Thursday night’s loss in Philadelphia was the sixteenth game of the 2017-18 season, meaning roughly 20 percent of the season is now in the books. And the Chicago Blackhawks suck.
No more are we sugarcoating the results with “they’re still figuring out the chemistry” and “the sample size is too small.” Entering Friday, Chicago is already 11 points behind St. Louis in the Central Division; of course the rest of the Central isn’t forcing a sense of urgency on the Blackhawks as four of the seven teams are at 16 points or lower.
Six weeks ago, if I told you Brandon Saad would be tied with Connor McDavid in goal scoring on Nov. 10 you would probably be thrilled. But while that is in fact true today, the fact that Saad and McDavid are tied for 45th in the NHL with six goals is both sad and frustrating for fans of the Oilers and Blackhawks.
Other than the performance to date of Corey Crawford, there isn’t much for Hawks fans to get excited about right now.
- The Blackhawks rank 20th in the league in offense, scoring 2.75 goals per game.
- The Blackhawks are allowing 33.7 shots on net per game, the sixth-highest average in the NHL.
- The Blackhawks power play (12.9 percent) ranks 29th, which honestly makes me feel awful for fans of the Sabres and Blue Jackets.
- Compounding the amazingly awful power play is the fact that the Blackhawks have had a league-leading 70 opportunities with an advantage this season. They’re getting chances but continue to be terrible.
- The Blackhawks aren’t staying out of the box, either. The 61 penalty kills the Hawks have had on this year is the eighth-highest total in the NHL entering Friday.
So now what?
The Hawks have some internal options they could consider.
A couple days ago, Scott Powers at The Athletic wrote about the great reviews Matthew Highmore is getting in Rockford. Highmore, 21, has five goals and four assists in 12 games with the IceHogs and has a cap hit of $775,833 this season.
Vinnie Hinostroza has NHL experience and has had some success in a bottom-six role with the Blackhawks. The 23-year-old center leads the IceHogs with five goals and eight assists in 12 games, and has a $717,500 cap hit this year.
The Hawks traded a third round pick to Detroit to get Tomas Jurco last year, but he’s buried in Rockford right now. Jurco, 24, has nine points in 12 games with the IceHogs, however, and has a $800,000 cap hit.
What do these three players have in common? They’re producing at Rockford and their cap hits are lower than Lance Bouma ($1M) and are in the neighborhood of the cap hit of Alex DeBrincat ($778,333).
DeBrincat might be better served getting professional experience and minutes in a top line role in Rockford more than grinding on the Hawks’ third or fourth lines; he’s averaging under 14 minutes per night right now.
Both Hinostroza and Jurco will be restricted free agents at the end of this season.
It’s still incredibly early in the year, but we’ve already seen the Ottawa Senators and Nashville Predators engineer a blockbuster three-team trade with Colorado to improve areas of need. If the Blackhawks were going to try to get a game-changing forward up front, the market became more tricky when the Avs did as well as they did in the Matt Duchene deal.
Stan Bowman will be handicapped if there is interest in the 2018 draft class – that is supposedly a good, deep class – because the Hawks do not currently own a pick in the second or fourth rounds (Chicago does have two picks in the fifth, however). Chicago does have some intriguing players in the system, however, including the three forwards named above. Defenseman Erik Gustafsson (10 points in 12 games) is off to a solid start in Rockford as well and may have some value.
Clearly Colorado is selling, but Gabriel Landeskog is probably going to be too expensive for the Blackhawks both because of his $5,571,429 cap hit this season and the likely package it would take to get him out of Colorado with three more years after the 2017-18 season remaining on his current contract.
Arizona is trying to rebuild as well, and are off to a predictably terrible start. But a deal for Derek Stepan’s $6.5M cap hit would likely require both the Coyotes to retain salary (not necessarily out of the question) and a nice package of prospects/picks that Bowman might not be able/willing to move to make his team even more financially top-heavy for three more years after this season.
So what do the Blackhawks do? Only the Coyotes (2-6-2) are worse in their last 10 than the Hawks (3-6-1) in the entire Western Conference. Clearly something has to change quickly to get the train back on track.