The 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Season Autopsy seems eerily familiar to last seasons autopsy. The 2017-18 season autopsy edition featured an injured Corey Crawford, lacklustre off-season moves, under-performing special teams, and a suspect defence corps. In the words of the immortal Yogi Berra, “it’s like deja vu all over again” when comparing last season and the one that just concluded. The2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Season Autopsy has many of the same themes and lays the blame squarely at the feet of the beleaguered general manager Stan Bowman.
2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Season Autopsy
After failing to make the playoffs in the 2017-18 season the word out of the Chicago Blackhawks front office was that they expected results and will not accept failure. Hopes were high that the 2018 off-season would bring an impact free agent or two and draft picks that would restock their depleted defence corps. Unfortunately, somebody forgot to clue Stan Bowman in on the team needs.
Many of the Blackhawk faithful were looking for immediate help for the suspect defence corps. They hoped that whoever the team drafted would be a step away from the NHL and not take years to develop. In the first round, the Chicago Blackhawks chose Adam Boqvist and then Nicholas Beaudin. Boqvist at 5’11” 165 pounds and Beaudin at 5’10” 175 pounds were not what was expected. They both have offensive promise but will be 2-3 seasons and 20-30 pounds away from surviving in the rough and tough Western Conference.
In case anyone never realized Stan Bowman likes his defencemen mobile and undersized. Bowman could have chosen 6’2″ 198 pound Evan Bouchard instead of Boqvist with the eighth pick. In comparison, they both had similar stats in the O.H.L. this past season. Bowman could have also chosen 6’4″ 207-pound K’Andre Miller, 6’4″ 201 pound Alex Alexeyev or 6’4″ 220 pound Mattias Samuelsson with either of his two first round picks.
Imagine defence prospects who are over six feet tall, who knew? Any of these prospects would have been built better for the NHL and would not need two to three summers of Chicago deep dish pizza to bulk up to size. Only time will tell whether Boqvist and Beaudin make it in the NHL or wind up as another entry on the list of “Bowman’s Busts” that keeps growing every season.
Free agent signing day rolled around and Stan Bowman became public enemy number one in Chicago. The uproar of signing goalie Cam Ward, forward Chris Kunitz, and defenceman Brandon Manning was met with an enormous backlash on social media immediately. Most of the comments are not fit to print but they do show the frustration with the general manager.
Of the free agents signed Ward and Kunitz had more of an impact on the team with their leadership and veteran presence. During the tumultuous season, they both stepped up by showing how they prepared themselves. They had limited roles on the team this season but never complained. They went out and did their jobs when called upon every time.
Bowman also signed defenceman Brandon Davidson to a Professional Tryout contract last summer. Davidson made the team and was subsequently sent to the Rockford Ice Hogs in January. To call Bowman’s off-season a disappointment would be an understatement. Based on his two previous off-season “moves” last summer was just business as usual for the general manager.
Stan Bowman’s 2018-19 Moves
One bright spot last summer was Bowman’s trade of the Marian Hossa contract to the Arizona Coyotes. In the deal, the Blackhawks parted ways with Vinnie Hinostroza and Jordan Oesterle. They also got back popular two-way player Marcus Kruger and some much-needed salary cap space.
Once summer ended the2018-19 Blackhawks entered the season facing long odds of returning to the NHL playoffs. The team started off with a torrid and very entertaining start to the season which brought hope until reality arrived. When the team began to struggle, coach, Joel Quenneville finally lost his power struggle with the Bowmans and was fired in November. This unpopular move by the team brought out another outrage from the locals who knew this would not help the team improve. Bowman finally had his coach in newcomer Jeremy Colliton but the team did not respond and in fact, played worse after the firing.
In November the Blackhawks traded their “center of the future” Nick Schmaltz to the Arizona Coyotes for Dylan Strome and Brendan Perlini. At first glance, the Blackhawks got a great two for one deal involving three former first-round draft picks. In reality, Strome has been a pleasant surprise especially when playing on a line with Alex DeBrincat.
