This is an ongoing series of articles that evaluates what teams are trying to accomplish through: trades, signings, draft selections, personnel changes, and other aspects of a NHL team. Presently, the Tampa Bay Lightning are trying to win a Stanley Cup and the New York Rangers are clearly starting a rebuild. Those are both teams with a clear mandate for the future, unlike the teams I will be covering in this series. I will be writing about franchises that do not have a clear direction for the future of their hockey club. This will be accomplished by outlining the team's current situation, and presenting the evidence that demonstrates a rebuild or an attempt to immediately win the Stanley Cup. Then, I will conclude what I believe the team's direction should be.
This 2017-18 season marked the end of the Chicago Blackhawks' nine year playoff streak. This modern incarnation of the franchise is now entering unfamiliar territory. For a team that history considers a post salary cap era dynasty, they are not used to receiving top 10 selections in the draft, as they did in the 2018 draft. The Blackhawks have made a concerted effort to stay on top of the league through constant injections of young talent throughout the roster, salary cap savvy signings, and trades that recouped assets for players they could not afford anymore. However, with the long term injury to their goalie Corey Crawford, the skeleton defence core, and an under producing forward group, Chicago has created an unstable team that collapsed during the 2017-18 season. Between salary cap restrictions bullying the Blackhawks into trading away key assets, questionable trade and signing decisions by the hockey operations group, and their scouting department's inability to be a top three producer of talent (which is a lot to ask of them), they have put themselves on the perimeter of Stanley Cup contention. This begs the question, should they accept their inevitable fate and dismantle their current roster, or should they take their core and make one last attempt to win the Stanley Cup?
I will preface this section with the fact that I am a Chicago Blackhawks fan. I really would like to see the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup. However, I am also a huge believer in early rebuilds. Teams can flip their elite stars for huge prospect packages, and it can create a contender very quickly. Chicago has enough young forwards and defensive prospects to successfully create an accelerated rebuild, but I personally believe that they need to make one last push for the Stanley Cup. For that to work, first and foremost Crawford has to be healthy or else they should just call it an era and start again. Hear me out, Toews is an elite #1 centre, Kane is a top 5 point producer in the NHL, Keith is still a top 2 defensemen (top 4 if you want to be picky), and Crawford (health) is a top 5 goalie in the NHL. Along with high end young players like Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat, and Brandon Saad, that is a core that is able to compete for a Stanley Cup right away.
I want to be clear, I have no illusions of another cap-era dynasty with Chicago. This team is good enough to win one last Stanley Cup with this current core. They might not get as much trade value from their stars if they choose to do this, but the point of a rebuild is to win the Stanley Cup. Why would you not take advantage of an opportunity to win while you can? It would be well worth it to make one last strong push while this core is still elite.
There are two things that would need to be done immediately if Chicago is going to win one last Stanley Cup. First off the Blackhawks have to get rid of Seabrook right away. This is not up for discussion, and he needs to go no matter what the cost is. I love Seabrook and everything he has done for Chicago, but he has not performed well enough to justify his $6.875M, 8 year contract. To prove this point, during the 2017-18 season, there are key metrics that show the brutal truth of Seabrook’s level of play. As Scott Powers, the lead writer for The Athletic Chicago, points out:
Those common advanced analytics tell us that when Seabrook was deployed as a top 4 defensemen, there were more shots taken on his team than Chicago generated in around 55% of the games he played. When Quenneville played him as a bottom pairing defensemen, his team was out chanced in only around 33% of his games. Furthermore, it would not be worth it to buy out Seabrook since he would carry a buyout penalty of as high as $6.8M, and that would not do the Blackhawks any good if they are trying to win today. Ultimately, Chicago should beg and plead with him to waive his no trade clause, and get his salary off the books. His $6.875M cap hit is not acceptable to pay a bottom pairing defensemen, especially on a team that is trying to win a Stanley Cup. Chicago could find much better use for that $6.875M if they were able to free up that cap space.
Chicago has too many good players to blow up their core. To retool and make one last push, the changes need to be immediate and drastic. They have enough talent to win between their experienced and skilled core, their dynamic young roster players, and their many high end tradable prospects. With this blueprint, I believe that Chicago could capture that elusive fourth Stanley Cup, an achievement that no post salary cap era franchise has ever accomplished.
- The Scout