Over the past decade, us Chicago Blackhawks fans have not been familiar with failure, or even mediocrity, for that matter. With three Stanley Cup championships since the 2009-10 season and a playoff appearance at the minimum each year, up until this disappointing season, the Blackhawks have been a perennial success.
After a sudden and painful 33-39 finish and finishing 7th in the Central Division of the Western Conference, it's time for the Blackhawks to look toward the future. Precisely, how does the hockey team plan to improve for next season?
For improvement, it all starts with the draft. The Blackhawks are in a unique spot, for them, in having an early draft pick. They will be eighth in the draft, which takes place in June. Additionally, the Blackhawks have a late first-round pick from the Ryan Hartman trade with the Nashville Predators. After these first two picks, the Blackhawks will have six picks from rounds three to seven. The draft represents a massive opportunity for the Blackhawks' near and far future.
Among the team's most significant needs is that of defensemen. Names to consider are Adam Boqvist, Noah Dobson, Quinn Hughes and Evan Bouchard. Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman is no stranger to aggressive trades, so trading up remains a possibility. Beyond Rasmus Dahlin going first to the Buffalo Sabres, the upcoming draft seems very much in the air.
Boqvist has ample potential, though there are questions regarding his transition from a 17-year-old in the Swedish Men's leagues into the hard-hitting NHL. Hughes also has the potential to be a great defenseman with offensive potency, showing an ability to lead the power play. Defense is still a question mark for Hughes, though improvement seems likely in the coming years.
Dobson shows a high hockey IQ, though draft analysts suggest a need for him to improve his upper body strength. Meanwhile, Evan Bouchard has ample talent — especially on power plays — but comes with defensive issues.
All these targets are worth considering for the Blackhawks at number eight, with Bouchard and Dobson good possibilities to be available there.
The one nice thing about not playing hockey in May and June is that it gives the players plenty of time to rest up and get health. This team needs that pretty badly. The biggest one was Corey Crawford, who missed a large chunk of time mid-season. Jonathan Toews’s injuries cost the team in both his scoring and his faceoff wins. And Hossa might not be as good as he once was, but has had a decent year and is a great leader for younger players.
The Hawks won’t be spending the summer partying with the Cup, so it’s a great time for them to get back in shape. Their summer workouts will be some of the most important ones they’ve done in years, and they’ll also need to eat right and get enough sleep. Research shows that proper nutrition can minimize the risk of injury in athletes, so getting healthy is crucial to avoiding another season like this one.
The Blackhawks will also be active in free agency to improve their squad. So far, the signings include Dennis Gilbert to a three-year entry-level contract and Dominik Kahun to an entry-level deal. There will continue to be negotiations surrounding the re-signings of Vinnie Hinoztrosa, John Hayden and Anthony Duclair. The team's cap currently stands around $70 million and will likely end up in the $80 million range. The team may trade players like Artem Anisimov or Connor Murphy to gain more cap space, though it's contingent on whether there is a marquee free agent they covet.
Forward options include David Perron, Evander Kane, James Neal, Mark Stone and Patrick Maroon. On the more pressing defensive side, names include Mike Green, Alexei Emelin, Ian Cole, John Moore, Jack Johnson and Calvin de Haan. Although these names are not quite marquee, they can solidify a subpar defense for a Blackhawks team that needs to vastly improve its defense to compete next season.
In all likelihood, the Blackhawks will make prudent moves to improve and come back next year to prove this past season is an outlier when it comes to their stats.
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