Perlini, however, has been an inconsistent performer since arriving. His lack of success was evident and brought about a benching of four straight games. Perlini did respond to the benching with an NHL player of the week performance in mid-March. Many felt that he had turned the corner on his season based on the increased production.
Unfortunately, Perlini reverted back to his under-performing ways the rest of the way. The 22-year-old winger who stands 6’3″ and 211 pounds was way too invisible during far too many games. This is quite disappointing considering he is a restricted free agent and should have been playing for a better payday.
In December the Blackhawks made another move trading Manning for Drake Caggiula. It was a good move for the team dealing Manning out of the crowded D corps and picking up the 5’10” agitator Cagguila. He has a chance to become a fan favourite based on his physical style of play something the United Center crowd appreciates.
The last Bowman deal of the year involved the Blackhawks trading Jan Rutta for Slater Koekkoek. Dealing away the highly overpaid Rutta while they still could was a sharp move. In return, the team gets another under-performing former first-round pick who is now a restricted free agent.
If there was one constant during the 2018-19 season it was the Blackhawks goaltending. They did not have a revolving door in the crease like the 2017-18 season. There was no world’s oldest NHL rookie like Jeff Glass in net. There was no emergency phenom appearance of beer league goalie and legend Scott Foster to write about this season. The Blackhawks had three goalies work their tails off all season playing behind a team trying to learn coach Colliton’s man-on-man defence scheme.
Corey Crawford, Cam Ward, and Collin Delia all did their best while under constant duress in goal. Colliton’s defensive scheme was brutal to watch game after game. It was sad to watch the goalies being left to themselves night after night. While other teams protect the house at all costs the Blackhawks defence scheme says come on in with a huge welcome mat in the slot. The goalies faced way too many quality chances as the Blackhawks gave up 34.8 shots a game which was the second most in the NHL. Coach Colliton needs to take a serious long look at his team before returning to the failed man-on-man system next season.
Bowman’s Defence Corps Failures
Last spring Stan Bowman inked both Jan Rutta and Gustav Forsling to contracts in hopes of shoring up the defence in the 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks season. Many doubted that a troubled defence corps in 2017-18 would dramatically improve over the summer. Adding in free agents Brandon Manning and Brendan Davidson did also not provide any reassurance.
As the season began injuries to Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling paved the way for rookie defenceman Henri Jokiharju to make the team out of training camp. This was a mixed blessing for the prospect who faced a big challenge moving up at age 19. The 6′ tall 193-pound defence prospect was thrown into the fire and at times did well offensively.
It was his defensive game where he fell short of expectations. It is one thing to be a good puck moving defenceman and another to also be able to defend well. He was eventually returned to the Rockford Ice Hogs mid-season where he could get more experience defending. His day will certainly come when he’s ready to play both ends of the ice like a pro.
Blackhawks Defence Corps 2019-20 Edition
Expectations are high yet again after another dismal season on defence. Currently, the Blackhawks have five players under contract for next season: Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Connor Murphy, Erik Gustafsson, and Carl Dahlstrom.
Koekkoek and Forsling are both restricted free agents and may stick around. If not, the Blackhawks may look to free agency for help on the back end. Based on needs they should be shopping for a top four shut down defenceman either through trade or free agency. That would certainly shore up a defence corps in dire need of help.
It is hoped the Bowman doesn’t feel he has this kind of help in his prospect ranks. Despite the high praise on several of their defence prospects none of them are ready to be shut down defencemen. For more on the Blackhawks improving their defence next season with their current prospects enjoy this from John Jaeckel from the-rink.com:
“Let’s put to bed right now the fantasy of 3-4 junior or NCAA players coming in next year and “stabilizing” or in any way improving this defence. Maybe, just maybe Adam Boqvist or Ian Mitchell could show up and sort of replicate what Gustafsson is. But that is quite literally the last thing the Hawks need more of. They need players who are responsible and able to actually defend, two areas where both prospects are said to need quite a bit of work.”
