This 31-part series chronicles why each team is going to be competitive in the 2018-2019 NHL season. Progressing alphabetically, three teams will be featured weekly during the off-season. A compendium 31-part series will be published by Hockey Troll (@HockeyTrollin) on www.BeerLeagueTalk.com on why your team is trash in the 2018-2019 NHL season.

Chicago Blackhawks

2017-2018 Regular Season: 76 Points (13th in West)

The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2017-2018 season was a nightmare to forget, finishing with 76 points, which was somehow two points less than the Oilers (Oilers fans live it up, this won’t be happening again in the foreseeable future). The last time that Chicago finished with less than 80 points was over a decade ago, during the 2006-07 season. After a decade to remember for Blackhawks fans, the past season can be chalked up as a massive disappointment and easily forgotten. In the past 10 years, the Blackhawks only missed the playoffs twice (2007-08; 2017-18), had 8 consecutive playoff appearances, and won the Stanley Cup three times (2010, 2013 and 2015).  Is next season going to be a return to glory, or another disappointment? If the past decade was any indication of the Blackhawks’ ability, we should expect them to return to greatness in 2018-2019.

The best hope for the Blackhawks is Joel Quenneville, who is seriously a coaching savant. His coaching career dates back to 1996, where he took the Blues to seven-straight playoff appearances, and moved to the Avalanche from 2005-2008, where his team had three consecutive 95 point seasons.  Between 2008 and 2017, as coach of the Blackhawks, Quenneville never missed the playoffs or even posted a sub-97-point season (excluding the lockout shortened 2012-13 season when they led the league with 77 points).  To recap, Quenneville has only missed the playoffs twice in his 21-year NHL coaching career, while winning 884 regular season games, 118 playoff games and 3 Stanley Cups. One could make the argument that he has only collected those win totals because he has remained in the league for 21-years, and considering that the average NHL coaching tenure is about 3-years, I would retort that coaches don’t have 21-year careers unless they are really good at their job.

“Good at his job”

The “stars” of the Blackhawks experienced an off-season in 2017-18, notably Toews (52 points) and Kane (76 points), who are undoubtedly under pressure to perform better individually next season. Toews’ intangibles (including defence, special teams and faceoffs) cannot be understated. Kane has only had one season with 100+ points in his career, and that season they were bumped in the first round by St. Louis. While Kane and Toews share a majority of the blame from the media, it has more to do with their price tags (10.5 million each), which constitutes about 26% of the salary cap. Just like every other franchise with top-heavy cap hits, value needs to be found elsewhere. Enter DeBrincat and Schmaltz, who are both on entry level contracts and eclipsed 50 points in their first full NHL seasons. Slotting them in top-6 roles is not only out of necessity (because they don’t have any money left), but also potential upside. I’ll be the first to admit that the Panarin for Saad deal didn’t really work out in terms of individual production, as Panarin ultimately had 47 more points. However, the best explanation for Saad’s disappointing season was because he shot a career-low 7.6% in 2017-2018. If he shot 10% (which is his career average), he pots 6 additional goals. If he shot 11.4% (his 2016-17 rate), he pots 10 additional goals. It should be expected that he returns to a ~50-point player next season. The rest of their forward depth is a bit sketchy, but the off-season addition of Chris Kunitz will provide this team with the “leadership” that only a 4-time Cup champion could deliver!

Leadership on display, totally not a dive

Chicago has really done a good job at evaluating defensive talent right before shipping them off to other teams.  Hjalmarsson, Kempny, and van Riemsdyk were all on the 2016-17 Blackhawks roster. They filled the void in 2017-18 with the likes of Gustafsson, Murphy, Rutta, and Oesterle. Then they traded Oesterle with Hossa in the Arizona deal, which was necessary to clear cap, leaving them with a top-6 still anchored by Seabrook and Keith. The contracts of Seabrook (6.875m AAV) and Keith (5.5m AAV), once touted as a great value, are victims of age-related regression. Seabrook, in particular, has been trending in a downward direction the past three seasons. Not to fear, he only has six more years on his contract! Looking into my crystal ball, I see a trade involving Seabrook and a pick to whichever team is spending to the floor to win the lottery next year. I can almost guarantee that they spend the freed up cap space wisely on re-acquiring a pivotal piece from their previous cup run. In unrelated news, Corey Crawford is totally over that whole vertigo thing and should definitely start 50+ games next year.

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