The Chicago Blackhawks summer of surprises began early on in the off-season. After four seasons without a playoff series win with two straight seasons without a playoff appearance, general manager Stan Bowman was on the hot seat. Bowman had cap room for the first time in years, restricted free agents to sign, a potential goaltending dilemma, and a defence corps in trouble. Bowman needed to be aggressive and successful this summer.
Blackhawks Summer Of Surprises
Nobody that follows the team expected all of the off-season moves that would begin in mid-June. We are going to cover the trades, the NHL Draft, restricted free agents and free agency today. Many of these moves were met with anger, animosity, and confusion by the Blackhawks faithful. The Blackhawks summer also included hiring Marc Crawford as an assistant coach. We will delve into the Crawford hiring at a later date because it definitely needs some attention considering the inexperience of coach Jeremy Colliton.
The Trades – Defence
The Blackhawks summer of fun kicked off with a trade involving Olli Maatta. The Maatta trade saw the departure of Dominik Kahun, a versatile bottom-six forward. With Maatta, the Blackhawks get an oft-injured defenceman and his $4.083 million salary-cap hit. The success of this trade will be measured on whether Maatta can stay healthy next season.
Since being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012, he has played in 362 games scoring 25 goals with 107 points. He does bring size on the back end at 6’2″ and he has been a willing shot blocker with 565 in his career. Blocking shots is something the Blackhawks need improvement in for sure. If Maatta can replicate the warrior-like shot-blocking of former Blackhawks Niklas Hjalmarsson nobody will care about his cap hit.
The next trade involved acquiring Calvin de Haan in exchange for restricted free agents Anton Forsberg and Gustav Forsling. In de Haan, the Blackhawks get another injured player who had shoulder surgery in May 2019. His biggest asset besides his size at 6’1″ is his ability to kill penalties. He will be a welcome addition to the worst penalty-killing unit in the NHL last season. He played in 74 games last season with one goal, 14 points, and 106 blocks. His shot-blocking ability is also very welcome to the defence corps.
The Trades – Forwards
The most shocking trade of the off-season involved the Blackhawks reacquiring yet another former player in Andrew Shaw. As a Blackhawk, Shaw was drafted in 2011 and played five seasons for the team. He played in 322 games scoring 70 goals with 137 points. The pesky agitator also had 300 penalty minutes with the Blackhawks. His style of play made him a fan favourite while he was with Chicago.
Shaw’s return, however, was met with dismay and scorn at first by many on social media. The Shaw trade cost the Blackhawks two 2020 draft picks and also one in 2021. In addition, Bowman’s flair for reacquiring former players has worn thin in Chicago as many have been busts. Shaw’s ability to agitate and get involved physically will be popular if he can stay away from needless penalties. His other biggest asset is his frugal cap hit of $3.9 million a season through 2021-22. Having Shaw back with the team brings instant excitement and some grit to the lineup. Those have also been in short supply the past few seasons.
The Blackhawks also acquired Aleksi Saarela in the Calvin de Haan trade and John Quenneville in a trade with the New Jersey Devils that saw John Hayden moving on to a new team. Saarela and Quenneville will get a chance to compete for a roster spot as the summer moves into training camp.
Blackhawks Summer – The NHL Draft
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and the team won the draft lottery as they secured the number three pick overall in the 2019 NHL Draft. Over the years the Blackhawks have had the number three pick overall and have done well. Expectations from the fan base were that Bowman would address the deficiency on defence with the third pick. Everyone who follows hockey and draft prospects just knew that Bowman would have to select Bowen Byram who was considered the top defence pick.
Nobody, but nobody walks away from the best defenceman in the NHL Draft. Then came the night of the draft and Bowman sent shockwaves around the city of Chicago by selecting Kirby Dach third overall. The uproar was immediate and intense and after watching the struggles on defence the last few seasons many were outraged that Bowman passed on Byram.
As time passed, however, the scouting report on Dach won over the majority of the doubters. His size and positives are many and he will be a fan favourite in the near future. The only downside is that Byram will be front and centre as he develops in the Western Conference. The comparisons of Dach versus Byram will also happen soon as Dach signed his entry-level contract with the team this week.
