The Blackhawks That Got Away: Looking Back

The Chicago Blackhawks are seeing their fair share of transition in this 2019 offseason. But it’s really no different for every team in the league. Most squads see changes from season to season. It’s the nature of the beast as salary cap constraints must be met, or general managers and coaches attempt to make their teams better. Some players may retire or get injured. Younger prospects become ready to take that next step into the NHL.

But for everyone involved this change is a difficult process. Teams form a cohesive unit throughout a grinding 82-game regular season, not to mention a playoff run. Players find bonds and chemistry with each other; coaches learn and fine-tune their pupils’ tendencies. Fans fall in love with the fierce competitors they watch night in and night out.

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So losing team members is never really all that fun, even if you feel it’s for the best. And gosh, when you think it’s hurting the club, well that’s a completely different ballgame. In this spirit, let’s take a few minutes to bid farewell to our departed Blackhawks.

Darling Dominik

Dominik Kahun was the first to go, and in my humble opinion, he will be the second-most missed of all the offseason subtractions (any guesses on the first; don’t look ahead?!) As the Blackhawks were looking to upgrade their blue line, on June 15 they acquired Olli Maatta of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately, this was at the expense of Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round draft pick.

The Czech-born 23-year-old made the jump from the lower-echelon German Ice Hockey League (DEL) to the NHL this past season. He had an impressive rookie campaign, tallying 13 goals and 24 assists. He achieved this while contributing throughout the Blackhawks’ lineup, including playing on the first line with Jonathan Toews. And he certainly didn’t hurt his team by only attaining six penalty minutes while playing in all 82 regular-season games. But seriously folks, it’s a given that we all fell in love with Kahun for this heart-warming celebration early in the season.

Kahun’s contributions were positive, including the fact he was always defensively responsible on any line in which he played. But the Blackhawks have a plethora of complementary forwards, including newly acquired Dominik Kubalik and Anton Wedin that will hopefully be able to fill his spot.

Hoorah for Hayden

When John Hayden first joined the Blackhawks at the end of the 2016-17 season, he was placed on the top line with Toews and Richard Panik. It paid off almost immediately, as Hayden scored his first NHL goal in just his second game.

After playing 12 games with the Blackhawks and graduating from Yale University to boot, Hayden didn’t fare so well in his next two NHL seasons. In 2017-18, he appeared in 47 games and scored four goals and nine assists. In the 2018-19 season, he managed only three goals and two assists in 54 games. He wasn’t favored by new head coach Jeremy Colliton, and it was time to move on.

Hayden joined the New Jersey Devils on June 22 in exchange for forward John Quenneville. We shall see how this trade works out in the long run. But best of luck to Hayden in his new adventures.

Goodbye Gustav

Defenseman Gustav Forsling and goaltender Anton Forsberg were the next Blackhawks to go. On June 24, these two restricted free agents were dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward Aleksi Saarela.

Blackhawks fans probably won’t have a hard time saying goodbye to Gustav. He split his first two professional seasons between the big club and their AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs. In the 2017-18 season, he scored three goals and 10 assists in 41 games with the Hawks. Last season, the organization and Forsling alike were hopeful he would earn a regular spot on the Blackhawks’ roster.

Gustav Forsling Blackhawks
Former Blackhawks defenseman Gustav Forsling (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It didn’t exactly work out that way. A wrist injury at the beginning of the season and an upper torso injury for an extended time in January hindered the 23-year-old defenseman. But even when he was on the ice, Forsling couldn’t seem to prove his worth. He finished the 2018-19 season with only three goals and six assists in 43 games. He had a minus-nine plus/minus rating, and only a 48.3 Corsi-For Percentage (CF%).

Obviously, the Blackhawks are betting on de Haan being an upgrade.

Forsberg the Odd Man Out

Forsberg’s contract with the Blackhawks was up, and he became expendable. Collin Delia surpassed Forsberg on the depth chart last season, and Kevin Lankinen made an impressive showing in net for Finland at the recent IIHF World Championships. The Blackhawks have other goalie prospects they feel are progressing, and they felt comfortable making Forsberg a part of the deal to obtain de Haan.

Anton Forsberg Blackhawks
Anton Forsberg was never able to fully establish himself with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Add the Robin Lehner acquisition to the table, and now this deal looks like it was all part of the master plan! Last season Forsberg posted a respectable .919 save percentage and a 2.64 goals-against average in 32 games with the IceHogs. I’m sure the Hurricanes will look to further tap into his potential.

Fear the Krugs!

Remember when Marcus Kruger and Michael Frolik were a formidable shutdown pair and spectacular penalty killers for the Blackhawks back in 2013? Those were the days! Frolik was traded but Kruger did his part for a few years past that, solidifying the fourth-line center role for the team. But he was never the same following wrist surgery in Dec. 2015.

