What Does the Blackhawks Start Mean For their Roster?

A few observations regarding the Chicago Blackhawks start to the season, which sees them surprisingly leading the Western Conference despite working 6 rookies into the lineup.

Bounce Back By Hossa

Marian Hossa has seen his shooting percentage return from the depths of last year when he was held to a career low 13 goals. He already has 11. The significance of this is twofold.

One, the Hawks now only have one missing spot to fill in their Top 6 forward rotation, not two. It was believed Hossa would serve on Kruger’s line in a checking role this year. Instead, he has been one of their best scoring options to date. The Left Wing spot on the Toews line remains a question mark.

Two, most significantly, Hossa is likely to play at least another year. Recent comments in the press indicate Hossa wants to play as long as he feels he is playing at a level he is satisfied with. He is happy with how he has played thus far and why wouldn’t he be, he has been perhaps the Hawks best forward. There had been speculation Hossa would retire after this year, when you couple his salary going down next year to $1 million and his declining scoring and role by the end of the playoffs last year. This would have left the Hawks with roughly a $4.9 million cap hit for a player not on their roster next year, making the annual salary cap challenges even worse. Instead, the Hawks are likely to return a player off of a productive season for his usual $5.275 million cap hit. They couldn’t even field a minimum salary player for the difference between those two numbers, instead they are likely to get Hossa back, even if he will be one year older. HUGE win for the Hawks here.

Yes, Panarin is Still Really Good

Last year, you heard things like, well he played with MVP and Art Ross winner Patrick Kane, so of course he scored a lot. But can he do it on his own? Well, you saw in the World Cup he was an offensive force. And again, when Toews struggled, Kane was moved to his line, and Panarin didn’t miss a beat. He has proved to be the kind of talent you don’t let get away. Look for the Hawks to ink him to a six-year deal in the $6.5 million per year range. Even if it takes exposing a player like Kruger to Las Vegas in the expansion draft.

Remaking the Defense

The Hawks set out to fix the loss of Oduya from the 2015 Cup purge. The Sharp trade in which the Hawks took back Trevor Daley from Dallas rather than keeping that money and resigning Oduya set the frachise defense core back when Daley could not or would not assimilate into the Hawks defensive structure enough to move up from the bottom pairing last year. They took several steps this year to fix this situation:

Signed Michal Kempny from the KHL. This has worked wonders, especially for Brent Seabrook, who spent all last season babysitting Victor Svedberg and Eric Gustafsson, two Swedish AHL defensemen as his partner for most of the season, along with Trevor Van Riemsdyk, who has struggled in limited play as the 6th defenseman this year. The rookie Kempny has some of the best Corsi stats on the Hawks D, brings a physical edge to his game, and solid defensive play. He will be a Restricted Free Agent after this season, and Hossa’s likely return should help free up some money to bring him back again next season.

Signed Brian Campbell as a UFA. Campbell’s wheels on defense have helped the Hawks move out of their zone and aided their transition game. They have not had speed on defense like Campbell since trading Nick Leddy to the New York Islanders in the 2014 Cap purge. Campbell has spent time on all 3 defense pairs and has made they defense core much deeper than in recent seasons.

The Rookies

Gustav Forsling – The young Swede surprisingly made the team as the 6th defenseman after a strong training camp and preseason. However, after some early season struggles, and a logjam of 8 defenseman, it must be questioned if Forsling would have been better off returning to Sweden. He is not eligible to be sent to the AHL, and too young to sit in the press box. So better on ice options such as Michal Kempny and Michal Rozsival sit out while Forsling tries to find his game as the 6th defenseman. This situation is worth watching as the season progresses. Either Forsling steps up with more experience, or Quennville is likely to turn to his other options as the season progresses.

Ryan Hartman – The biggest surprise of the young rookies, Hartman leads the group with 5 goals. Criticized for a lack of discipline in the AHL last year, he has stayed away from foolish penalties, shown some finish and grit to his game, and put up some of the best possession numbers among all of the Hawks forwards. At this point he has likely played his way into strong consideration to protect from the expansion draft at the end of this season.

Nick Schmaltz – Schmaltz has been tried all over the lineup and has not found a niche at center or wing. Playing with Kane and Panarin while Anisimov was hurt last night, it was clear that his wingers were avoiding giving him the puck as offensive possession tends to end when he gets it. He is physically overmatched and would be best served in the AHL. However, without him, Jordin Tootoo or Andrew Desjardins would need to suit up and the Hawks are still looking for an element of skill in their lineup and his flexibility to play center is a plus. But at this point it would not be hard for either Tootoo or Desjardins to replicate Schmaltz’ one goal with his playing time. He shows promise and back checks hard sometimes, but his development curve would put him in the AHL now in a perfect world.

Tyler Motte – Solid 200 foot game, kills penalties, blocks shots, very good wheels, Motte has been a useful player. The Hawks would like to see a little more finish from a guy that scored 32 goals in 38 college games last season. Other than that he looks like a player, and could find himself on a top line if he gets the confidence to score going.

Vince Hinostroza – After being benched early in the season, Hino has used his speed to get the puck up ice and register solid Corsi numbers. He collected all 3 of his points in one game so the offensive output has not been there on the whole. He went through the same thing last year in the AHL and when he adjusted he became a point per game player. If the Hawks are patient with him, he may reward them with some more consistent offensive output as he is generating chances for himself and his linemates.

It will be interesting to see how these rookies develop as the Hawks are counting on them to provide secondary scoring to support their stars, since players like Tootoo, Kruger, Rasmussen, Desjardins, and Van Riemsdyk have very limited offensive potential.


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