Blackhawks Summer – Restricted Free Agents
Brendan Perlini is the Blackhawks biggest restricted free agent story of the 2019 off-season. The team made a qualifying offer to the enigmatic former first-round draft pick in June. As of yet, he remains unsigned. Based on his inconsistent play and playing smaller than his 6’3″ 211 pounds size, many were hoping Perlini garnered an offer sheet from another NHL team. Seeing him move on in exchange for draft picks would have brought smiles to many.
If only Perlini could match the play that earned him the second star of the week by the NHL last season, he would see his popularity rise. He could also stand to be more physical on a regular basis too. Getting involved physically would help the Blackhawks on their forecheck and create scoring opportunities.
Until Perlini exhibits more consistency and grit, he will be considered only as a “throw-in” for the trade involving two other underperforming first-rounders – Dylan Strome and Nick Schmaltz. Strome succeeded in Chicago compared to Perlini who saw his ice time diminish while he got benched a few times last season. Hopefully, he signs the Blackhawks offer and works on getting to the top of his game next season.
Blackhawks Summer – Free Agents
The Blackhawks first free-agent signing was Ryan Carpenter early in the day on July 1st. Carpenter brings some versatility to the bottom six forward position and definitely more depth at centre.
Later on in the day, however, Stan Bowman would drop a surprise bombshell. He signed Vezina finalist Robin Lehner to a one year $5 million deal. The addition of Lehner for that amount shocked many who follow the Blackhawks. The move also ate up most of the remaining cap space which now stands at $2.036 million per capfriendly.com.
Signing Lehner does solve two problems for the team. It will give starter Corey Crawford an experienced back up and provide the team with a reliable starter if Crawford suffers another concussion. The impact of this signing will play itself out as the season moves along.
Blackhawks Summer Shocker
The most recent move by Bowman that shocked many was the trade of defence prospect Henri Jokiharju. Drafted 29th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft, Jokiharju was making his way up the defence roster with Chicago. He played 38 games for the team last season while scoring 12 points – all assists. The trade with the Buffalo Sabres for Alexander Nylander caused an instant meltdown on social media.
The love and admiration for the still unproven Jokiharju were obvious by the tweets lashing out against Bowman and the Blackhawks. Quotes of “how could they trade their best defence prospect” were plentiful, also “he was their best defenceman last year” was another recurring tweet. The level of hatred of the trade made Jokiharju sound like the next coming of Paul Coffey, which he is not. In reality, Jokiharju struggled to defend last season. He also probably would not have started the season with the team without the early season injuries to Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling.
His offensive talent is obvious. Unfortunately his inability to defend properly caused him to be sent down to Rockford and then onto the World Championship for Finland. The newly crowded Blackhawks defence corps also stood in his way next season. It was doubtful that he would have cracked the upcoming opening night roster. Based on the changes Bowman made this off-season the defence corps is now crowded. Acquiring Nylander gives the Blackhawks more depth and versatility up front as he can play either left or right-wing. Fortunately, time will heal the hurt feelings regarding the trade.
Blackhawks Wrap Up
The 2019 off-season has been full of surprises for the Blackhawks faithful. The trades and signings have also stirred up the emotions of the followers of the team. All of the changes will be soon forgotten however if the Blackhawks can become competitive again next season. Many will religiously follow the growth of either Jokiharju or Byram going forward. While the majority will be satisfied if the Blackhawks return to the playoffs again.
The bottom line is that the team has improved since the end of the season. Winning hockey also has a tendency to make fans quickly forget unpopular trades, drafts, or player signings. With the summer rebuild still underway, Last Word On Hockey will be there to cover all of the moves – popular or not.
The next feature article from Last Word On Hockey will feature a piece covering “The Greatest Game Ever” for each team. Publishing of the Blackhawks piece will be on July 21st. Based on the team’s long history, choosing one game will be very difficult. If you have any suggestions for the Blackhawks “Greatest Game Ever,” please leave them in the comments section of this article.