The Chicago Blackhawks reign atop the Western Conference is coming to an end. Between 2009-2017 the Blackhawks were the class of the west. They had the most points, most goals and won three Stanley Cups. They had an excellent nine-year stretch, but they are showing signs of a team in transition.
They are no longer the dominant force in the west. They are still competitive, but they are no longer a team to be feared.
Corey Crawford has hidden many of the Hawks flaws this season. His .929sv% and 2.27GAA kept the Hawks competitive, but Crawford is on the IR again and the Hawks have only won one of the nine games Crawford hasn’t started. Anton Forsberg is now their starter, and he isn’t capable of stealing games regularly like Crawford.
The Hawks blueline is much different than the powerful unit it was during their Cup years. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were a great top pair, while Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya were a formidable second pair, who faced just as difficult competition as the top pair.
Today, Keith is still in their top pair, but he played with Jordan Oesterle last night. Oesterle is fearless and he skates well, but he shouldn’t be in your top pairing. Keith has played 593 5×5 minutes and he’s played 196 with Seabrook, 185 with Cody Franson and 106 with Oesterle. Seabrook has mainly been in the second unit, and while paid like a top-pairing defender, $6.875 million for six more seasons, Seabrook is no longer an elite defender. Oesterle and Franson are more suited for third pairing minutes, but the Hawks salary cap issues forces head coach Joel Quenneville to play players where they shouldn’t be.
Patrick Kane has lived up to his contract. The $10.5 million/season deal began in 2015/2016. In those two and half years, Kane has produced the most points in the NHL with 231 in 200 games. Sidney Crosby is 2nd with 209 points in 193 games, while Nikita Kucherov is 3rd with 203 in 187 games. Connor McDavid is 5th with 193 points in only 164 games. Kane has also scored the 2nd most goals, 95, trailing only Alex Ovechkin’s 107.
Jonathan Toews also makes $10.5 million/season, but he has 138 points. He had 58 points in each of the past two seasons and has 22 in 36 games this year. Brandon Saad makes $6 million and has 17 points. When top guys like Toews, Saad and Seabrook aren’t contributing to the level of their salary it impacts the team’s chances of winning significantly.
Alex Debrincat, 12 goals and 24 points, and Nick Schmaltz, 21 points, have contributed nicely, but the Hawks depth has been tested. It doesn’t help that Keith and Seabrook have combined for one goal. Surprisingly, Keith has no goals in 36 games. He has 17 assists, but no goals from a player who has played 889 minutes is not ideal.
The Hawks had a great run, but GM Stan Bowman will need to find some young, cheap, skilled defenceman who can play and succeed in their top-four over in the near future for the Hawks to remain competitive. With Crawford on the IR, the Oilers need to defeat a team that is clearly understaffed tonight.
Oscar Klefbom returns to the lineup after missing three games. He had an injection in his shoulder, cortisone shot, and says he feels the best he’s felt since before last year’s playoffs. The Oilers will activate Klefbom off the IR around 3 p.m. and will announce another roster move. I suspect it will be sending Anton Slepyshev to Bakersfield or put Eric Gryba on non-roster waivers. Tonight marks the first game this season the Oilers will ice their complete lineup. The Oilers are healthy for the first time this season, while the Blackhawks are banged up. Edmonton must take advantage of a depleted Chicago team playing on consecutive nights.
***Update at 2:40 p.m. Gryba has been placed on waivers and Klefbom activated.**
Artem Anisimov was injured early in the first period last night and won’t play tonight. The Hawks are still dangerous, mainly because of Kane, but this lineup is a shadow of what the Hawks used to bring on a nightly basis.
With Crawford on IR, Jeff Glass is the backup. Glass is best known for his heroics at the World Juniors. He then spent four years in the AHL, before going to Russia and playing seven years in the KHL for six different teams. He returned to the AHL in 2016/2017 and is now with the Blackhawks. I’d be surprised if he plays tonight, but it would be a fantastic story to see the Calgary-born Glass make his NHL debut against the Calgary Flames on New Year’s Eve. This is his 13th pro season and to make his NHL debut at 32 years of age in his hometown would be a wonderful story. I hope it happens.
***Update…Glass will live his NHL dream tonight. He gets the start vs. the Oilers. No doubt he and the entire Hawks team will be excited for him.***
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING…
Which broken record do you want to hear us play?
Pick your favorite. Is it “The Power Play Still Stinks!” That’s always a classic with the Hawks! It went 1-for-5 against Vancouver. How about we spin a track from “Toews’ Line Dominates Possession Again, But Still Can’t Score.” All three players from the Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Ryan Hartman grouping were on the positive side of the possession battle but none of them scored. And not one of those players was credited with a high-danger chance by Natural Stat Trick until Hartman’s late tally. Last but not least, don’t forget about that Chicago classic “Laying an Egg Against an Inferior Opponent.” The Hawks had four days off and were facing a team that is plummeting in the NHL standings. But Chicago couldn’t take advantage, blowing another chance to keep pace in an ultra-competitive Central Division.
GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers pick up their 10th win in their last 15 games by a score of 4-2.
OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Blackhawks score a PP goal.
NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Leon Draisaitl scores his first PP goal of the season propelling the Oilers to a victory tonight, but also leading to a Sunday home victory over Winnipeg. ***Yes, a NSOGDP that includes the next game.**
Source: Jason Gregor, Verified Twitter Account, 12/29/2017 – 12:00pm MST