Welcome to the first summer installment of the Chicago Blackhawks’ roundtable! We here at The Hockey Writers are just as sad as you that the Blackhawks are once again in the midst of a long summer. And to top it all off, we now must choose who to root for between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues for the winner of the Stanley Cup. Oh boy! I think I speak for all of us by saying the division rival Blues and the pesky Bruins are no favorites here in Chicago.
Hopefully things won’t be so dire next season.
We all know by now the Blackhawks have been blessed with the third-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. While the general consensus is they will probably take a top forward with this pick, it’s been discussed the Hawks could possibly choose a defenseman instead. 17-year-old Bowen Byram looks to become a true top defenseman in the NHL for years to come. If the Hawks went with the best available overall and long-term player, it could easily be Byram.
Yet the organization already has a plethora of defensemen in their system. A forward, especially a center, could be the better fit for their current roster. It’s a good problem to have, but a dilemma all the same. In your opinion, should the Blackhawks choose a forward or defenseman with their first draft pick?
1. Forward or Defenseman for Blackhawks’ Third Overall Pick?
Meghan Dillon – Forward
I’m a firm believer that the draft shouldn’t be about picking the best overall player, but the best for the team. The Blackhawks have had some strong defensive picks the past few drafts, so the future is looking bright in that regard. However, it’s almost a guarantee the offensive future will be strong thanks to young players like Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome.
I would have to go with a forward because of the recent defensive picks. But I think the organization needs to focus on someone who will fit in well. The last third-overall pick for the Blackhawks was Jonathan Toews, so whoever they pick has a lot to live up to!
Greg Boysen – Defense
The Blackhawks will be a position to change the course of the first round of the draft and possibly the future of numerous franchises with who they ultimately pick at three. We all know Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko will be division rivals with the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers for years to come, but it gets a little hazy after that.
Byram appears to be as close to a “sure thing” as we have seen on the back end in quite some time. The Blackhawks’ top four prospects in the system right now are defensemen, so that may lead them to draft a forward. If general manager Stan Bowman and his staff take the best player on the board at three, regardless of need or position, then Byram will be a Blackhawk.
Even though the offense was never much of a problem last season, the cupboard is rather bare when it comes to true NHL prospects up front in the Blackhawks’ system. If the front office wants to get an impact forward, especially at center, they will have plenty to choose from.
The defense is an immediate need while the offense is a long-term one. Who Bowman picks will depend on which one of those needs is more important in his mind.
Gail Kauchak – Forward
I’ve gone back and forth with this dilemma, and the more research I do the more I change my mind. Yes, Byram could potentially become the next Duncan Keith. But someone like Alex Turcotte or Dylan Cozens could easily become the next Toews. Let’s face it; the Blackhawks really need to eventually backfill both positions. So when push comes to shove, I say pick the best available center.
As The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus referenced in his recent article, statistics show forwards tend to make the jump to the NHL much faster than defensemen. There also tends to be less risk involved that forwards will be successful (from ‘Why the Blackhawks might draft yet another first-round defenseman – and why that’s risky’, The AthleticChi – 5/18/19).
Blackhawks’ core players Toews and Patrick Kane both had record campaigns this season. But they’re not getting any younger. Give them some center depth now while their window is still open to compete for another Cup.
And there’s hope on defense with Henri Jokiharju, Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, and Ian Mitchell. All these blueliners have been drafted in the past few years, and are already developing in the system for the Blackhawks. Considering Byram is only 17 years old, the above players will likely be available before he’s ready to make the step to the NHL. A center is the safer bet.
The good news is the Blackhawks are going to get a game-changer with this third-overall pick. Whatever they decide, they really can’t go wrong.
No NHL hockey team is ever the same from season to season. Tweaks and changes are made in the name of hockey moves as well as business moves. It’s a given the Blackhawks will make some adjustments to their roster during the offseason in an attempt to improve their team. With that in mind, which current Blackhawk do you foresee NOT being a member of the team next season, and why?
2. Which Blackhawk Will Go?
Meghan Dillon – Keith or Seabrook
This is a tough one. I’ve been saying for a while that Keith and Brent Seabrook’s days are numbered. But they always seem to improve right after I make that statement. My gut instinct is to stick to saying Keith or Seabrook should go. Bowman has a way of stunning everyone with his offseason moves. You can never really say anyone is safe, except for maybe Toews and Kane.
