It has been the longest off season for the Blackhawks in some time. With a tenth place finish in the conference last year, the Hawks were on the outside looking in for the playoffs. The good news is that they had some extra time to heal after playing a ton of games in the previous years.
They managed to finish only one point ahead of the last place Minnesota Wild in the division. Division rival, St. Louis, went on to win the Stanley Cup, setting up a wild celebration down there and tons of angst in the windy city. Congratulations to them. How's that target feeling so far?
Last years team was basically Patrick Kane and nobody else. He led the team in points with 110, and goals with 44. He has cemented himself as an icon of this franchise and he is considered one of the top stars of the league.
It wasn't all bad news though. Jonathan Toews, Alex DeBrincat, Duncan Keith, and Dominik Kahun (released) all played 82 games. Three of the core guys stayed healthy, and for Toews it has been a few seasons since he played all games. Unfortunately Corey Crawford was in and out of the line-up and his absence really hurt the team as the goal tending was a major drop off after him. More good news is that, that has improved dramatically this year as we'll get into shortly.
Because hockey is a little bit harder for me to cover than baseball, due to the NFL and NCAA football going on at the same time, I have enlisted the help of a hockey superfan, former player, and one of the most intense athletes I know to be my hockey insider. He will provide insight, analysis, and hopefully interesting nuggets, on one of the greatest sports played today.
John Markiewicz is my guy and I will drop the puck on the 2019-20 season with an interview of him as he previews this season.
In My Opinion: John, welcome to the website and I'm looking forward to working with you on this for the upcoming season.
John Markiewicz: Thanks Dan. It's going to be fun.
IMO: There were some needed changes this offseason, what were the key ones?
JM: The key change is the arrival of a Vezina Trophy finalist goaltender in Robin Lehner. He will provide the Hawks with a solid tandem to Corey Crawford and could end up carrying the team as the season progresses. The defense was the other major need and the Hawks went out and got themselves two solid defensemen in Olli Maatta and Calvin deHaan. They will provide Brent Sopel, yes I said Brent Sopel, like defense with their ability to block shots and clear the front of the net traffic. Offensively the additions of Ryan Carpenter, Alex Nylander, and Andrew Shaw will once again give the Hawks some needed depth on the bottom six. However, the biggest impact, I believe, will be from Dominik Kubalik who will fill out the Brandon Saad/David Kampf line. He has great hands and posses an above average shot.
IMO: What other needs did the Hawks have for this season and did they fill them?
JM: The primary need was getting younger and faster on the back end, with some skill. Brent Seabrook is not going to be playing many minutes and I expect to see him healthy scratched occasionally. Maata and deHaan will provide the Hawks with added depth, skill, and speed, that has been missing for the past few season. Additionally, Zack Smith and Drake Caggiula, and maybe Brendan Perlini if not scratched, will really help the PK as guys who can clear pucks and win faceoffs.
IMO: You can't win if you don't have a goalie. Lehner or Crawford, who gets the most minutes?
JM: No doubt Crawford starts the season as the number one goalie, especially with Lehner out right now with an injury, but I expect Lehner to eventually take over as the top guy. He is younger and he's playing for his next contract, always a motivator. Having said that, the Hawks have the luxury that not many teams have, and that is two top flight goalies.
IMO: Moving out to the defense, you mentioned two new faces, but will the overall defense be better?
JM: Keith and Seabrook are the old men back there and Keith is still OK but the new guys we mentioned will really help slot everyone where they can do the most good. Additionally, the farm system is starting to get stacked with real talent and there will be three to four guys that can be called up and counted on including Carl Dahlstrom, Adam Boqvist and Nicolas Beaudin. It remains to be seen if Slater Koekoek ,makes the final cut or not. If he goes to Rockford expect him to be one of the first called up.
IMO: The top six forwards are pretty set, although the combinations may change around. The real issue is what is going to happen with the bottom six?
JM: The weakness the past few years has been the bottom six, no doubt. Carpenter and Smith are upgrades because of experience and I love bringing back the Mutt, Andrew Shaw, who gives the team that edge they have been missing. And, oh by the way, if anybody isn't cutting it they do have Kris Versteeg, Alexandre Fortin, and MacKenzie Entwistle waiting in Rockford for their chance.
IMO: PP or PK, which will be most improved?
JM: The PK will be I think. Smith, Carpenter, Shaw, and Mata will help shore up the PK and not have to use Toews or other top six guys too much. The PP will only get better if they SHOOT THE PUCK! The same thing fans have been screaming about since you were a kid.
It is going to be great having John on board to help with coverage this season. I can't wait for him to be wrong so I can spank him. Speaking of wrong, we foolishly have put together our predictions for the Central division.
St. Louis St. louis
The season starts October 4th in Berlin.
Let's Go Hawks!