I’ll be the first to say it, the Hawks season is over! Okay, maybe I’m not the first person to say that this season. Arguably, I’m probably one of the last people to say that about this team. I’m usually a pretty optimistic person, and in the back of my mind, I still know the Hawks have a chance of making the playoffs. A 0.9% chance that is! So odds are slim to extend the playoff streak to 10 seasons.
Looking at the positives of being a Hawks fan right now, I’m excited for the NHL Entry Draft this offseason. The current playoff streak is at 9 seasons, so it’s been that long since they’ve had a lottery pick! And does everyone remember the last player the Hawks selected with their 2008 lottery pick? Of course you do! It was Blackhawks Legend Kyle Beach!!! Oh wait, you don’t know who he is? That’s probably because he never played a single game at the NHL level…He’s one of four players from the 2008 1st round that’s never played in the NHL.
Want to read something that might make you cry? Here’s a list of players selected AFTER the Legend Kyle Beach:
Erik Karlsson 15th overall, Jake Gardiner 17th overall, Jordan Eberle 22nd overall, Jake Allen 34th overall, Roman Josi 38th overall, Braden Holtby 93rd overall, Gustav Nyquist 121st overall, Cam Atkinson 157th overall, Tommy Wingels 177th overall.
That’s just one example of how the Blackhawks Entry Drafts have gone, I’ll look into this year’s draft and the Hawks draft history in my next blog.
Here are a few things that I’d like to see out of the Hawks in these last 25 games:
Getting the kids more experience
There’s no question that this year’s team is a lot younger than teams of the past couple seasons. In order to be more consistent next year, the kids need to play right now. Schmaltz and Debrincat need to keep getting top-6 opportunities (as I’m finishing this up, Debrincat was just put on the 4th line with Sharp and Hartman………). They’re #2 & #3 on the team in scoring; they need to keep playing a lot.
Vinnie shouldn’t be a healthy scratch anymore. He has 15 points in 26 games for Pete’s sake! He has 1 more point than Patrick Sharp right now, in almost half as many games. Ryan Hartman is another guy that needs to keep getting consistent ice time if he’s still in Bowman’s plans for the future. He’s going through a tough season along with a number of Blackhawks players. But hopefully, he can regain his confidence, and get back to the level he was at last season.
Trading moveable assets
Sharp, Bouma, Wingels, Rutta, Kempny. All of these guys are Unrestricted Free Agents at the end of the year. The only guy I believe worth keeping is Jan Rutta. He’s proven to be a good puck mover on the right side, he’s got some size, and a decent amount of speed. He also had some good chemistry with Gustav Forsling earlier in the season.
Other than Rutta, I would be in favor of moving these other four guys. Whether they only get a 4th or 5th round pick for any of them, I would still be supportive of that trade. Sharpie obviously isn’t the same player he was back in the good ole days. I don’t know how big of an impact he could make on a team, but some coaches just want that veteran, winning presence in the locker room. And having a guy around that’s won 3 cups already is pretty valuable.
Looking at Bouma and Wingels, they’ve been two of the most consistent players on the team this season. You know what you’re going to get with both of those guys. Hard-nosed, high octane players that can contribute on the penalty kill, and have good chemistry with each other. If Bowman could package them to a contender in exchange for a 3rd round pick, that would be excellent. It would create 2 benefits for the Hawks, opening up spots on the roster to get more playing time for younger guys. And the other payback would be another pick in the upcoming draft. They currently have 6 picks in the 2018 Draft, and only 2 of them are in the first 4 rounds. Hey, if Montreal could get Phillip Danault and a 2nd round pick from us for Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise, I don’t see why the Hawks can’t get a 3rd rounder for Bouma and Wingels.
That brings me to Michal Kempny. Now, if you look at his stats, he has been pretty good. Through 29 games this season, he has a +12 plus/minus rating, while averaging about 15 minutes per game. His Corsi is at 53.9% right now, which might not mean too much because the current NHL leader in Corsi % is Brandon Saad, and the #3 player in the league is Jonathan Toews… Although that does probably say a lot about Toews and Saad’s defensive play this year, it might just mean that Kempny is getting a lot of shots, and giving up a lot as well. One thing about him that has stood out to me is that it doesn’t seem like Quennville is too high on him.
Rutta and Kempny are both turning 28 this year, and have only been in the NHL a short amount of time, but my bet is the Hawks will resign Rutta and trade or release Kempny. Whether it’s at the trade deadline, or on draft day, I wouldn’t doubt that one of these guys will not be here next season. Heck, both of them might be gone, who knows.
Getting consistent play from Forsberg
Once Corey Crawford comes back, if he does, I still believe that Anton Forsberg should get about half of the last 25 starts. He was pegged the backup to start the season, and he should still be in that role once next season comes around. But as for now, he needs to get more playing time. Even though he’s having an up and down season right now, 2 of the best games we’ve seen the Hawks play in the past month, we’re won by Forsberg. His 42 save effort against a great Nashville team, and his 23 save game in Detroit.
If we look back to the beginning of January and remove the terrible game against Arizona and the tough game against a high scoring Islanders team, he has only allowed 2 goals per game to go along with a .931 save percentage. Just to show how bad the team in front of him has been, in those 7 games he went 4-3. He’s also had 4 games this season where he’s allowed 2 or fewer goals, and still received the loss.
hockey-reference.com has a stat to show Quality Starts (Starts with Save % > Average Save % on year), and Really Bad Starts (Starts w/save % below 85%). Forsberg has started 18 games this season, 9 of them were Quality Starts and 5 of them were Really Bad Starts. So 13 of his 18 starts were considered average or above.
If Crawford stays healthy next season, we should only see about 20-30 starts from a backup goalie. In my opinion, Forsberg is a solid goalie. He’s given the team chance after chance to go out and win games, and they’ve let him down. I think he can flourish in a full time backup role if he can build some consistency from now until the start of next season. Once the pressure is off of him, and he gets more comfortable at the NHL level, we could see a lot of good things from Anton Forsberg.
Like I said earlier, in my next blog, I’ll go more in-depth about the Hawks future. I’ll look at past Entry Drafts and some of the prospects we have from them, as well as the upcoming Entry Draft and the Hawks chances of landing a top-3 pick.
(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)