Gustafsson is the perfect example of what not to do on defence. He had an amazing year offensively finishing third on the team with 60 points last season. Unfortunately, he led the team in giveaways with 77. That stat is troubling and led to many jokes on social media about his defence being “offensive” and suspect. Another favourite line: “If you’re looking for Gus never look in the slot.” His bright side is that he’s only played 155 games and has great potential. Going forward John is correct, they do not need another 2-3 more Gustafsson type players.
This area of the team has been a running joke for two seasons now. Last season it was the power play that suffered and this year it was the penalty killing unit. The2018-19 Blackhawks penalty killing unit set a new low for the NHL with a 72.7% success rate. With the addition of the aforementioned top-four shut down defenceman in the off-season the penalty killing unit has to improve. It definitely cannot get any worse.
After missing the playoffs last season several of the veterans pledged they would improve over the off-season. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are two of the veterans who backed up their words. Kane had the best season of his career with 110 points setting a team record for wingers. Toews had a career year also scoring 81 points and proving he was back as “Captain Serious.” DeBrincat had an amazing second season scoring 41 goals disproving the infamous sophomore jinx myth.
As great as their seasons were it is also pointed out a problem with the team and its offensive production. Kane, Toews, and DeBrincat scored 120 goals combined this season. They represent roughly 45% of the team’s goals which indicates a lack of secondary scoring. Bowman’s job this off-season is to add some offence to his roster and get some balance on the four lines.
The magical seasons for Kane, Toews, and DeBrincat were a huge part of the teams run after hitting rock bottom in the league back in January. The team was dead last in the NHL then used a red-hot power play and incredible scoring from these three to claw their way back into the wild-card playoff hunt. The team was rolling and getting back into the wild card discussion when the NHL trade deadline approached in late February. The players had proven they were no longer passionless and wanted to taste the playoffs again.
Then the 2/26/19 NHL trade deadline came and went with Stan Bowman staying on the sidelines despite having some salary cap room. This did not sit well with the team who wanted help getting to the playoffs. For more on how the Blackhawks veterans felt betrayed by Bowman’s lack of a trade at the 2/26 deadline check this out from John Dietz of the dailyherald.com:
“But Bowman made no moves at or before the Feb. 26 trade deadline. It was a decision that, according to a source, dumbfounded the veterans. Their thinking was, look, we made this run. We’re right there. Give us a little help. But none came and although the Hawks did win five straight from March 7-16, they eventually wilted down the stretch.”
Playoff Drive Failure
In reality, the team was not going far in the playoffs had they made it in. The players, however, felt they were not given a chance to prove themselves. After the trade deadline, the team went 10-6-3 the rest of the way. They finished six points out of the last wild-card spot. They lost to the Los Angeles Kings twice in March leaving three points on the table. Losing to the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes last month also cost them valuable points. Would a trade have helped get them a wild card spot? No one knows but it would have been fun to watch.
Last Word On the Blackhawks Season Autopsy
The last two seasons without playoffs are unfamiliar territory for the Blackhawk faithful. Spring time was always filled with excitement while enjoying playoff hockey every other night until late May or June. Winning three Stanley Cups in six seasons will do that to a community. As both baseball teams in town are struggling the locals are missing their playoff hockey fix even more than ever.
The problems this team has will not be easy to fix and patience will be needed this summer. Despite Stan Bowman not getting his Christmas Wish fulfilled he will probably get another shot to improve the team over the summer.
Over the next few months, we will be covering all aspects of the Blackhawks off-season. We will have articles covering the prospects in the upcoming NHL draft and also available free agents. Also, we will also cover the upcoming restricted and unrestricted free agents on the current roster. They will also have to be dealt with by Bowman going forward. That is unless owner Rocky Wirtz gives everyone an early Christmas present and relieves Stan Bowman of his duties. While that is highly unlikely don’t blame a boy for dreaming.