Chicago, IL — With the 2011/2012 season in the books for the Chicago Blackhawks, the season ended with more questions than answers. GM Stan Bowman and head coach Joel Quenneville met the media this week to answer questions but it seems they were left with as many questions to answer in the off-season as us Blackhawks fans were.
The one thing fans and media have proposed is trades of some big core players like Kane, Keith & Sharp to add size and physicality to this team. This notion was almost immediately squelched when Stan Bowman emphatically stated Patrick Kane would be the team’s second line center going forward. I’m not sure I agree with this but I do agree Patrick Kane should stay in Chicago.
Over the summer I will be playing GM and take a look at the shortfalls on this team from Centers, Defensemen, Goalies. I will look at the horrible special teams this year and how to fix them. I will look at prospects, trades that I think should be made & the coaching and GM. For now though I will address the vaunted core that I think even they would agree fell short this year.
For those that do not know the core is Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith & Brent Seabrook. I’m also going to throw Dave Bolland in here to for several reasons. He is a true center man which, despite what Stan Bowman thinks I feel is not their strongest position on ice. Bolland also is a gritty forechecker which again I think this team needs more of. For those reasons alone Bolland is part of the core and going nowhere.
Those seven players constitute 60% of the salary cap of the Blackhawks’ 64.3 million cap limit. That puts an awful lot of trust in seven players. It also leaves few spaces and dollars left to spend to fill the holes. Each remaining position and salary must be filled wisely to complement this group but, is this the right group? Or should some of these players be traded to fill more needs?
I will start with the Captain Jonathan Toews. It’s hard for me to be objective about this guy because I love everything about him as a leader and his game. He is a valuable center and two-way player. He can play at a high level both on offense and defense. He can play a skilled game but can grind it out as well. This year he was hampered by injury and sidelined for much of the later part of the season with a concussion. There is no question he would have led this team in stats had he have played the entire year. No one means more to this team than Toews. He is the rock this team is built upon and I have no problems with that. I still think he is the best captain in the NHL. In the offseason he needs to focus on getting healthy as there are no weaknesses in his game.
Patrick Kane’s name always comes up as trade fodder but I disagree. I’m not sure what people are looking at. He is a QB on the ice and a playmaker the likes of which the Blackhawks even with all their skill do not have anyone like him. I have no problem with Kane. He did everything he was asked he moved from RW to C to LW and back again so it is not surprising he had an off-year statistically. He also took this team in his hands when Toews went down with injury going into the playoffs. What I disagree with is keeping him at Center which I will discuss in another blog but if they insist on keeping him there Kane will have work to do in the offseason. He has stated he will forgo the IIHF Worlds and I think that is smart. In my opinion he needs to get physically stronger and stay well. He needs to work on his faceoff skills and the defensive part of his game. If Kane can forecheck and backcheck with as much easy as he stick handles with the puck he will be a monster. To trade him would be a huge mistake and one that would come back to bite the Hawks in my opinion. He is too skilled to give up and he is maturing and showing leadership skills. Stan is right to keep him in Chicago at center I’m not so sure.
Patrick Sharp did not have one of his better years. Plagued all year by a wrist injury, it is surprising that he will be going to Worlds. He ended up second on the team in points but I’m sure he is disappointed with his point production in the playoffs. This year he playing back in his normal LW position but not having a big 2nd line center could have hindered his production along with his wrist injury. Sharp is a very good two-way player and ended the regular season leading the team in +/-. In the offseason I want Sharp to practice elevating his shots. Sharp is one of this teams leaders and if he was traded you would be missed a lot in the locker room. Sharp needs to stay in the Indianhead jersey just practice honing that sharpshooting and enjoy that new baby in the offseason.
Marian Hossa, this one makes me sad as we are not sure how Hossa will recover from that dirty Torres hit. I’m thinking Hossa is so big and strong he will have a full recovery and be back as big as ever. One of the best two-way players on this team, Hossa just needs to focus on getting better in the offseason. His game is solid so feel better Marian and enjoy your new baby too.
