Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks.
2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Preview
The 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks season has a lot riding on it for both the team and its general manager Stan Bowman. They finished the 2018-19 season without making the playoffs for the second straight year despite career years for stars Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The team’s struggles last season were eerily similar to the ones in the 2017-18 season in many ways. Starting goalie Corey Crawford returned from a concussion and then suffered another one causing him to miss more time last season.
His backup Cam Ward gave it his best but eventually got outplayed by Collin Delia who took over the starting job. Crawford eventually returned and played well which led to a brief charge back into wild-card contention. Unfortunately for the team, Bowman stood pat at the trade deadline as the veterans were trying to right the ship. After not acquiring any help, the team eventually faded and finished six points out of the final wild-card spot.
One of the team’s biggest issues last season was their suspect defence corps. They had issues trying to adapt to coach Jeremy Colliton’s new defence system. Their new “man-on-man” coverage ended the season with the second-most goals allowed in the NHL with 292.
Their special teams were also inconsistent. The power-play unit finished 15th best in the league at 20.1 percent while drawing the fourth-highest power play opportunities. Their efforts on the power-play were often not “greasy” enough as they played too much on the perimeter. Their abysmal penalty-killing unit was dead last in the league pretty much all season. A drastic improvement in that may have added some more points in the standings. As they say, nowhere to go but up next season.
After four seasons without a playoff series win with two straight seasons without a playoff appearance, general manager Stan Bowman was under intense pressure. This off-season Bowman needed to be aggressive and successful like his job depended on it. Luckily he had salary cap room for the first time in years.
Bowman started the summer off with two trades trying to improve his defence deficiencies. He picked up Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan, both of whom when healthy should instantly improve the defence and especially the penalty-killing unit. They also both blocked over 100 shots last season which will be welcome on the Blackhawks defence.
Bowman also traded for some grit when he acquired former ‘Hawk Andrew Shaw and then Zack Smith. Both players have the chance to bring a workman’s ethic to the team and agitate when needed. The Blackhawks have been a soft team to play against the last few seasons. That appears about to change next season.
The Blackhawks faithful fully expected that Bowman would address the deficiency on defence with the third overall pick in the NHL Draft. Everyone with an opinion just knew that Bowman would have to select Bowen Byram who was considered the top defence pick in the Draft. Who walks away from the best defenceman in the NHL Draft? Well, with the third overall pick Bowman sent shockwaves around the city of Chicago by selecting Kirby Dach third overall.
Dach has the size and many positives that will certainly make him a fan favourite in the near future. The only downside is that Dach will be compared to Byram as they both develop as players in the Western Conference. Bowman’s bold pick will definitely be scrutinized for several years to come.
The Blackhawks first free-agent signing was Ryan Carpenter early on July 1st. Carpenter at 6’0″, 200 pounds brings some more size to the forwards and definitely more depth at centre for the team.
Later on in the day, Bowman would drop another surprise on everyone. He signed Vezina finalist Robin Lehner to a one year $5 million deal. The addition of Lehner was a bold move shoring up the team’s goaltending position. Corey Crawford’s concussion history was a big factor in the signing. Everyone hopes Crawford can play a full season but in case he has any more issues the team will be covered in goal while he recovers.
Projected Forward Lines
Zack Smith – Kirby Dach – Andrew Shaw/Drake Caggiula
The Blackhawks forwards have a lot of versatility. We expect Patrick Kane to float lines as usual with several double shifts a game. We have him pencilled on the first line with Toews and also the second line with DeBrincat. Imagining Kane and DeBrincat playing together brings many smiles as they are two of the more dynamic players in the NHL.
Drake Caggiula and Andrew Shaw are two other forwards that will see rotations up and down the lineup. Cagguila had several successful games last season playing on the top line with Toews and Saad and should get that chance again this season. Shaw can play on any line and will add a spark to the team during a game when needed.
We are also adding rookie Kirby Dach to the opening night roster at centre. He has signed his entry-level contract and will get every chance to make the team. The upcoming training camp and preseason games will give him the chance to prove he belongs in the NHL. At the least, he may last for only nine games before being assigned to Rockford for more experience. As the third overall NHL Draft pick, he will be trying his best to prove the Blackhawks made the right choice. That kind of motivation may help him battle his way into the lineup.
Even though we have Brendan Perlini listed on the fourth line, he really belongs listed below with the extra forwards. He is currently still unsigned as the last restricted free agent on the team. The team’s efforts to sign or trade Perlini have proved unsuccessful so far. He has until December to sign or he will miss the upcoming season.
With Brendan Perlini unsigned, there are two to three forward spots open for competition. The team has 10 forwards currently signed per capfriendly.com with $3.336 million in cap space. We expect Kirby Dach to earn one of the open spots which will leave room for one to two more young forwards. The upcoming prospects tourney in Traverse City, Michigan will be watched closely to see how close these extra forwards are to the NHL.
