By: Jacqueline Brennan
Free Agency opens on Sunday, July 1, 2018. The Chicago Blackhawks are looking to fill major gaps in hopes of reaching the postseason in 2018-19, after missing the playoffs for the first time in 10 years last April. They won’t be able to fix all of their problems, but it’s a start.
Here’s what they should be focusing on:
Goaltending is a given. With all of the uncertainty surrounding starter Corey Crawford, and having no one who can play 82 plus games if he can’t, the Blackhawks need to find a veteran goalie who can pull his weight and support this team. The Blackhawks’ organization, General Manager Stan Bowman and Head Coach Joel Quenneville specifically, have said for months that they believe Crawford will be back to his old self by the start of the season, I’m less optimistic. Something is off about the entire situation he’s been out since late November and was only on the ice once since sustaining the injury and the Blackhawks have been very quiet through the entire thing. Maybe there’s more going on than they want us to know.
Rumor has it that the Blackhawks have looked into goaltenders Scott Darling, Cam Ward, and Carter Hutton as possible options to serve as Crawford’s backup. They are going to need a veteran that has experience in the league who can pull his weight for the team because Crawford probably will not make it an entire season. Again, there is more than what is being said and any knowledgeable fan knows the Blackhawks are looking at some of these guys because they are able to play as a starter. Out of their options, I think the Blackhawks should target Carter Hutton or Scott Darling because both are very familiar with this organization and the team.
Darling was Crawford’s backup during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons before being trading to Carolina. He helped Chicago defeat the Nashville Predators in 2015 in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, ultimately winning the Stanley Cup at the end of the season. He has been around the block with this team, he was well respected by his teammates and coaching staff, and the fans adored him. He struggled his first year as a starter for Carolina, but I believe if he were to come back to Chicago it would be as if that season never happened.
As for Carter Hutton, he too has played in this organization. Hutton played for Chicago’s affiliate team, the Rockford IceHogs, and the Blackhawks. He played 17 games for the St. Louis Blues last season, winning six of seven starts while starter Jake Allen was struggling. During that time he had a goal against average of 2.09 and a save percentage .931, making him the top goalie to play in under 20 games.
In my opinion, the best bet for the Blackhawks, with all the uncertainty that is facing them with Crawford, is to sign Scott Darling because he has proven that he can be the top goalie when Crawford was out for long stretches during his time with Chicago. He struggled his first year as a starter yes, but the Blackhawks didn’t prepare him as well as they should have. If he were to play for Chicago again I think he would find his confidence and be able to compete as a top goaltender in this league.
For me, defense and goaltending go hand-in-hand because your goaltender is your last line of defense, if your defenders let down the goalie then the goalie is likely to let down the team. For the Blackhawks, this is exactly what happened. Their defense was atrocious. Duncan Keith played in 82 games, had two goals and 30 assists for a total of 32 points, a plus-minus rating of -29, and 28 penalty minutes. Brent Seabrook played in 81 games, had seven goals and 19 assists for a total of 26 points, a plus-minus rating of -3, and 38 penalty minutes. Horrible Quenneville’s top two guys.
Besides their stats from last season, Keith and Seabrook are getting older, 34 and 33, and the Blackhawks need to start moving towards the younger generation. Kids like, Jan Rutta, Erik Gustafsson, Jordan Oesterle, and Connor Murphy should be given more ice time. They have plenty of upcoming defensemen that they do not need to go out and look for older veteran players that are on their way out.
In my opinion, Jan Rutta should be moved up to play with Keith, Erik Gustafsson should be moved up to play with Seabrook, and then you pair the rest up accordingly. Give these younger kids a chance to earn big minutes and let them show you what they are made of, they are the future of the club after Keith and Seabrook retire. Therefore, I don’t think the Blackhawks need to go out and pick up a defenseman, they should be looking at what they already have.
Last season was a disaster on all accounts for the Blackhawks, but scoring was not. Sure goals were not being produced, but when they were they were coming from a different line each time. The Blackhawks have at least one scorer on each line, they have the depth just no the chemistry quite yet. If Quenneville would give his lines more than one game, or better yet one shift, the chemistry would develop and they could potentially have four rolling lines.
Similar to the defensive situation, the Blackhawks need to look at the potential stars they already have, on their roster and in Rockford. They have the talent but they are not using it. Quenneville refuses to change his ways to form to the ever-changing league, so he’s wasting future talent. Instead of bringing in former champions and guys who are going to retire at the end of the season, they need to start shifting towards the future and going after younger talent. The game is becoming bigger and faster and this season is a prime example of how the team they have currently could not keep up, and it’s only going get worse if they do not shift towards where the league is going.
The pieces are in front of their faces, they just need to realize it and use them. They have the cap space for once so instead of using it to sign veterans, re-sign the younger kids who have made a difference for your team. The NHL is getting younger and it’s time the Blackhawks do the same.