The 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks season opened with much anticipation from its fanbase. GM Stan Bowman had retooled the team’s roster dramatically in the off-season. Hopes were high that the rebuilt team was ready to reclaim its relevance in the NHL and be part of the playoff picture next spring. We are going to look at some areas of the team and review what went well, what went ok, and what needs improvement based on the first four games.
2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Season
The 2019-20 season opened in Prague against the Philadelphia Flyers as part of the NHL Europe Series. A gift part of the schedule followed after Prague with six days off and then seven consecutive home games for the Blackhawks. This would provide the team with ample rest after returning from Europe as well as a chance for some “home cooking” where successful teams love to dominate. The Blackhawks rebuilt roster would have time to gel while at home as opposed to the normal travel schedule.
Unfortunately, the Blackhawks have struggled a bit so far this season going 1-2-1 after their first four games. They suffered a disappointing loss in Prague then two more losses after returning home. Their first victory of the year was this past Monday night against a red-hot Edmonton Oilers team who entered the United Center undefeated. For more on the importance of the Blackhawk’s first victory check this out from John Dietz of the dailyherald.com:
“Still, when a team like the Chicago Blackhawks is attempting to rebuild a winning culture, it can’t afford to go too long without posting a victory.
That they did, getting superb goaltending from Corey Crawford, inspired play from Shaw, Drake Caggiula, Brandon Saad and Alex DeBrincat, and a timely goal from Patrick Kane during a 3-1 victory over Edmonton.”
Despite the rocky start in four games, there are still signs of improvement from the last few seasons. There are also areas of the team that definitely need improvement if the Blackhawks hope to be a playoff contender.
Blackhawks 2019-20 Season – The Bright Spots
The Cat Gets Extended
Alex DeBrincat signed a three-year contract extension prior to the season beginning. His impending restricted free agent (RFA) status at the end of the season was a huge red flag for the team and needed to be dealt with sooner rather than later. Credit to Stan Bowman for making that happen prior to the season. “The Cat” has been a solid contributor since coming into the league scoring 70 goals and 130 points overall. He is also a player with a lot of character who also plays way larger than his 5’7” 165-pound size. He certainly would have been given an offer sheet if left unsigned by the team at the RFA deadline. That potentially would have created a bidding war for the sniper which also could have made his annual cap hit unbearably high.
Signing DeBrincat solves a major contract dilemma for the team, but there are several other ones to be addressed and also potential salary cap issues that need to be worked out for next season. These include other pending RFA’s and also the goaltending situation for next season. We will cover those in a piece later on this year so stay tuned for that.
The Blackhawks 2019-20 season brought about a new commitment to physical play. The additions of Andrew Shaw and Dominik Kubalik in the off-season and the efforts of Drake Caggiula and Brent Seabrook led the way to the increased physical tone. The four players that lead the team in hits are Drake Cagguila with 16, Dominik Kubalik at 15, Andrew Shaw and Brent Seabrook both tied with 14 hits. The increased physicality is noticeable and a welcome sight after so many seasons where the team got pushed around night-in and night out.
2019-20 Season – The Ok
Faceoffs were an issue last season as the only reliable centre was Jonathan Toews. In the off-season, Bowman addressed the need for more consistency at the faceoff dot. He acquired Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith and it appears to have paid off. In four games with 10 or more faceoffs each, here are the top three players at the dot: Toews – 51.2%, Smith – 57.1%, and Carpenter – 51.7%. Following behind them are Shaw – 46.2%, David Kampf – 45.7%, and Dylan Strome 41.7%. Having three centres over 50% is a plus but improvement from the bottom three will certainly help win games.
The Blackhawks have one of the best goaltending tandems in the NHL. These goalies will have a good year splitting time as long as some of our items in the needs improvement section below get addressed. Here are their numbers after four games.
- Crawford 1-2-0 3.41 GAA .900 Save %
- Lehner 0-0-1 2.95 GAA .909 Save %
The Blackhawks power-play unit currently sits at a 22.2% effective rate. That places them 18th in the NHL with definite room to improve. The team has too much talent and also some added grit since last season. There is no reason for them not to be one of the league’s best power-play units. That happening would also help boost their chances to return to the NHL playoffs next spring. More net-front presence, more rebounds, and getting greasier goals should be on the horizon.
The Needs Improvement
Man-On-Man Defence – Oh Man
What can be said about the Blackhawks defence corps that hasn’t already been said numerous times over the last several seasons? Coach Jeremy Colliton installed his man-on-man defence scheme after taking over for coach Joel Quenneville last season. The man-on-man defence scheme has been a brutal disappointment since being adopted by the Blackhawks. This scheme requires all five players on the ice to think, react, and defend as one cohesive unit. Playing this system sometimes requires defencemen to defend the other team all over the defence zone.
While the defencemen are busy behind the net, in the same or opposite corners, or chasing opponents out to the blueline, the Blackhawk forwards have to tightly cover their zone keeping the other players in check. If one or more forwards misses an assignment, that will leave prime scoring areas wide open. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks goalies, this happened way too often last season and has also continued so far this season.
As opposed to the man-on-man scheme, most NHL teams practice the “protect the house” system. You will see all five players collapsing into the slot as they try to defend that prime scoring area during games. This type of coverage makes it especially difficult for offences to get off one-timers, tap-ins, or snappers from in close. The man-on-man scheme is also very different from what most defencemen have played previously. Ask any defenceman this question: “If your partner is behind the net or in the corner, where should you be?” The majority will answer “in the slot” almost immediately with a “are you kidding me?” look. The man-on-man system requires that the forwards often cover the slot while the defencemen are covering their man. If one part of the unit fails to cover, then it is an open man, shot and a goal against time.
Coach Colliton’s continued use of this system presents problems going forward. At some point, he will have to address either the player’s poor coverage issues, the coaching and practice they receive, or the fact that the system is not working with the players involved. Hopefully, the recently rebuilt defence corps can develop along with the forwards into playing tighter coverage for their goalies. Only time will tell if they are able to do this or not. If they cannot and Colliton won’t change schemes, rest assured the surprising addition of Marc Crawford to the coaching staff may come front and center before the 2019-20 season gets away from the team. Crawford was hired for a reason and will take over if needed.
Penalty Killing Unit
Unfortunately, the Blackhawks 2019-20 Season penalty-killing unit picked right up where the 2018-19 unit left off. Last season the Blackhawks were absolute dead last in penalty killing. This season has the Blackhawks PK unit at 61.5% which is worse than last year’s productivity. The only bright spot is that they are not the worst in the NHL! They have the third-worst penalty killing in the league. While four games is a small sampling, the fact remains that the inability to kill off penalties has cost them points already this season.
Despite listing this unit under the “needs improvement” grouping here, there is a ray of hope for the team. The additions of Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta were supposed to help improve the penalty killing and certainly should down the road. Developing a productive and successful penalty-killing unit takes practice and patience. Calvin de Haan just played his first game last weekend after returning from injury. As he works himself back into game shape, the PK unit will undoubtedly get better while they play more games together. Hopefully, we will be touting this part of the team’s game as an improvement in the near future. Many fingers around Chicago are crossed hoping for the same thing.
2019-20 Wrap Up
The season is only four games old for the re-tooled Blackhawks. They will struggle from time to time as they develop their team during the season. At times they may be downright frustrating to watch as they work out the kinks. One thing is for sure, they have an improved roster compared to the last few seasons. They will also find their way at some point and start moving up the standings.
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