secure for next season? As a refresher, your choices are: Drake Caggiula, Dylan Strome, Slater Koekkoek, and Malcolm Subban.
Most Important Free Agent After Crawford and Kubalik
Greg – Caggiula
“Most important” is kind of a vague term here because all four of these players could be replaced rather easily. Strome is probably the popular choice because he is the most talented of the bunch. However with having to pay Kubalik , and the emergence of Dach at the center position, Strome shouldn’t be signed if he’s asking for a big dollar amount. He was brought in to be the second-line center of the future, but that role now belongs to Dach.
I mentioned the need to create roster room in order for the young blueliners to play, so Koekkoek could be an odd man out. But he will be cheap, which may keep him in town. We still have zero idea what kind of player Subban is, and the Blackhawks are likely to give the backup job to of the goaltenders already in the system. That is, assuming, Crawford is back. That leaves Caggiula.
Caggiula is far from the flashiest or most dynamic on the roster, but he does fill an important role. He can play up and down the lineup, and kill penalties while providing some physicality. His concussion history is a bit of a concern, especially with his style of play. If I had to choose one of these four players to bring back, Caggiula would be the guy.
Brooke – Caggiula
I feel the free agent that is most important to get re-signed besides Crow and Kubalik is Caggiula. Being able to contribute on any line is an aspect that is so important for this team moving forward. The Blackhawks need his versatility and the edge he brings to the lineup every game.
Shaun – Strome
Finding a way to re-sign Dylan Strome seems like a no-brainer to me. The instant chemistry between he and DeBrincat, both on and off the ice, has been as though they picked up right where they left off as teammates on the Erie Otters. They achieved great things in Erie, too.
This dynamic duo is necessary to victory for the Blackhawks. Chicago needs to continue riding that wave to see how much further the two can develop alongside one another to progress in this organization.
As an honorable mention, I think it’s important to recognize the positive influence Caggiula has had on the roster. He’s not flashy, nor will he be expected to always be on the scoresheet. But he fills a necessary role in bringing passion and a team-first attitude for the Blackhawks. His physicality helps the stars around him do what they do best, making him an important piece of the puzzle.
Gail – Strome
This is a really tough question. To a certain extent, they all bring value.
The Golden Knights didn’t need Subban anymore when they acquired Robin Lehner at the trade deadline. So a goalie for goalie swap made sense. But the Blackhawks already have two goaltenders they are developing in their system in Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen. I don’t think they’ll keep Subban.
While Koekkoek is a very serviceable defenseman and probably cheap to re-sign, the Blackhawks have numerous prospects in the pipeline that are ready to make that step up to the NHL level. And if Andrew Shaw really does return as he plans, he and Caggiula play a very similar game. Koekkoek and Caggiula are both expendable.
Many feel Strome is also replaceable based on the impressive emergence of Dach. It is true Dach usurped Strome’s second line center role at the end of the season and in the playoffs. But one can never have too much depth at center. And Strome still has that natural chemistry with buddy DeBrincat, who isn’t going anywhere. To me, this makes Strome the next in line to be re-signed beyond Crawford and Kubalik.
While the Blackhawks are obviously out of the picture, as hockey writers and fans I’m sure we’re all taking in some playoff hockey. After three exciting Game 7 matchups in the second round, we’re finally down to the final four teams left standing. The Dallas Stars and the Vegas Golden Knights will duke it out in the West, while the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the New York Islanders in the East. So, who are you rooting for to win the Stanley Cup this year?
Team To Win the Cup
Greg – Lightning
In years past when the Blackhawks were not in the playoffs, my favorite teams would be whoever was facing the St. Louis Blues or the Detroit Red Wings. Since that’s not an issue right now, I don’t really have a horse in this race. I just want to see as many Game 7’s as possible and a ton of overtime!
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If I did have to choose a team, I’d go with the Lightning. They have a roster full of likeable players, and everyone enjoys a redemption story. Having them win the Cup after the embarrassing way their 2018-19 season ended would be cool to see.
Brooke – Islanders
The team I’m rooting for to win the Stanley Cup is the New York Islanders. You gotta love teams that don’t exactly have a lot of star power, but perform so well together.
Plus, former Blackhawk Nick Leddy is an Islander. It’s nice to have some connections to root for from Chicago.
Shaun – Lightning
As a hockey fan first and foremost, of course I’m still interested in how it will all play out and who will win the ultimate prize of hoisting the Stanley Cup. My two teams, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Blackhawks, are both now viewing from the sidelines. It forces a little more objectivity within my assessment.
Being from the Toronto area, it might surprise most that I’m not of the camp that proclaims Canadians are obligated to cheer for the Vancouver Canucks (who just got eliminated by the way).
The Lightning are a team that has worked hard for years to fine-tune what they’ve become, as opposed to simply being a mishmash of trade deadline acquisitions to push them over the top. Even without Steven Stamkos there to impact every important play, this lineup continues to prove they have what it takes. I’m all for the Lightning winning their second Cup in franchise history.
Gail – Golden Knights
Let’s hear it for the Golden Knights! I was rooting for them back in the 2018 playoffs when they made it to the Cup Final as the Cinderella team in their first season in the league.
It’s hard not to afford them a little bit of that underdog mentality again, seeing as they’re still only three years old. And there’s a part of me that would like to see Lehner raise the Cup. He stole most everyone’s heart when he was a Blackhawk with his large personality and refreshing honesty.
Besides, wouldn’t it provide some solace to know the Blackhawks were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions?
There are numerous things to address during the offseason regarding the state of the Blackhawks. Our forum of four has spoken on a few of these items above. What do you think was the biggest positive from the Blackhawks 2019-20 season? Do you agree with who should stay and who should go? One thing is for certain; the Blackhawks have a lot of tough decisions ahead of them.
As always, thank you for reading! Keep it here at The Hockey Writers for all your latest updates and analysis.