Checking In On The Chicago Blackhawks Summer Rebuild

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CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 18: Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane (88) and Chicago Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews (19) skate back to the benches during the game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues on March 18, 2018, at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08, the Chicago Blackhawks summer rebuild was highly anticipated. There were many areas of the team that needed addressing prior to the upcoming 2018-19 NHL season. The Blackhawks needed help on defence and goal-tending, both of which they could address with the NHL draft and free agency. 

Chicago Blackhawks Summer Rebuild

Defence First

General manager Stan Bowman began the roster overhaul early in March by locking up his top six defenceman. He signed defencemen Jan Rutta (1 year-2.3 M) and Erik Gustafsson (2 years-1.2 M) to extensions. They joined defence anchors Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, in addition to Connor Murphy and Gustav Forsling. The shaky defence group featured several raw inexperienced blue-liners, as well as Seabrook and Keith, both coming off of the worst season of their careers. If the Blackhawks defence was to improve, Stan Bowman still had a lot of work to do in the off-season.

Drafting Defence

The Chicago Blackhawks entered the 2018 NHL Draft needing to restock their team with prospects. Everyone expected the Blackhawks to draft defence as a priority with the 8th and 27th picks in the first round. The team drafted Adam Boqvist at #8 and Nicolas Beaudin at #27. Both of them are cut from the same cloth that Bowman drafts from for his defence. Boqvist is 5-foot-11 and 165 pounds and Beaudin is 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds. They are offensive defencemen who can move the puck. 

Unfortunately they both have some filling out to do before they’ll be able to compete against perennial contenders like the Winnipeg Jets or Nashville Predators. Puck moving defencemen are a great asset, but they still have to defend against the much larger forwards dominating the Western Conference. 

Based on the past drafts by Bowman, many Blackhawk fans are still concerned. Since taking over as G.M. in 2009, Bowman’s draft record on defencemen leaves a lot to be desired. The only defenceman drafted by Bowman currently playing in the NHL is Stephen Johns. Drafted in 2010 by the Blackhawks, he now plays for the Dallas Stars. Overall the Blackhawks 2018 draft drew raves reviews, but only time will tell if these two first-rounders can contribute at the NHL level for a team needing immediate help on the back-end.  

Blackhawks Summer Rebuild and Free Agents

The Chicago Blackhawks summer rebuild led up to the July 1st NHL free agent signing day needing a splash. Unfortunately for the Blackhawk faithful, their favourite team was unable to land a big name free agent. This set off social media in Chicago as fans took out their frustrations on the Blackhawks via Twitter and other outlets. 

The Blackhawks did attempt to address their goaltending concerns by signing Cam Ward to a one year $3 million contract. They also signed Chris Kunitz to a one year $1 million contract, and Brandon Manning to a two-year $2.25 million contract. The Blackhawks expect Kunitz to bring leadership and some grit to the lineup and Manning will add some much-needed size to the Blackhawks defence.   

Due to salary cap limitations, the Blackhawks entry in free agency was not expected to be a big hit. They still carried the contract of Marion Hossa which kept them restrained with free agents. Thankfully the Blackhawks were recently able to unload the Hossa contract on the Arizona Coyotes. The Blackhawks now have $5.941 million in cap space that they can use during the season or at the NHL trade deadline per CapFriendly.com

They also have numerous stars in the making who are restricted free agents at the end of the 2018-19 season. Nick Schmaltz, Victor Ejdsell, and Dylan Sikura all need to be extended before the end of the season ahead. Following them is Alex DeBrincat who is a restricted free agent after the 2019-20 season. Stan Bowman has his work cut out for him and will be a busy man going forward.  

Goaltending Dilemma

The area still dominating the news in Chicago is the status of Corey Crawford. After ending his season in December, the recovery of Crawford is being kept quiet like a national secret. There have been no definitive answers from the Blackhawks as to his ability to return. The team has said all along that they expect him back by training camp. That has kept the fans of the team content up until the Blackhawks recent fan convention. Crawford responded to numerous questions about his health and return to the lineup during the convention.

Per a recent article by Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times:

Crawford said he’s “feeling pretty good right now, [but] I am not at 100 percent yet.”

In fact, his eyes reddened a bit and his voice wavered when he was asked about the last seven months and whether he, at any point, feared for his career or his long-term health. He wouldn’t go into specifics about the injury or the recovery process, but his voice betrayed his feelings.

The uncertainty of Crawford’s health and ability to return 100% is unfortunate. The Blackhawks need a healthy Crawford to compete in the tough Western Conference. Backup goaltenders Anton Forsberg and Cam Ward cannot be expected to provide the same Vezina level play that Crawford provided.

Looking Ahead

The Chicago Blackhawks still have a lot of questions to answer as they prepare for the upcoming season. Their prospects will get to defend last years championship in Traverse City Michigan next month. Many are hoping for another prospect or two to stand out like Alex DeBrincat did last year. DeBrincat lit up the tournament and earned a spot on Blackhawks opening night roster with his play.

Blackhawk fans everywhere are also hoping that one or more of their recently drafted defensive prospects can show they’re ready to contribute. That would help settle the nerves of a fan base who worry about their team returning to the playoffs in the near future.

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