Friday, April 12, 2019

Pool Outlook for Chicago

The top-heavy Chicago Blackhawks were not short on offense in the 2019 season, they were still a hockey pool favourite, when it came to collecting points and helping to win money.  I mean, that's what we're here for, so the Blackhawks were good, right?  Overall, not really.

No, the Blackhawks had a hard time keeping the puck out of their own net, a really hard time, in fact.  Sure, the Blackhawks ranked 8th in the league in goals for with 270 goals scored, but at the same time, they allowed 292 goals for a negative goal differential and that ultimately cost them any chance at a playoff spot this season.

The rest of the teams in the Central Division have really tightened up their defense, especially those teams that had qualified for the playoffs, so we know where the Blackhawks are deficient, but we also know that this team is so incredibly cap-burdened, that changing the course of this team will take a lot of strength and willpower in the off-season... or some trading partners that are willing to take on some of the burden.

How many teams in the NHL feel sorry for the Blackhawks right now?  Probably about the same amount of teams that want to help them with their burden.

It was a return to form for Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane in the 2019 season, as he bounced back from a 76-point campaign the year before to post 44 goals and 110 points in 81 games this season, which was good enough for 3rd overall in hockey pool scoring, but it was far from enough to carry his team into a playoff position.  Still though, for us hockey pool enthusiasts, he's going to be a popular player once again, but what kind of Kane are we going to see next season?

In total, there were 12 players, including Kane, worthy of a hockey pool selection in this past season, seven forwards, three defensemen and a pair of goalies.  Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Brandon Saad, Artem Anisimov and Dominik Kahun rounded out all the forwards, DeBrincat, Strome and Kahun leading the new youthful charge.  On defense, Erik Gustafsson blew the ink off the score sheets this season, leading the blueliners from the Blackhawks, followed by some old favourites in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.  In net, injuries limited Corey Crawford and gave Cam Ward some extended time in net, so they both were deemed worthy, but neither were in the top 31 goalies, rounding out some late action for the goalie rankings.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The Blackhawks, this early in the off-season, are a bit of a wild card for next year. They certainly have the core group of players in place for the 2019 season, but when the cap ceiling finally moves, all bets are off, as to who stays, who goes and how they could possibly improve their depth. If Corey Crawford can't come back, how will the Blackhawks fill that void? Is Marian Hossa going to be able to play again? These are questions that we can't answer just yet, but looking at the team that they have in place, there's certainly a chance that Chicago could return to the playoffs, all things being equal. I am extremely curious to see what they do in this off-season, as those corresponding moves might give us a clearer picture about how they're moving forward with their key injured players.

Crawford was able to play again, but did have more concussion problems, while Hossa did have to call it quits for the 2019 season and the core group of players did stick around, adding some youth to the mix, which certainly helped their cap situation out.  Unfortunately, none of the corresponding moves in the summer were able to keep pucks out of their own net in the season and hence, their early outlook post this spring.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Corey Crawford was definitely an intriguing character for the Blackhawks, missing the first five games with a concussion and then he missed another 28 games to another concussion in the middle of the season.  In total, he appeared in 39 games in the season and posted 36 points, which wasn't amazing by any stretch, but not all of his fault either.  He did finish the season on a healthy note, which has to be a positive for next season, since he's still has one more year on his deal at $6 million.

2020 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Patrick Kane 10.500 Brent Seabrook 6.850 Corey Crawford 6.000
Jonathan Toews 10.500 Duncan Keith 5.538 Collin Delia 1.000
Brandon Saad 6.000 Connor Murphy 3.850
Artem Anisimov 4.550 Erik Gustafsson 1.200
Drake Caggiula 1.500 Henri Jokiharju 0.925
Dominik Kahun 0.925 Adam Boqvist 0.925
Dylan Strome 0.863 Carl Dahlstrom 0.850
Alex DeBrincat 0.778
David Kampf 0.778
John Hayden 0.750
Alexandre Fortin 0.707

11 out of 12 pool worthy players are already signed on and ready to get going for next season, the only one missing is Cam Ward, who is heading to unrestricted free agency, which we'll touch on again in this post.  There's no shortage of offense in this group, in theory, so there's still lots of promise in this lineup for a return to hockey pool prominence next season.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Currently, the Blackhawks are rocking a 20-man roster above and against the projected salary cap ceiling of $83 million, they have $18 million in cap space, which is a lot for this group.  Chicago could be very aggressive, when it comes to the free agent market, which could make them very dangerous next season.

As it was mentioned, Ward is the only pool worthy player heading to free agency and he'll be unrestricted, coming off a $3 million deal.  I could certainly see him re-sign in Chicago, given the unstable nature of Crawford's health, but we'll have to wait and see.  Delia proved he was capable of some ice-time, so it will be an interesting decision.

Unfortunately, Henri Jokiharju played too many games in the 2019 season to keep his rookie status for the 2020 season, but he is probably the furthest along for the Blackhawks to take a full-time position on the blueline and really round out this team.  Jokiharju played in 38 games and posted 12 assists and did get picked up in this year's draft, but it may have been a little bit early, as the 19-year old may not have been seasoned enough for this past season, but his experience may make him a much better 20-year old.

Needs at the 2019 Entry Draft

The Blackhawks are stocked to the hilt, in terms of young defensemen, so they should be looking for more skilled forwards to compliment the team, as it is today.  And as luck would have it, the Chicago Blackhawks were the third team to win at the draft lottery, moving up from the 12th spot to pick 3rd.  A huge win!  With that huge win, they will choose from a decent group of forwards and it may very well be some raw scoring talent that they'll go with, as Russian Vasily Podkolzin appears to be one of the favourites among the external NHL scouts to make an impact.  Said to be a complete winger, something that should fit in well to the Chicago scheme.

The questions at the back end for the Blackhawks are going to be what needs to be addressed the most.  Making sure that they have quality depth behind Crawford in net and trying to refresh their blueline to be a little bit more mobile and responsible will be key.  This team can make the playoffs next season, especially with the increase in salary cap space coming for this club.  In fact, if this team can make the playoffs next year, they should also be poised to do some real damage when they get there, especially given the core's experience at the spring dance.

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