The Chicago Blackhawks have dominated both the regular season and playoffs for half a decade, but with the salary cap impacting the team now more than ever how will they fair next season?
The Blackhawks have had some of the most talented players on the rosters in recent memory and next season will be no different. Patrick Kane has been one of the best forwards since joining the NHL in the 2007-08 season. In his 658 games played he has collected 663 points and 121 points in 123 playoff games. He has been a large part of the Blackhawks recent Stanley Cup championships and had a career year in 2016. Last season, Kane captured the Art Ross Trophy, Hart Memorial Trophy and Ted Lindsay Award as he led the league and Blackhawks with 106 points in 82 games. Not only was he the first American to win the Art Ross, but Kane also set career highs with 46 goals and 60 assists. At 27 years old anything is possible for Kane. He could break 100 points again, the sky is the limit, but the Blackhawks will need him to produce if they want to continue their regular season success.
Kane’s linemate Artemi Panarin also had quite the year last season. After coming over from KHL Panarin had the highest point totals of any rookie netting him the Calder Memorial Trophy with 77 points in 80 games. Artem Anisimov was the final piece of this crucial second line and had an impressive year for the Blackhawks. In 77 games played Anisimov totaled 42 points which had been his best point production season since his time with the New York Rangers in 2010-11. In addition Chicago also has captain Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa on the top line rounding out an offensive juggernaut in their top six.
Great defense is one of the main reasons the Blackhawks have won 3 Stanley Cups in 6 years and next year will be no different. Duncan Keith has been the cornerstone of Chicago’s defense for years and will be relied upon heavily again next year. Even at age 33 Keith still has plenty left in the tank. Last season in 67 games Keith recorded 43 points which was good enough to finish 5th on the team in scoring and second out of all Chicago’s defenseman. Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson are more defenseman who have been with the Blackhawks since the beginning. Seabrook, 30, had one of his best offensive years last season tallying 49 points in 81 games leading all defenseman on the team. He also set a career high in goals and points. Hjalmarsson is one of the more underrated Chicago defenseman, who although may not put up as many points as Keith and Seabrook is just as important to the success of the Blackhawks as the others.
During the offseason the Blackhawks did bring back defenseman Brian Campbell who had been with the team in 2010 when they won the Stanley Cup. Since the 2011-12 season Campbell has spent his time with the Florida Panthers where he played top line minutes. Although Campbell knows he won’t be playing those kinds of minutes with Keith and Seabrook in the lineup, Campbell is ready to play whatever role the coaching staff assigns him.
“I don’t care what my role is. I want to contribute,” Campbell told CSN’s David Kaplan on Friday’s edition of SportsTalk Live. “Everybody wants to play a lot, but whatever they put me in, I’m happy with. I can see myself being in a top-four, I know I can be in a top-four role still. I still know I can produce at that level and be good at that and not just be OK. I can be great at that role. So if that’s what they want me to do, I’m in for it.”
Rounding out the bottom defensive pairing, Chicago has a handful of options. Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Kempny, Erik Gustafsson and Michal Rosival are all under contract for at least one more year or a player like Ville Pokka or Viktor Svedberg could make the team depending on their performance in camp. Regardless, Chicago still has a defensive core that can compete and win.
Goaltending is another factor that has helped the Blackhawks stay so competitive these last few years. Corey Crawford has been the Blackhawks starting goaltender since the 2010-11 season and has not only won 2 Stanley Cup Championships, but put up some impressive numbers as well. Last season Crawford gathered a record of 35-18-4 with a GAA of 2.37 and save percentage of .924%. In fact Crawford has registered at least 30 wins in every full season he has played in the NHL. Some might attribute these stats to the stacked team in front of him, but no goalie puts up those kinds of numbers by accident.
PREDICTION: Despite losing some players to free agency the past two seasons, the Blackhawks are still an incredibly competitive team and can still challenge for the Central Division title next season.