Duncan Keith, a lot of people look at Duncan Keith and where he is at compared to his Norris trophy winning form of two years ago. There is no denying he is not the same Duncan Keith. In his defense he logs way too many minutes on the ice. He plays nearly half the game on the ice so it is no wonder if he makes some mistakes. He is probably tired. He has been paired with so many young dmen like Dylan Olsen and Nick Leddy which has to affect his game. I still think he is at his best when paired with Seabrook. Next year I want to see this duo intact barring injuries. I think though Keith needs to work on his shot from the point. A lot of his shots were blocked. He needs to find away to get to open lanes in the offensive zone. For those suggesting trade him, that is just silly. This team struggled with the D so why would you get rid of a top two D man. He led all defensemen with points-Keith stays.
Brent Seabrook – I think Seabs had his best year yet. I see him steadily improving every year and that is saying a lot. He brings a big physical presence and physicality to the ice. He always leads the team in hits yet has one of the lowest PIM how he accomplishes that is with hard, clean legal hits. In fact I wish the Hawks had a cloning machine and could duplicate him. I believe they need another defenseman just like him. Every game you know what you’re getting with Seabrook. He is going nowhere. Why would the Blackhawks get rid of exactly what they still need another of? Seabrook led all the D-men in +/- which speaks to his consistency as a defenseman. I would like to Seabrook jump in more on offense and keep working on that booming slapshot from the point. And is there anyone better at the stretch pass? Seabrook is worth every penny he gets.
I agree with Stan Bowman on keeping this core intact. It is who is around them and who can complement them that will make the difference going forward. The Hawks are skilled but they still lack size and physicality which showed up in both the 2011 & 2012 playoffs as glaring weakness and something that Bowman will need to address this off-season. It won’t be easy as a lack of a CBA will make it hard to determine if the cap will stay the same or lower and how much can be spent.
Of the non-core players, I can guarantee that Daniel Carcillo, Ray Emery, Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell will all be back for obvious reasons. Carcillo and Emery were given contract extensions in the regular season so they are staying. Carcillo was cited by several on the Blackhawks including Bowman as an ingredient that was missing this year so we will see more of him in 2012. He provides an attitude and snarl like no other. Look for him to open the ice up for Kane & Hossa again next year. Let’s hope he stays on the ice and only goes to the penalty box when necessary.
Andrew Shaw is exactly what the Hawks were missing grit and grind Shaw’s a keeper for sure. The fans love this guy so he is the marketing department’s dream. He played much larger than anyone expected. Look for him to continue on the Bolland line. Bryan Bickell was on the Bolland line with Shaw and I don’t think this line will be split up going forward. I just want Bickell to play large and be more physical. He also can provide good size with net presence.
The Hawks have a number of UFA’s and Ben Smith who will be a RFA this off-season do any of these come back? There is Stalberg, Frolik, Kruger & Hayes could these be used as trade bait or kept on to be developed further? What about the Centerman position? Stan Bowman admitted Goaltending was a weakness this year so what happens next year? Who are the Hawks best options? I will be addressing all of these questions in future blogs.
Question upon question that is what happens when you do not reach your goals. On a team with so many expectations the bar they raised is very high. In 2011 the Hawks could blame the cap space and having to dismantle a Stanley Cup winning roster. In 2012 it is more difficult to pin point what went wrong. Everyone wants to blame who the Hawks had on the ice but maybe it was not a question of who but what. Afterall, the Penguins, Bruins, Canucks & Red Wings are all out as well. I doubt anyone is saying trade Crosby, Malkin, Chara, Bergeron, Sedins either of them or Lidstrom and Datsyuk.
The core will remain untouchable for now, yes. Another year with a first round playoff exit then something will need to change. As fans you must have faith that this core who got it done once just needs a few pieces around them. Stan Bowman is on the clock and the time is ticking the moment game six ended against the Coyotes. Let’s hope he picks up the right players to put around this talented core.