The 2018-19 regular season starts tomorrow for the Chicago Blackhawks. It couldn’t have gotten here soon enough after a horrible 2017-18 campaign.
Last year, the Hawks finished in the bottom of the central division with just 76 points. The second half of the season was an embarrassment. It didn’t help that goalie Corey Crawford missed that entire time with what the Hawks are calling “concussion symptoms.”
Both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were mediocre on the defensive end, while captain Jonathan Toews struggled to do much of anything offensively. Yes, nothing seemed to go right for a team and organization that had grown accustomed to playing hockey into early June.
This offseason, general manager Stan Bowman didn’t too much to help his team either. In fact, the Hawks spent the lowest amount of money this offseason out of every team in the NHL.
What team spent the most this off-season? It was @GoldenKnights with over $45M in Cap Hit, followed by @NHLJets, @ArizonaCoyotes & @SanJoseSharks. The lowest spending team was @NHLBlackhawks w/ $5M. Is this bizarro world?https://t.co/Xn15dI0zSp pic.twitter.com/bfv7k6NJ8c
— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) October 1, 2018
Not good, not good at all.
Even with the lack of moves, the Hawks made this offseason, there is still hope they can make the playoffs. Why? Good question. Well, it starts with still having Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They are still two of the best players in the NHL.
Those two along with a young and talented group of forwards could make things interesting. The main issues with the Hawks come from the backend. In two to three years, the Hawks may have one of the best group of young defensemen in the league.
For now, it’s a group that lacks in experience, outside of Keith and Seabrook.
Call me crazy, but I still think the Hawks can sneak into the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed. How? I’ll attempt to answer that difficult question below.
Healthy Corey Crawford
As I mentioned above, Crawford missing basically the entire second half of the season was a major reason why the team played as bad as they did in the second half. As we’ve seen in the past, good goaltending can cover up a lot of issues on defense.
Crawford has been so good over the last few seasons that he’s done just that for the Hawks. Before he went down, Crawford had a .929 save percentage with a 16-9 record as a starter. Pretty, pretty good.
It should come as no surprise that the most important thing for the Hawks this season if they want to get back to the playoffs, is Crawford’s health. Head coach Joel Quenneville said the goalie could start as soon as October 18th.
Hopefully, this year will be a healthy one for Crow.
Old Brandon Saad
At this point, the Saad–Panarin trade looks like a bad one for the Hawks. The sample size is small, but for now, it’s hard not to see that one a loser. Unless…unless Saad can return to form. I’m referring to the 2013-2015 Saad, who would go to the net and hustle back to help out the defense.
That Saad was a winner. The more recent version of Saad that we saw last season was not himself. Playing as more of a finesse winger, Saad’s production was down in just about every category.
He finished the year with 18 goals, 17 assists, and just 35 points. We’re talking about a guy who had 50 plus points in 2015, 2016 and 2017. Let’s also not forget that Saad is just 25-years-old. There is no reason he cannot return to form.
One thing that will give him a boost is playing on a line with Patrick Kane. The two have been on the same line together throughout the preseason. Early on, the results have been good, to say the least.
Kane to Schmaltz to Saad to Kane, oh man. We might see this a lot over the next six months. pic.twitter.com/iaISpb0BKl
— Satchel Price (@SatchelPrice) September 21, 2018
Saad-Schmaltz-Kane together has a chance to be one of the best lines in the entire league. Playoffs or not, it would be hard for Saad not to have a bounce-back year playing with players as talented as Schmaltz and Kane.
Henri Jokiharju’s play
To the surprise of many, the Hawks 2017 first-round draft pick Henri Jokiharju will start 2018-19 in the NHL. He made the Hawks’ roster after having a tremendous training camp, followed by an even better preseason.
Some thought Jokiharju was a year or two away. Clearly, that wasn’t the case. His addition to the line up will be a big one, and his performance could make or break the Hawks’ defense. Having veterans like Keith and Seabrook will help Jokiharju, but playing in the NHL is far from easy.
Adam Boqvist was also good in camp, but he was sent down to Rockford. Again, the thing to watch here is how fast Jokiharju was able to make it to the NHL. That means there’s a chance we could see some of the other young d-men in the Hawks’ system sooner, rather than later.
The Hawks have the talent to reach the postseason. With that being said, they need some things to go their way. That’s what any team needs though, especially one trying to go from worst to a playoff contender.
Sure, the things I listed above are obvious and simple, but the truth nonetheless.
Either way, hockey is back, and that’s a good thing, for now, in Chicago.
Follow Nick on Twitter–Featured Photo Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune