The 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks are facing potentially huge changes. The biggest question is how far up the organizational ladder will be affected when they happen? We are going to look at potential Blackhawks changes coming for the struggling team that is loaded with so much talent yet continues to struggle.
Change is Coming to the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks
Off-season changes were needed after two straight years without a playoff appearance. General manager Stan Bowman was hyper-active with trades and free-agent signings over the summer. He also rebuilt his defence corps with size and experience with the hope that it would help take the pressure off of the goalies.
Following two straight recent embarrassing losses to the Colorado Avalanche, the struggling team sits one point ahead of the last-place Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference. The back-to-back game losses dropped the Blackhawks record to 10-11-5. Their 25 points leave them five points behind in the Wild Card race.
The 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks had a promising start to the season after all of the off-season moves. Then surprisingly they regressed back to their inconsistent ways with a four-game winless streak in October. This was followed by a four-game winning streak in November. Unfortunately, they ended the month of November 2-4-1 in the last two weeks. Being consistently inconsistent has been a trait of this team for far too long now.
This fall in the standings is also happening despite the incredible efforts of goalies Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner. The overworked goalies are facing 36 shots against per game which is the most in the NHL. Game after game these two stellar netminders have stood on their heads for their team while being besieged.
December’s upcoming schedule also looms large with their first two games against the St. Louis Blues (17-5-6) followed by the Boston Bruins (18-3-5). These next two games will be very important for the fragile squad. Getting two more blowout losses will bring us to the edge of our first potential change for the team.
At The Helm
Current head coach Jeremy Colliton was hired to replace Blackhawks icon Joel Quenneville last season. Q’s firing was questioned then and it is an even hotter topic now. Most professional sports teams do not replace a coach with three championships with a coach with little or no experience. This was the choice of Stan Bowman who felt it was time for a change at the helm.
Fast forward one year and we find that Collitons’s coaching record with the Blackhawks is currently 40-39-14. His hiring was justified by the Blackhawks brass as bringing in a coach who could help develop young players. The jury is still out on his ability to develop the Blackhawks youth as of today. In a recent article Charlie Roumeliotis of nbcsports.com writes:
“In many ways, the Blackhawks are in a worse position than they were last season because no general manager was more active in the offseason than Stan Bowman.”
“This is the year the Blackhawks were supposed to build things back up after missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Internally, they expected to make the playoffs after retooling on the fly.”
“Instead, the Blackhawks have regressed under Colliton and there are even more questions than answers from when he took over behind the bench exactly one year ago.”
In professional sports, your team’s record is all that matters. When the sports network of your franchise publishes an article saying your team has regressed, it is time to correct the team’s direction. The piece by the “Blackhawks’ Insider” was surprising to many, to say the least. It reveals that there could be changes coming to the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks… soon.
Defence Scheme Change
Colliton appeared to understand the fragile nature of his coaching position by recently changing up his “man-on-man” defence scheme. His preferred defence coverage has been a disappointment since he took over last season. The man-on-man defence is contrary to what most defencemen have played their entire lives. Based on the dismal results many were expecting the coach to make changes sooner than the second month of the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks season.
Charlie Roumeliotis details the change this way:
“All it is is, our weak side forward, we pushed him up higher in defensive zone coverage,” Colliton said. “Before, we had four low a lot of times, to try and overload in certain situations. That’s good, it gets you out of D-zone, but the problem is when you win the puck back, a lot of times you’re very close together and it’s harder to make clean plays, it’s harder to exit with space to make plays.”
The Blackhawks’ defence issues have often been covered up by the play of Crawford and Lehner this season. Unfortunately this past weekend they allowed 12 goals in the back-to-back losses to the Avalanche. It is clear that the defence corps of Chicago has got to improve in order for the team to be successful.
What isn’t clear is whether Colliton’s system will last longer than his time with the team. Marc Crawford‘s hiring by the team is a clear sign that Bowman wanted a backup plan in case his newly rebuilt team struggled. Nearing the bottom of the Western Conference standings as December begins does not bode well for Colliton. Bowman will have to make a coaching decision in the near future in order to right the ship before it is too late.
Changes, But How Many?
Stan Bowman has been in charge as general manager since 2009. He was given the keys to a franchise on the cusp of greatness and guided them to three Stanley Cups in six seasons. He has been given high marks for his ability to deal with the team’s annual salary cap issues. What must be remembered, however, he has no one else to thank for these cap issues other than himself.
He doled out the long term agreements to both Duncan Keith (2010-23) and Brent Seabrook (2016-24) in years past. These two stellar performers on defence both deserved these “Blackhawks For Life” contracts… that is a given. Unfortunately, both of these deals are now known as anchor contracts due to the Non-Movement Clauses (NMC) they contain.
As they age and the team continues to struggle many of the Blackhawks faithful will be hard-pressed to understand how hard it will be to move either of these players. Keith’s contract has a full NMC for the duration. Seabrook’s deal has a full NMC until the end of the 2021-22 season when it becomes a modified NMC. Seabrook can then submit a list of five teams if asked by the team.
Moving an aging player with an anchor contract often requires that the team retain part of the salary or take on an equally unappealing contract in return. While “buying out” an anchor contract sounds great at first, you have to consider the annual salary cap hits involved with those buyouts. To view the cost of buying out Brent Seabrook’s contract CLICK HERE and for Duncan Keith’s contract CLICK HERE both per capfriendly.com.
In addition, in 2014 Bowman awarded Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane twin monster eight-year contracts valued at $10.5 million per season until 2022-23. Both contracts also contain full NMC’s for the duration of the deals. Nobody can or should dispute both players earned and deserved these contracts. It is just much easier to swallow large lengthy contracts when the team is winning. These past two seasons have brought additional scrutiny to both players, especially team captain Toews.
Blackhawks Changes Coming At The Top?
The Chicago Blackhawks under Chairman Rocky Wirtz have been nothing short of spectacular from 2009 to 2015. The past four seasons have not been as good in meeting the high expectations of the Blackhawks faithful who are used to annual long playoff runs into late May and beyond. Two straight seasons without a playoff appearance has been a huge disappointment in Chicago. The team’s Chairman cannot be happy with the direction of his pride and joy.
The biggest question is how much more patience will Rocky Wirtz show with regard to the general manager spot? It is obvious what Bowman did during the six Cup-winning seasons. It is post-2015 where he has failed to deliver. One big area of concern is Bowman’s draft record, especially when it comes to the defence. His lack of success at the NHL Draft is part of the team’s steady decline since 2015.
Can Bowman survive another season without a playoff appearance by his team? Based on having another bad year and the last four seasons combined the question might be should he survive?