Will Bowman surprise us all and find a taker for either Keith or Seabrook?
Greg Boysen – Hayden
Big changes to the roster are nothing new for the Blackhawks. Over the past decade, Bowman has made a lot of unpopular moves in order to stay below the league’s hard salary cap. However, this summer he won’t be forced into doing anything drastic.
The Blackhawks will have over $20 million in cap space heading into the summer so there will be no immediate need to dump salary. They can still be very active in free agency while pocketing some money for the eventual extensions for DeBrincat and Strome.
In a perfect world, Bowman would find a taker for Artem Anisimov and/or Seabrook and have the cash to make multiple big splashes this summer. But that’s unlikely to happen.
If anyone will be moved, likely at the draft, I could see a guy like John Hayden getting traded for a late-round pick. A change of scenery could do him good.
Gail Kauchak – Hayden
I think it’s time for the Blackhawks and Hayden to part ways. Hayden made the team out of training camp last season, but things pretty much went downhill from there. He only suited up for 54 games, contributing just three goals and two assists. When he wasn’t a healthy scratch, he lined up mostly on the fourth line.
The idea with the fourth line isn’t really to score goals, but to keep the opponent from scoring goals. Yet Hayden finished the season with a minus-12 plus/minus rating, which means he was on the ice for a lot of goals against and not that many goals for.
In Hayden’s defense, he wasn’t exactly put in a position to succeed. Head coach Jeremy Colliton obviously didn’t favor Hayden. The 24-year-old forward is signed for one more year at a very friendly $750,000. It’s really no risk for the Blackhawks to keep him on, but I would assume Hayden and his agent will be looking for a better offer. Perhaps he could find more success under different circumstances.
This last question is purely for fun. Because no one has any idea what next season holds. Heck, as discussed above, we don’t even know the full roster yet. But we all have some thoughts, and hopes, about how things might play out. What wild and crazy predictions do you have for the upcoming season?
3. Predictions for Next Season
Meghan Dillon – Possibly Playoffs
Anyone who has read my articles and/or tweets knows I’m hopelessly optimistic. I do believe the Blackhawks are on the right track to do well next season. They were able to improve this past season, and I think it’s only a matter of time before they make the playoffs again. With Toews and Kane having such remarkable seasons at 30 years of age, the future is very bright.
Greg Boysen – Wild Card Berth
The Blackhawks are one or two savvy moves away in free agency to get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs next spring. With an improved defense ahead of both Corey Crawford and Collin Delia, there is no reason they cannot be back in the postseason. As we’ve seen from the crazy postseason this spring, once you make the field of 16 anything can happen!
I predict the Blackhawks will be good enough to earn one of the Western Conference wild card spots next season.
Gail Kauchak – Early Playoff Exit
I believe DeBrincat’s third year as a Blackhawk will be even more promising than his first two breakout seasons. Between his chemistry with Kane and Strome, good things will happen.
Kane will again have a positive season, probably more with feeding his teammates than actually scoring himself. Toews will continue to be an excellent two-way player even if it doesn’t show up on the scoresheet.
Jokiharju will be the bomb next season; I can’t wait for him to excel after all the back-and-forth he got last season. By the way, the defense will be better in 2019-20. But will it be enough?
Drake Caggiula’s gonna kick some butt in his first full season with the Blackhawks. Look for him to be that grit guy the Hawks have been missing since Andrew Shaw left.
On a more negative note, I don’t foresee Crawford being healthy through the entire season. I hope Delia is ready.
The Blackhawks will certainly make the playoffs, but a first or second-round exit is highly possible. Putting it all together isn’t easy, and it might take a year or two more for that.
Thank you for reading our latest roundtable edition at The Hockey Writers. Stay tuned, as this summer looks to be an exciting time of transition and change for the Blackhawks. We’ll do our best to keep you updated with the latest news, analysis, and opinions.
Before you know it, the Blackhawks will be back in action, along with some brand new faces. The old and the new will be hungry to prove themselves. Is it October yet?!