Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2018-19 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
You can check out our previous editions on the Ottawa Senators, Los Angeles Kings, New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres, New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, and Minnesota Wild.
Today we’re focused on the Chicago Blackhawks, which missed the playoffs for a second straight season while taking another step away from their glory years. Going into the 2018-19 campaign, the big question mark was Corey Crawford’s health. He only played in 28 games in 2017-18 and hadn’t played since Dec. 23, 2017 due to a concussion.
Throughout the summer, Crawford’s status for the 2018-19 campaign remained uncertain, but Chicago did attempt to prepare for any eventuality by signing Cam Ward to a one-year, $3 million contract back in July. In the end, Crawford missed the first five games of the season due to the concussion and Ward wasn’t exactly good in those contests, but it was fine because Chicago’s offense was outstanding. The Blackhawks got off to a 3-0-2 start while scoring 22 goals over that span. Notably, all those games went into overtime.
With Crawford now back, Chicago continued to do well through Oct. 25. They had a 6-2-2 record, again thanks largely to their early offensive might. Patrick Kane had nine goals and 14 points through 10 games while Alex DeBrincat had eight goals and 14 points. Jonathan Toews got off to a dominant start too with six goals and 11 points.
The problem with riding a hot core of forwards though is that if they cool down, the team collapses. Chicago lost eight straight from Oct. 27-Nov. 12 while scoring just 11 goals over that span. During that drought, the decision was made to fire long-time head coach Joel Quenneville. It was a bit surprising to see the man who guided Chicago to three Stanley Cup championships fired after a 6-6-3 start, but the Hawks’ glory days were firmly in the rear view mirror and while that’s not Quenneville’s fault, he never the less took the fall.
With the head coaching gig handed to the then 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton (he turned 34 on Jan. 13), Chicago’s fortunes didn’t immediately turn around. In fact, they suffered another eight-game losing streak from Nov. 27-Dec. 11, reducing their record to 9-18-5.
At this point, Kane was still giving it his all with 15 goals and 36 points in 31 games, but the goaltending just wasn’t there. Crawford was 5-14-1 with a 3.21 GAA and .901 save percentage in 20 starts. That’s uncharacteristically bad for him, but they didn’t have much of an alternative because Ward was had a horrific 4.00 GAA and .885 save percentage in 13 games.
From there, Chicago was a largely streaky team. They won five of six games from Dec. 18-29, then dropped seven of eight contests from Jan. 1-17. They got seven straight wins from Jan. 20-Feb. 10 to climb to 23-24-9 and did continue to climb a bit more beyond that, but it was really too little, too late. They finished with a 36-34-12 record.
Along the way, Crawford missed more time due to more concussion problems and later a groin injury. As a result Cam Ward ended up playing in 33 games, posting a 3.67 GAA and .897 save percentage over that span.
Chicago’s defensive woes wasted an amazing season by Kane. He finished with 44 goals and 110 points in 81 contests. Toews had a great campaign too with 35 goals and 81 points. They helped make Chicago one of the top-10 offenses in the league, but the Blackhawks were also near the bottom of the NHL in terms of goals allowed.
Brent Seabrook – Brent Seabrook used to be one of the Blackhawks’ top defenseman, but he’s slipped somewhat in recent years. He had five goals and 28 points in 78 games, which is actually a little better than his 26 points in 2017-18, but it’s still well down from his 39 points in 2016-17 and 49 points in 2015-16. More importantly, Seabrook has slipped in other categories. He averaged 19:06 minutes, which made this the first time he’s averaged less than 20 minutes in his NHL career. He also posted career-worsts in both Corsi For % and Fenwick For % at 47% and 46.8% respectively. His results relative to the team were also meaningfully in the negatives in both categories. He still has another five seasons on his contract though with an annual cap hit of $6,875,000, so the Blackhawks need to hope against hope that the 34-year-old defenseman can turn things around.
Corey Crawford – As mentioned above, Corey Crawford’s playing time in 2018-19 was limited due to injury, but he also struggled when he was healthy. He finished with a 14-18-5 record, 2.93 GAA, and .908 save percentage in 39 starts. Missing the second half of the 2017-18 campaign with a concussion that ended up lasting into the early portion of last season likely played a role in those struggles though. He should be healthy going into 2019-20, so there’s a real chance that he’ll be substantially better going forward.
Dylan Strome – This one is a bit of a stretch. He had 17 goals and 51 points in 58 games in 2018-19 with Chicago, so clearly he didn’t underperform and they don’t exactly need more from him going forward. The 2018-19 campaign was a breakthrough for him and the Blackhawks will be looking for him to avoid a regression. If all goes well, Strome could be a big part of Chicago’s future.
Cam Ward – Usually we wouldn’t include two goaltenders in this section, but goaltending really was at the root of the problem. The Blackhawks’ goaltending was a major issue in 2017-18 as well, but Ward was brought in to mitigate the problem. Instead, Ward struggled mightily. He’s an unrestricted free agent this summer and isn’t expected to be back. Instead, Collin Delia is expected to be the new backup after signing a three-year, $3 million deal.