For the second straight year, the Chicago Blackhawks head home after the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last season, the Blackhawks fell just short in Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues. This one is much more concerning. Chicago was swept by the Nashville Predators and managed to score just three goals in four games. Nashville outworked and outplayed the Hawks in every aspect in every game. They were quicker, stronger, and seemed like they wanted to advance more.

Following consecutive early exits from the postseason, the Blackhawks have to retool if they want this dynasty to continue. The postseason roster showed flaws after a dominant regular season. The biggest hole that I noticed was the lack of quickness and agility from the defensemen. Corey Crawford did everything he could to give the Blackhawks life in this series, but there were times where the defense just could not help him out. Nashville always seemed faster to control rebounds and bouncing pucks. Then, when the defense could finally muster enough strength to get the puck out of their defensive zone, the Nashville defense swarmed the Blackhawks’ forwards and would not let them get through the middle lane of the ice. The forwards were constantly forced to either side of the boards where they failed to generate enough scoring chances.

Because of this terribly played series by the Blackhawks, we will likely see a roster shakeup for the upcoming season. Defensemen Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya are in position to leave the Blackhawks in free agency. That creates two open spots on the blue line. To fill these holes, the Hawks could potentially mold young guys like Michael Kempny and Gustav Forsling into great defenders, or they could look to free agency or the trade market. Young defenseman Trevor van Reimsdyk has been linked to the NHL’s newest franchise, the Vegas Golden Knights, as a possible expansion draft acquisition. If Chicago wants to keep competing at a high level, defensive changes will be seen.

On the offensive side of things, forwards Richard Panik and Dennis Rasmussen are both restricted free agents while Tomas Jurco is an unrestricted free agent. Panik will likely be re-signed after an outstanding season on the Toews line. Rasmussen and Jurco are both guys that the Hawks could let go of without feeling large repercussions. Jurco came over from the Detroit Red Wings in a mid-season trade and only scored once in the regular season and did not see any action during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Rasmussen could potentially play a Kruger-type role for the Hawks at some point in the future, but as of now he is an expendable piece of the roster. Marcus Kruger has also been rumored as a possible future Vegas Golden Knight via the expansion draft.

Perhaps the biggest change to the Hawks’ roster will occur when Scott Darling almost definitely departs due to free agency. Darling has shown that he deserves the salary of a starting goaltender, and he will get that from a team in search of quality goaltending. It is extremely unlikely that the front office would attempt to trade Corey Crawford because of the very high success he continues to bring to the organization. But, Crawford does make a significant fraction of the salary cap. The Hawks could potentially sign Darling for about half of Crawford’s salary, and possibly fill some roster holes by acquiring key role players in a Crawford deal. This likely will not happen, but the organization has to contemplate several kinds of change in order to maintain their Stanley Cup caliber squad.

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