Why are the Chicago Blackhawks Struggling?

A couple thoughts….

I just saw a tweet that Marcus Kruger is the only Hawk draftee from 2008-2016 who is still on the roster AND has played more than 10 NHL games! That is crazy! And that is how you end up in cap hell quickly. The Blackhawks, for example, were too busy trading assets to move up in the draft to take Nick Schmaltz while StL sits there and takes Robbi Fabbri with the very next pick a few drafts ago. That kind of miscalculation, year after year, to division rivals no less, puts you behind the 8 ball.

And if you think about it, it has been known for a while with moving Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa aging that young wingers for the top six were needed. And you can’t rely on the miracle kind of trade that brought Sharp to Chicago from Philadelphia to turn out like that time and again. Which is why losing Brandon Saad was such a kick in the shorts long term. Think about the swings and misses the Hawks have taken just recently:

Jimmy Vesey – college UFA signed with NYR

Nail Yakapov – winger on the market, Hawks clearly had interest, but couldn’t take on the full cap hit, lost him to St Louis

Juri Hudler – Hawks had interest, couldn’t afford $2 million cap hit, signed with Dallas

And the guys that didn’t work out….

Marco Dano – top line winger of the future from the Saad deal with Colombus, traded to Winnipeg and since sent to minors

Teuvo Teravainen – Promising skilled center/winger, stalled in his second year, shipped to Carolina as ‘payment’ for them to take Brian Bickell’s $4 mil cap hit for one year

Mark McNeil – Former 2011 first round pick can’t make the NHL

And the guys that worked just fine but they got rid of or lost anyway…

Stephen Johns – Could write an epic about this…held onto Sharp too long last offseason and had to include their top prospect as a gift to Dallas in Sharp trade

Andrew Shaw – RFA traded for draft picks to Montreal as hit future cap hit would have prevented resigning Panarin

Philip Danault – Traded at deadline last year with 2nd for Weise and Fleishmann from Montreal. A player the Hawks could sorely use right now.

Brandon Saad – RFA hit on a $6 million contract after trade with Columbus as Hawks could not afford his next deal due to cap constraints

Kevin Hayes – 1st round pick college UFA after senior year chose to sign with NYR rather than Hawks to get playing time assurances

Patrick Sharp – 3 time Cup winner moved after 2015 Cup due to Cap restraints

Johnny Oduya – 2 time Cup winner lost in free agency when Hawks forced to take Trevor Daley back in Sharp trade to Dallas. Not enough cap room left to sign the UFA who then signed with Dallas. Oduya and Johns give them the shut-down D pair they never had.

Even trading Jimmy Hayes and Brandon Pirri for Kris Versteeg looks like a pretty healthy loss at this point.

The talent drain versus what we have added over the last couple years alone is staggering. Think about this, and this is why I do not view the Hawks as a Cup Contender this year…

Tampa Bay is fielding the same team they did when we beat them in the Cup in 2015, plus Drouin is now a first line wing with the talent to earn that role, plus major growth from Kucherov as he has become one of the game’s best offensive players.

Meanwhile, the Hawks 3rd line has gone from Vermette-Sharp-TT to Motte-Kruger-Hartman. The 4th line that had Shaw on it now has no one at this point you could say for sure should play 40 games in the NHL this season. The first line has Richard Panik instead of Brandon Saad, and Marian Hossa is not as dangerous as he was then. Second line is better, going from Richards – Kane – Versteeg to the Panarin – Anisimov – Kane line. Plus, and most critically to all of this…….is Keith the same player after his knee surgery?

Also St Louis and Dallas appear to have passed us to the point they beat us on a regular basis. And Nashville could be better this year than last year, when they made it to the final 4 in the playoffs. I am not ready to put them ahead of the Hawks for this year at this point though.

Coupled with the fact that we have one of the worst AHL teams from a prospect standpoint with virtually no one on the team having a long term future with the NHL club, except maybe the Swedish goalie Johansson. And if you believe in the future of Eric Gustafsson then him too. All of the best players, like 28 yr old winger Spencer Abbott, are career AHL guys.

Getting Panarin and Kempny were both coups for the Hawks, and it helps to stem some of these losses. And we may have a few diamonds to develop in the next couple years in Forsling, Motte, and maybe Fortin or Hino or Debrincat. But poor drafting coupled with these departures leaves us with what we have now.

I think my friend Jeff summed up what many fans feel when he said they lost him with the Sharp trade. Excellent line in the sand to compare the team before that and after. I think you can look back and losing Saad along with the Sharp trade, and giving away Danault, and then Shaw have conspired to put the Hawks closer to the middle of the talent pack than the top. We are a possession team that can’t play a possession game. Everyone in the NHL wants to do that. And we used to be a team that could convert a higher percentage of our chances than anyone else, Sharp and Saad were a big part of that, as Leddy was the possession stats.

We are now Pittsburg. Before this latest Cup. And it will take a transformation of similar proportions for us to be able to make the most of our core and go on a crazy run like they did.

Really, Keith, Hammer, Panarin, Campbell, even Hossa, are some of the best value contracts in the NHL. Even with these we are really hurting cap wise, even after shedding Bickell’s contract at the high expense of TT. So we wait to catch lighting in a bottle with some of the young guys because really we have no other options right now. At this point any roster improvements will have to come via trade, and we have very few cards to play.

That first game vs StL was a train wreck, and if you start slow enough in today’s NHL you are in a heap of trouble when it comes to making the playoffs, especially in this division. I think it will take 15 or so games to really see what we have, but not a good start.

Here’s hoping the young guys have a quick learning curve.

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