5 Takeaways from Blackhawks Final Week

The Chicago Blackhawks went out with a whimper. But considering this dismal season, did you really expect anything else? After a refreshing 4-3 come-back win to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday, things went downhill. The Hawks proceeded to lose 4-1 to the same team two days later, extending the Blues’ playoff hopes a while longer. The final game of the season was a huge disappointment. The Hawks came out flat and stayed that way, falling to the Winnipeg Jets by the same score of 4-1.

Well, it’s finally over. Now we can turn the page and truly concentrate on the future. But before we do that, let’s focus on some parting thoughts from the final week of the 2017-18 season.

Farewell to Sharpy

Patrick Sharp’s decision to retire was no surprise, but the Blackhawks helped him go out in style Friday at the last home game of the season. Sharp sported the “A” on his sweater, thanks to the urging of long-time teammate Patrick Kane. Instead of his usual bottom six assignment, Sharp played most of the game on the first line. In the third period, there was a special video tribute to him. And at the end of the game, his teammates wouldn’t leave the ice until he did a farewell lap in front of the fans.

It’s bittersweet, but it’s the right way for Sharpy to go. I’m sure it was a difficult decision for him to hang up his skates. But he doesn’t fit into the future youth movement of the Hawks, and it’s not worth it for him to uproot his family to play elsewhere.

Sharp was a member of the Hawks from 2005-2015, the majority of his career. He played an integral role in helping the team win three Stanley Cups. After the 2015 Cup run Sharp became part of the ensuing salary cap purge, and was shipped off to Dallas for two seasons. But he signed a one-year contract with the Hawks this past season. It’s fitting he ends his career in Chicago, where he says he’ll continue to live after retirement. In his 11 years with the team, Sharp contributed 249 regular season goals, and 42 playoff tallies.

Related: Blackhawks Embrace Something Old, New, Borrowed, & Blue

Blackhawks Stand Pat on Stan and Q

Team president John McDonough would not make any public statements about the future of the Hawks’ general manager or head coach in the waning days of this tumultuous season. No news caused the hockey world to speculate that neither man was safe in his position.

But McDonough finally addressed the situation this past Thursday, saying Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville will both return for the 2018-19 season. It was obviously a rough year this year, as well as an extremely disappointing playoff run last season when the first-place Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators in the first round. But one must remember the incredible success the Hawks had from 2009-2016. In that time, they made the playoffs eight consecutive years, won three Stanley Cups, and advanced to the Conference Finals two more times. This was all with Stan and Q at the helm. When looking at the big picture, McDonough feels these two are still the ones to get the job done.

Joel Quenneville Blackhawks
Blackhawks’ head coach Joel Quenneville will remain behind the bench for the upcoming 2018-19 season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“You’ve seen a lot of teams that missed the playoffs last year that are now back in the hunt to win the Stanley Cup,” he said. “I want that to be the Chicago Blackhawks going forward. I have confidence in Stan and Joel figuring this out.”

DeBrincat Gets the Glory

Remember when no one was even sure if Alex DeBrincat would make the team out of training camp? Well he did. He stayed up with the big club for the duration of the season, playing in all 82 games. DeBrincat scored his 28th goal this past Wednesday, surpassing Kane for the team lead. The season ended with the rookie winning this scoring title.

Alex DeBrincat Blackhawks
Rookie Alex DeBrincat scored the most goals for the Blackhawks in the 2017-18 season. (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

With 27 goals and 49 assists, Kane still had the most points (76). But DeBrincat’s 24 assists helped earn him a three-way tie with Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews for second place in points. All three players finished the season with 52 points.

DeBrincat tends to score in spurts. He notched three hat tricks this season, making him only the sixth NHL player in the last 30 years to record three hat tricks in their rookie season. And he managed all this while being deployed primarily as bottom-six forward. Coach Q started him there to protect him, and to give him a chance to adjust to the skill and speed of the NHL. But as DeBrincat proved himself, Q kept him there for more a scoring threat and balance across all four lines.

It should also be noted that DeBrincat established himself as a regular contributor on the power play, with six of his season goals coming on the man advantage. It will be interesting to see how DeBrincat fits in and expands his role next season.

Playing Spoiler

Duncan Keith hasn’t had the best year. To sum it up, he’s only scored two goals this entire season. But his second goal might have made up for it. Because it was the game-winning goal that beat the Blues on Wednesday night. The timeliness was perfect; it came in the waning seconds of the third period. This kept the Blues from taking the game to overtime and gaining a valuable point in the standings, or a chance for two points.

Duncan Keith Blackhawks
Duncan Keith scored the game-winning goal to beat the Blues this past week. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Keith’s tally was the nail in the coffin, but other members of the team played a significant role as well. The Blues were originally up 3-1 in the game. But goals by Blake Hillman (his first NHL goal) and DeBrincat tied it up.

It turns out St. Louis did NOT make the playoffs. Now, the Blackhawks can’t take all the credit for that. After all, they lost to the Blues two nights later. But St. Louis couldn’t beat the Colorado Avalanche Saturday night, and it will be the Avs going to the playoffs instead. Either way, it was fun to witness the Blackhawk’s clutch performance against a much-disliked division rival.

Bring on the Defense

One of the biggest things Stan and Q need to figure out is the situation on the blue line. The Hawks defense has been anything but encouraging this past season, and the last three games were no different.

Everyone is to blame. Whether it’s failing to clear the puck, bad positioning, not being physical and aggressive, or giving up way too many odd-man rushes, this team needs tons of work on defense.

Unfortunately, Keith and Brent Seabrook are not the players they used to be. Connor Murphy hasn’t lived up to expectations. Erik Gustafsson, Jan Rutta, Jordan Oesterle, and Gustav Forsling have all dealt with growing pains and mistakes. Blake Hillman and Carl Dahlstrom are both relatively unknown commodities. Can any of these players take the next step in the upcoming season?

Erik Gustafsson Blackhawks
Erik Gustafsson is one of the Blackhawks’ defensemen the team hopes will improve in the upcoming season. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Or will the Hawks pick up a top four defenseman in the offseason? Bowman said this was a possibility in a recent interview. But the question remains if the right person is out there, and at what price?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we made it! The season is over. The Hawks finished with a record of 33-39-10, for 76 points. They were dead last in the Central Division, above only Vancouver and Arizona in the Western Conference, and 25th in the league. It’s been painful to watch, but there’s hope on the horizon. Here’s to a fruitful offseason, and a better 2018-19!