The 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks begin the NHL regular season Thursday night in Ottawa. The Blackhawks are coming off one of their worst seasons in over a decade. The Blackhawks entered the off-season facing a long summer out of the playoffs. They made several moves in the off-season with their roster, their 2018 draft picks, and free agency. Many of their moves were questioned throughout the summer and still remain a hot topic as the 2018 season begins. The 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks opening night roster is set, for better or worse. The roster includes several surprises, some issues, and a dark future which we will cover here.
2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks: The Good
Here is the roster as it stands currently:
- Patrick Kane
- Jonathan Toews
- Brandon Saad
- Artem Anisimov
- Marcus Kruger
- Dominik Kahun
- Nick Schmaltz
- David Kampf
- Alex DeBrincat
- John Hayden
- Luke Johnson
- Andreas Martinsen
- Chris Kunitz
The forwards contain a few surprises to many watching the team in rebuild. Andreas Martinsen and Dominik Kahun played extremely well in the pre-season and pushed both Victor Ejdsell and Dylan Sikura to the Rockford Ice Hogs in the AHL. Sikura and Ejdsell both played well for the Blackhawks at the end of last season and were expected to make the lineup to begin the year.
The improved play of Martinsen and his size (6’3″ 220 lbs) are two factors in his making the team to start the year. Martinsen during the pre-season has played on a line with Marcus Kruger and John Hayden. Hayden (6’3″ 215 lbs) gives the Blackhawks a second big winger playing with Kruger on the team’s 4th line. They were also the most consistent line in each pre-season game they played together. They created a great forecheck, were a physical presence, and provided some offence as well.
The forwards are a mix of some veterans and some fresh faces. It will be interesting to see head coach Joel Quenneville’s lines as they are rolled out Thursday night in Ottawa. The biggest question is how long will the lines last before the “Coach Q Line Blender” goes into effect.
- Brent Seabrook
- Duncan Keith
- Jan Rutta
- Brandon Manning
- Erik Gustafsson
- Henri Jokiharju
- Brandon Davidson
- Connor Murphy (injured reserve)
The Blackhawks defence is going to be called upon to make some drastic improvements over last season’s performance. They have added Brandon Manning and Brandon Davidson to the defence corps over the summer. Connor Murphy being on injured reserve has also given Henri Jokiharju a chance to start the season in the NHL.
Jokiharju has shown flashes of brilliance with the puck on offence during the pre-season. His down-side is his ability to defend. Jokiharju has struggled with puck battles in his own zone as well as battling in front of the net. His lack of size (6’0″ 193 lbs) is going to be tested against the larger wingers in the tough Western Conference. It will not be a surprise to see Jokiharju returned to the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL before he plays more than nine games in the NHL. This will probably depend on how long Connor Murphy remains out.
Overall the defence looks eerily similar to last year’s squad. As a unit, they have all struggled to defend in the D zone during the six pre-season games. Clearing and moving pucks out of their own zone has been a problem as well. Only time will tell if they will be able to gel into a solid defence corps. The Blackhawks will definitely need Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith to recapture the form of their youth this season. If they struggle like the past two years, it will be a long season.
The goaltending situation in Chicago is a fragile work in progress. The Blackhawks finally revealed that Corey Crawford was still suffering from concussion symptoms since going out last December. Crawford has been in training camp but only performing one-on-one drills with goalie coach Jimmy Waite. While Crawford was out, the goaltending duties fell to Cam Ward and Anton Forsberg. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, both Ward and Forsberg have struggled in net during the pre-season.
Going forward the number one duties will fall to Ward with Forsberg as the backup while Crawford practices with the team. The next phase of Crawford’s recovery will be practicing and possibly returning to game action in 2-3 weeks. The Blackhawks are taking things slowly with Crawford, which is wise. They will need a healthy Crawford if they wish to compete in the Western Conference playoff picture.
2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks: The Ugly
One ugly aspect of the Chicago Blackhawks is yet again their salary cap issues. According to capfriendly.com the Blackhawks currently have $3,933,205 million in cap space. While that is the most cap space the Blackhawks have had to start the season in years, it is nowhere near enough going forward.
The Chicago Blackhawks have a major salary problem facing them in the near future. It involves what the team calls “Blackhawks For Life” contracts. A better term is “anchor contracts”. After winning their last Stanley Cup in 2015, the team doled out several “Blackhawks For Life” contracts to their core players. These contracts were truly deserved after the core provided the suffering franchise three Stanley Cups in six seasons. The players earned these contracts and the team was wise to lock them up long-term. One only has to look at the recent John Tavares situation to see what happens to a team that doesn’t secure a long-term deal for its stars.
The downside of these kind of contracts is in later years when the stars are no longer performing at a high level. The team is saddled with a contract that usually includes a no-trade clause (NTC) or non-movement clause (NMC) which makes it nearly impossible to trade the player. The huge multi-year contracts also eat up a huge chunk of the annual salary cap. That makes it difficult to sign younger players after their entry-level contracts expire. The Blackhawks have several of these anchor contracts and also numerous players nearing the end of their entry-level contracts. Listed below are these players.
Blackhawks For Life Contracts
- Patrick Kane age 29 – $10.5 million per year through 2023 (NMC)
- Jonathan Toews age 30 – $10.5 million per year through 2023 (NMC)
- Brent Seabrook age 33 – $6.875 million per year through 2024 (NMC)
- Duncan Keith age 35 – $5,538,462 million per year through 2023 (NMC)
These four contracts alone equal $33,422,462 of the Blackhawks current salary cap expenditure of $75,566,795. Nobody disputed the contracts given to these players by Stan Bowman at the time, winning three Cups in six seasons will do that. The problem isn’t the amount per year, it’s the length of the contracts. It appears that Bowman believed Seabrook and Keith would be able to play at a high level until almost 40. Based on their play the last two seasons, it appears Bowman should have taken the under on that bet. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks will be saddled with these two anchor contracts going forward.
Chicago Blackhawks RFA’s
The Chicago Blackhawks have numerous younger players that need to be locked up after their entry-level contracts expire. With only $3,933,205 million in cap space, the team will be hard-pressed to lock up their future core without making some major moves. Here’s the list of players needing to be locked up:
- Nick Schmaltz
- David Kampf
- Luke Johnson
- Blake Hillman
- Dylan Sikura
- Gustav Forsling
- Victor Ejdsell
- Carl Dahlstrom
- Collin Delia
- Anton Forsberg
Forecast Calls For Pain
As you can see, there is an ugly dark cloud hanging over the Blackhawks future. Stan Bowman has almost $4 million in cap space that will never cover all of the impending RFA’s. Expect Bowman to be very active this season as he prepares for the difficult times that are coming. Other than that, buckle up for the rough ride ahead for the 2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks.
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)