After a stint with the Carolina Hurricanes and their affiliate, the Charlotte Checkers, the Blackhawks took another chance on Kruger and brought him back for the 2018-19 season. Unfortunately, that didn’t go as planned. Kruger posted only four goals and eight assists in 74 games. His 48.1 faceoff percentage was down from previous years, and he was often replaced at the center position by newcomer David Kampf.

Center Marcus Kruger failed to recapture his past success in his second stint with the Chicago Blackhawks. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The writing was on the wall, and Kruger recently signed with the ZSC Lions in Switzerland after going unsigned by the Blackhawks. Kruger was one of those unsung heroes that always did the dirty work for the team. His time in the NHL should be celebrated and appreciated. Unfortunately, that time is now over.

Free Jokiharju

Well, they set him free, all right. As in traded him to the Buffalo Sabres. Nobody was expecting that. Many were instead calling for Henri Jokiharju to be on the Blackhawks’ opening night roster as a top-four defenseman. He was seen by most as one of the team’s biggest future assets on the blue line. Well, apparently not to general manager Stan Bowman and head coach Jeremy Colliton.

Jokiharju suited up for 38 NHL games with the Blackhawks at the beginning of the 2018-19 season. He didn’t score any goals but posted 12 assists, mostly playing on the top defensive pairing alongside Duncan Keith. More importantly, he had a 54.3 CF%. This means when Jokiharju was on the ice, the Hawks possessed the puck. For a team that’s had trouble with their possession metrics in recent years, Jokiharju looked to be a key part of solving that issue.

Chicago Blackhawks, Henri Jokiharju
Former Chicago Blackhawk Henri Jokiharju (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski, File)

Although, when Colliton took over, he didn’t favor Jokiharju. He received less and less playing time, until he was finally sent down to the Rockford IceHogs in late January. Bowman points to other defensive prospects (mainly Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell) as being good reasons for making this trade.

But Jokiharju was a proven commodity before he was buried in the AHL! And it’s not like he was a salary dump; he’s still under his entry-level contract. Heck, the Blackhawks could have easily kept him in the minors and saved him for later like we all thought they were going to do. Ah well, only time will tell.

But if you ask me, Jokiharju will be the most-missed Blackhawk!

Ward Won’t Be Back

The signing of Lehner guarantees goaltender Cam Ward will not be re-signed with the Blackhawks. As a matter of fact, it could likely lead to his retirement. After all, the 27-year-old Lehner with a .930 SV% and 2.13 GAA is a definite upgrade from the 35-year-old Ward with a .897 SV% and 3.67 GAA. And although Lehner cost $2 million more than Ward ($5 million altogether), he also agreed to just a short-term one-year deal.

Cam Ward
Cam Ward’s days in the NHL are likely over. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Ugh, those numbers certainly don’t make Ward look good, do they? Yet he should be credited with never giving up, even when the defense in front of him was abominable. Ward was also a motivational speaker in the locker room, providing leadership when the team was down and out.

It’s sad that Ward was simply a stopgap for the Hawks in what will likely be the end of his illustrious career. Let’s take a moment to raise our glasses to him. He did everything he was signed on to do, and then some.

Credit to Kunitz

Chris Kunitz was another Blackhawk that could be looking at the end of his career. I know, I know. Kunitz didn’t do anything for the Hawks. In his one-year stint, the 39-year-old posted a measly five goals and five assists in 56 games. He was mostly on the fourth line, and often a healthy scratch. Many argued the veteran took a spot away from giving a younger forward more time and experience.

But Kunitz is a 15-year veteran with FOUR Stanley Cup championship wins. That’s right people, more than Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook. Even Hossa. The Blackhawks’ organization did the right thing when they honored him for his 1,000th game. Call me sentimental.

Anisimov Is Out

Artem Anisimov has been the subject of trade rumors for two summers now, and it finally came to fruition. On Tuesday, July 16, the Russian center was dealt to the Ottawa Senators for Zach Smith.

Artem Anisimov, Brendan Guhle
Chicago Blackhawks Artem Anisimov and Anaheim Ducks Brendan Guhle (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The problem with Arty is he never really found his fit with the team after the loss of Artemi Panarin. While the Panarin-Anisimov- Patrick Kane line was lethal is the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons, Anisimov was never quite as effective with any other linemates.

The 31-year-old found himself as a third and fourth line center, and was even put on the wing over the last few seasons. Sometimes he was effective, other times he wasn’t. This isn’t exactly ideal when a player has a cap hit of $4.5 million.

The addition of Dylan Strome in Nov. 2018 probably sealed Anisimov’s fate. Strome has since established himself as the second line center of the future behind Toews, leaving Anisimov as even less of a fit than before.

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Well, that’s all I have for now. It’s never fun to watch players you’ve invested your time and energy into going elsewhere. But it’s the name of the game. And for every goodbye, we say hello to someone who potentially adds to the team.