Expectations Are Low As The Blackhawks Leave Us Wondering

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As the 2017-2018 Blackhawks season has approached, a lot of people asked me how I think they’ll do. Honestly, I have no idea. Though I do have a feeling about how the season will go. It’s going to be a grind.

This isn’t the same Blackhawks team we’ve come to expect over the last 8 years. “The core” is getting older and the players that were brought in seem more like band-aids than solutions.

Forwards

“But we got Sharpy and Saad back!”

On the first line it’s no doubt that it’s great to have Saad back. He is consistent on both ends of the ice and will contribute 50 plus points. What the Blackhawks really need from Saad is to ignite Jonathan Toews who struggled for most of last season. A line of Saad-Toews-Richard Panik has the potential to score a lot of points and be very exciting.

Patrick Sharp is a wild card. He’s 35 and coming off a hip injury which is always hard to recover from. It’s only two seasons ago but if you’re expecting 2015 Sharp numbers, you’re insane. He is back because he is cheap and “knows the system.” Sounds like that band-aid I mentioned before.

These two are essentially the replacements for Artemi Panarin and Marian Hossa this season. It’s not always about numbers, intangibles like Saad and Sharp have are important, but there is a significant drop off in points.

Panarin and Hossa contributed a combined 119 points last season while Saad and Sharp only had a total of 71. If you’re competent in math, that’s 48 less points in comparison.

This puts a lot of pressure on younger players like Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz to pick up the slack. Hartman had a very good first full season last year (19g 12a) and hopefully he can ride that momentum and avoid a sophomore slump.

Schmaltz showed some promise last year but was inconsistent in his play. The only thing he was consistent with was how bad he was at the dot. He only won an appalling 30.9% of faceoffs.

So now early indications have him on the second line centering Hartman and Kane. Kaner will surely help both of these young players provided Schmaltz can get him the puck. He can only go up from 31 percent, right?

The projected third line of Sharp-Anisimov-Debrincat is going to be interesting. Anisimov is coming off two extremely productive seasons which saw a lot of clean up for Kane and Panarin. It will be interesting to see if he is still 40+ point guy without them and if there is any chemistry with Sharp and the highly touted Debrincat.

Debrincat (de-BRINK-it) had three consecutive 100 point seasons with the OHL’s Erie Otters and was named the league’s most outstanding player. During the offseason he had a poor showing at Blackhawks prospect camp but redeemed himself at this summer’s Traverse City prospect tournament.

Expectations are very high for the young prospect. Possibly too high. He isn’t going to come in and be a 50 goal scorer like the hype many fans have for him. Debrincat is probably a 20-30 goal/season guy and I wouldn’t even expect that out of him this season. Let’s just hope the meatballs don’t try to run him out of the city when he doesn’t reach that in 2017-2018.

The fourth line will be a revolving door as usual. There is only one thing I would expect from this line, John Hayden moves up to see time on the third line. He is big, strong, provides a presence the Blackhawks haven’t had since Bryan Bickell but has a bit more skill to score.

Projected Lines

  1. Saad-Toews-Panik
  2. Hartman-Schmaltz-Kane
  3. Sharp-Anisimov-Debrincat
  4. Bouma-Kero-Hayden-Wingels (Any combo of that)

Defense

Oh boy, this is going to be really interesting after last season’s playoff debacle. The defense failed the Blackhawks and I don’t believe it improved during the offseason.

We know that we’re going to get very good play and minutes from two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith. Brent Seabrook will be solid and have to carry some young bum for most of the season. Then come the question marks.

A lot of eyes will be on newcomer Connor Murphy. He was acquired in the trade for the Blackhawks formerly best shut down defenseman, Niklas Hjalmarsson. Murphy is a former first round draft pick of the Coyotes but under-performed in his four seasons there. We’ve all heard the old “maybe a change of scenery will do him good” line about him and lets hope that’s true. He has NHL experience, is only 24 and will be playing with two grizzled veterans.

There isn’t much to expect from the rest of the defensemen. Kempny, Rutta, Oesterle and Franson will be making up the seldom used third pairing and getting some time next to Seabrook at times. These are the band-aids once again and the only thing that can be said about the Blackhawks defense is that, they have guys. They’re deep in numbers and that’s where it ends.

Projected Pairngs

  1. Keith-Murphy
  2. Seabrook-Rutta
  3. Kempny-Oesterle-Franson

Goalie

Corey Crawford is the Blackhawks goalie and he is probably going to start 85% of the games, barring injury. For some reason fans always want to replace him but he is consistently top 10 in numbers and wins a lot of games by standing on his head. Just shut up, Scott Darling is gone so you can get that stupid “but he’s from Chicago” homer attitude out of here.

Anton Forsberg will be backing up Crawford and it will be interesting to see when and how often Coach Q will use him. He doesn’t have much NHL experience and history has shown that Q likes to ride his starting goalies for long periods of time.

The Season

There is a lot of uncertainty heading into this season and it is going to be a grind. The team starts out the first 8 games of the season against teams that averaged 102 points last season. While no October games are must wins, it will show a lot about the younger and unproven player’s character.

To prove the uncertainty you can look at something as silly as NHL 18 simulations and odds. The Blackhawks currently have 12-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup which is tied for 3rd best odds to win.  On the other hand, NHL 18 has the Blackhawks finishing in 12th place in their own conference, missing the playoffs. Dumb references but interesting.

I hope I don’t jinx the team but I believe they are a playoff team as it stands. They’re going to have to struggle within their division with Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis and Winnipeg. Most likely they will finish third or fourth in the Central.

I hope I’m wrong and they just come out and dominate everyone, but I don’t see that happening. The most important thing is that the young players develop and show some promise for the future. This isn’t a rebuild for the Blackhawks. This is a reload.

Follow @Pappy_Hour on Twitter for more Blackhawks news and musings. 

 

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Lifelong Chicagoan who thrives to compete and gives objective views of Chicago sports. Three sport high school athlete, NCAA D3 athlete, and current beer league hockey player. Three time winner on CSN's Beer Money sports trivia show and Warrior Hockey VIP of the Year 2016.