Sunday, September 15, 2019

Subtle Predictions Bring Big Results For Blackhawks Season

By Randy Holndoner - @Bhawkschatter
The 2019-2020 hockey season is around the corner, so let's look at some subtle predictions that will lead to what we haven't seen in Chicago for the last five years.

Stan Bowman, loved and hated by many, made a lot of deals over the summer that didn't seem to be very eye-catching, but let's look a bit deeper as to how these new acquisitions will affect the following areas of improvement.

Acquisitions include: Calvin deHaan, Zack Smith, Andrew Shaw, Ryan Carpenter, Olli Maatta, Robin Lehner.

None of these players you will see as a first ballot All-Star, but touching the worst areas that needed improvement on this Blackhawks team, this team has improved greatly. 

Penalty Killing

Last season, the Blackhawks were the worst team in the league in the PK with a dismal 72.7%.  This stat has nowhere to go, but up.  Literally.  Zack Smith, 31, an 11-year veteran, has logged quality minutes in Ottawa as a PK-Specialist.  He puts in as much time as Marcus Kruger did, but he is an upgrade, and logs six minutes more per game, than Kruger.

Ryan Carpenter, 28, was a blip that barely made headlines, but he is your true replacement for Marcus Kruger.  Overall, a similar build, but more gritty than Kruger, he will log many minutes on the PK as well, and will be the fourth line Center, most likely.

The additions of Calvin de Haan, 28, and Olli Maata, 25, will be a HUGE upgrade. Both logged heavy minutes, which will make both, Duncan Keith, 36, and Brent Seabrook, 34, more effective, as they won't have to log as many minutes, with the amount of miles both players have put on over the years.  de Haan, is a reliable, stay-at-home, defenseman, with good puck-handling skills.  He will play a major role on the PK.  

Goals Against - Shots Against / Per Game - Faceoffs
With the improvement mentioned in the PK, these stats should also rise this year.  The best way to keep other teams from scoring is winning face-offs and controlling pucks.  With the departure of Marcus Kruger (50.6%), and Artem Anisimov (45.9%), the additions of Carpenter (50.6%), Shaw (48.1%), and Smith (50.7%), will improve these stats.  More bodies to throw on the PK, more obides to win faceoffs, in general.  Smith, by the way, has taken nearly 6500 faceoffs in his career, so don't let the label of Winger, fool you.

Then there is Robin Lehner, who was among the Vezina Trophy Finalists last year, and won the William M. Jennings Trophy, for being part of the goalie tandem of the New York Islanders, who gave up the least amount of goals last year.  Lehner also won the Bill Masterton Trophy last year.

A surprise signing, the Blackhawks have arguably the best 1-2 punch in the NHL for goalies.  If Corey Crawford can stay healthy, these two are going to a real force to be reckoned with.

Something that this team has been lacking in previous years, and was on all of the championship teams, has been grit.  Gone are the days of Bryan Bickell, Dan Carcillo, Adam Burish, Dave Bolland, and Ben Eager.

Enter the well-known, and loved, Andrew Shaw.  We need say nothing more of him.  Zack Smith on the other hand, has been in Siberia, a.k.a. Ottawa, his entire career, so Blackhawk fans don't see much of him.

Smith will become a loved player once the season starts.  Grit, and a physical game, are two things that he has excelled at over the years.  Seabrook led the team in hits last year with 124.  In his 11 year career, Smith has averaged 110, while having 136 last year.  Take into account that he is a forward, he will bring a physical presence, as will Shaw, 128 hits last year.  More importantly, both with win board battles, which this team has lost a lot of over the years.

Yes, the "Hits" column can be overrated. The argument can be made that, if you are hitting someone, you don't have the puck, and you risk being out of position to give that hit.  I would agree with that.  But, when you hit people, you also "chirp".  Chirping is an underrated stat that there is no column for that can make a huge difference in a game or playoff series.

Getting into someone's head to take them off their game can be very beneficial.  It could lead to stupid penalties, and as previously mentioned, cause them to be out of position to give a hit.  Think back, what could Dave Bolland have possibly said to Joe Thornton in the 2010 Western Conference Finals to where Thornton slashed Bolland's stick at a faceoff, causing a penalty?  Look back at pictures of the 2013 NHL Finals of Bryan Bickell and Zdeno Chara.  Those faces do not look like conversations that would appear on the Disney Channel.  The combo of Bickell and Shaw, kept Chara frustrated the entire series.  Just to note, Chara was on the ice for the final eight goals that the Blackhawks scored in that series.  You tell me, if he was distracted by something...or someone.

With that said, look for the rivalry of the Blackhawks and Colorado Avalanche to pick up this year.  Colorado picked up, known agitator, and five-time suspended, three-time fined, Center, Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs.  He and Zack Smith know each other very well from divisional rival games between Toronto and Ottawa.

For all of the reasons above, all of the players acquired this year are an improvement to those that they have replaced.  The Blackhawks will have a solid set of four lines to throw at an opponent every night.  All lines, with the capability to score, which the Blackhawks did not have a problem doing last year.  They ranked eighth in the league in Goals For last year (267).

The biggest impact of these signings are on the back end of the ice.  de Haan, Maata, and Lehner.  All will play a major role in how this year turns out.  Depending on the health of Crawford, along with his contract status, this could be a changing of the guards at the goaltender position.

Which leads to the prediction that we, Blackhawk fans have been without for the last five years...PLAYOFFS.  By missing the playoffs last year by six points, and going through a dreadful stretch of games where they went 4-17-4, they WILL make the playoffs this season.

Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat, both enter the last years of their contracts, and will be having huge years.  We won't get into the mess that will occur after next off-season.  Focusing on this year, having them on a line, and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on a line should tell you what kind of offensive numbers the Blackhawks will put up this year.

This year is ramping up to be something special.  Strap in boys and and girls, HERE COME THE HAWKS!!

Pictures courtesy of,


  1. Nice Randy, I agree with most of your post, just hope the addition of the 2 defensemen will help our players learn how to clear the puck from our zone, something we have been terrible at since the loss of Hossa and Hjalmarsson!

    1. de Haan is your closest bet on getting that. Maatta is young, but with 2 Cups in Pitt, so he brings experience. He had a falling out. I saw him at the convention and he said he is anxious to go, as are de Haan, Lehner, and especially Smith.

  2. Maata was one of the better Hawks in today's intra-squad game. Hopefully the injury bug is finally in the past for him. Add a healthy de Haan and Hawks back end suddenly looks respectable.

    1. If they can both chew up minutes to save some mileage on Keith and Seabrook, that can only help. The wildcard is Murphy. He can benefit of not having pressure on him to do more.

      Maatta seemed happy that he wasn't in PIT anymore. Seems to be a trend there. I've heard in a couple of articles that Kessel had a falling out with Malkin. Therefore, Kessel gets shipped to Arizona.

      Maatta and Murphy could be the future if we can hold on to both of them.

  3. As for your comments about the potential for more "hits" by this years roster, the lack of grit has been a going concern for several years. Fancy-dan hockey is pretty to watch but seldom does it work at crunch time when the intensity is turned up. Too often it was embarrassing to see our players physically intimidated by the opposition. I look forward to seeing real Blackhawks hockey this season.

  4. As do I. the amount of board battles we lost too was embarrassing.