The defence corps currently consists of these eight defencemen all signed to one-way deals which require them to clear waivers if they are sent to Rockford in the AHL. The overcrowded blue line of the Blackhawks was a big part of the reason Bowman traded away highly-touted defence prospect Henri Jokiharju.
The biggest question facing the current defence corps is whether they can defend better than in recent seasons. Last season playing under coach Jeremy Colliton’s “man-on-man” system produced mixed results. It will be interesting to see what defence system Colliton goes with for the season ahead.
Another defence area needing drastic improvement is the penalty-killing unit. As described earlier, the Blackhawks were dead last in penalty killing last season. The ineffectiveness of that unit was addressed with the acquisitions of Olli Maatta and Calvin de Haan in the off-season. Their additions will hopefully bring the penalty-killing unit out of the bottom of the league statistically and help them win games.
Unfortunately, top defence prospect Adam Boqvist is facing the same fate as Jokiharju. He signed his entry-level contract and will most likely begin the season in Rockford. At 6’0” and only 165 pounds Boqvist is nowhere near physically ready to face the NHL. While he will certainly get his chance in training camp and preseason games to prove he belongs in the NHL, he will have to survive physically too. It will take a Herculean effort for him to force Bowman to waive one of the eight regulars. Behind Boqvist are Dennis Gilbert, Nicolas Beaudin, Chad Krys, Lucas Carlsson, and Joni Tuulola. They will likely be only mid-season call-ups due to injuries on the defence.
The 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks goaltending tandem of Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner should provide a solid one-two punch in net. They are both seasoned competitors and will battle together to backstop their team into playoff contention. They will be sharing time in net as their team looks to blend all of the new faces into a competitive team. It may take a while, so expect the tandem to be busy early on in the season.
Lehner’s signing was a move made with eyes toward the future as Crawford will be playing out the final year of his six-year $36 million contract. Crawford’s ability to stay healthy next season will also determine how much playing time Lehner gets. If Crawford has any further health issues, Lehner will step up into the starter’s role with Collin Delia as the backup.
As the season moves on, the team will be faced with a decision for the 2020-21 roster in goal. Currently, the only goalie with NHL experience signed past the 2019-20 season is Collin Delia. If Crawford plays a full season, can he play his way into a contract extension? If he does, the team will probably not offer $6 million per season again. Then it will be up to Crawford to decide his future. If Lehner takes the reigns in net, he may play himself into the Blackhawks goalie of the future role.
The team may also go with Delia as the starter depending on future salary cap issues. His bargain-basement $1 million per season deal gives the team more room to manoeuvre as they try to sign future restricted free agents Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. Meanwhile, Kevin Lankinen will be gaining experience in Rockford next season and will be looking to make his mark in the NHL soon. A Delia/Lankinen tandem may be just a season away.
All in all, the Blackhawks are in much better shape in net than the last two years. This aspect of the game should produce results and help the team recover their winning ways.
2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Season Players To Watch
Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, and Dylan Strome are our players to watch. They make up four of the top-six forwards and their level of play will drive the Blackhawks this season. They will see several different players tested out early on as coach Colliton works out his line combinations.
Once the lines are settled, Kane and Toews will be trying to recreate their career years from last season. With the new additions to the team, there will hopefully be more secondary scoring on a team that relied on Toews, Kane, and DeBrincat too much last season. The three snipers scored 120 of the team’s 267 goals last season which shows they need others to step up in the season ahead.
We can also add Kirby Dach to this list too as he strives to make the team as a rookie. It shouldn’t take long for him to make an impression on his new team. He will certainly be watched closely as he progresses through the prospects tourney, training camp, and preseason. Can he take the same huge step into the NHL as DeBrincat did as a rookie? That answer is only a few weeks away.
2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Prediction
The revamped Blackhawks lineup may take some time to gel as a team this season. The forwards should provide the usual scoring with Kane, DeBrincat, and Toews leading the way. The added depth at forward will help bring consistency to the lines defensively too. As for the defence, that unit will be under pressure to show they have improved. Thankfully their goaltending should be strong while the team works out the kinks early in the season.
Captain Jonathan Toews will be called upon to provide his usual leadership next season. Patrick Kane will continue to step up in that role too. His transformation into a responsible and respected voice on the team after his previous legal issues has been a joy to watch. These two stars will be front and centre as the Chicago Blackhawks 2019-20 season unfolds.
Despite playing in the toughest division in the NHL, the Blackhawks will pressure for a top-three spot in the Central Division standings. The team will need to add 10-12 points in order to lock up at least a wild-card playoff spot. The changes made to the lineup and especially on defence should do just that. We are predicting that the Blackhawks earn a wild-card birth and will be a dark horse to provide an early upset in the playoffs.