Blackhawks offseason review

Matthew Rago, Editor-in-Chief

The Chicago Blackhawks grossly underachieved during the 2018-2019 season.  Despite featuring both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in their respective primes, the Blackhawks finished sixth in their division and six points out of a playoff berth.  On the surface, it may seem difficult to comprehend how a team with so much offensive firepower–the Hawks had three players score at least 35 goals–could miss the playoffs for a second consecutive season.  However, a defensive unit plagued by injuries, aging stars and replacement-level talent allowed the Hawks’ opponents to outscore them by 22 goals, effectively negating their offensive advantage. This offseason, it was up to Stan Bowman and company to right the ship. Here’s how they did.


Perhaps the most surprising move of the 2019 NHL offseason was the Hawks acquisition of Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner.  

 Lehner, who last year publicized his battles with mental health and substance abuse issues, sought a long-term contract from the New York Islanders. The Islanders responded by essentially engaging Lehner in a game of chicken, opening the door for the Blackhawks to swoop in and sign him to a one-year contract worth $5 million.  

There’s no doubt that the Hawks needed a sense of stability in net, as goaltender Corey Crawford’s struggles to stay healthy have been well-documented. The Blackhawks’ starting goaltender has played in only 67 games over the past two seasons.  

However, what makes the acquisition of Lehner even more peculiar is that, despite outperforming Crawford across the board last season, Lehner was signed to serve as Crawford’s primary backup. Lehner, who posted a 2.13 goals against average and a .930 save percentage, is not only the reigning Masterton Trophy recipient, awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies sportsmanship, but also earned a top-three finish in the Vezina Trophy voting.  Don’t be surprised if Lehner eventually usurps Crawford on the depth chart.

Second-year coach Jeremy Colliton will have a difficult time navigating the goaltending situation.  However, there is little question that the Hawks drastically upgraded the position this offseason, finally affording themselves the stability that has eluded them since Scott Darling’s departure. 


The Blackhawks adopted a more modest approach with their forward acquisitions this offseason.  Rather than chasing the big free agent splash, Bowman targeted role players to occupy bottom-six roles.  

Andrew Shaw is a familiar face coming off a career year in Montreal. In 2019, Shaw contributed 47 points (19G, 28A). However, the Hawks’ tendency to reacquire former players in hopes of reigniting their championship aspirations has repeatedly backfired. Shaw, who is renowned for his grittiness and willingness to do the dirty work, will look to help counteract that trend.

The acquisition of Alex Nylander upset a large faction of Blackhawk fans. Up to this point in his career, Nylander, who was drafted eighth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in 2016, has failed to display the same passion that has made his brother William successful in Toronto. However, last season, Hawks fans experienced firsthand just how rewarding a successful reclamation project can be. Dylan Strome, acquired midseason in exchange for Nick Schmaltz, floundered with the Arizona Coyotes. However, after being acquired by the Blackhawks in late November, Strome produced at nearly a point-per-game rate with the Blackhawks (51 points in 58 games).  

Nylander has the raw offensive tools to replicate Strome’s success.  Bowman will hope that by surrounding him with superior talent, Nylander will be able to unlock his dormant potential.  While Nylander may be a dark horse candidate to have a breakout season, it also wouldn’t be too surprising if Nylander was collecting healthy scratches by midseason.

The Hawks also added centers Kirby Dach and Ryan Carpenter. Dach, the third overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft, is a big-bodied center (6’5, 198 pounds) who draws comparisons to the Ducks’ Ryan Getzlaf. Like Getzlaf, Dach uses his large frame and hard shot to dominate in transition. He also moves exceptionally well without the puck for a player his size.

Carpenter is a bottom-six forward who was signed to shore up the penalty kill following the departure of Marcus Kruger.  The Hawks’ 72.7% penalty kill ranked dead last in the NHL last season and was the lowest penalty kill percentage by any team over the past 30 seasons. Unfortunately, Carpenter was the worst penalty killer by nearly every quantifiable metric for a middling Vegas Golden Knights squad, who finished 14th in penalty kill percentage.


The Chicago Blackhawks’ defense was an eyesore in 2019. Brent Seabrook looked like a shell of himself. The Connor Murphy-for-Nicklas Hjalmarrsson trade looked premature. The bottom pairing did their best revolving door impression. Only the bottom dwelling Ottawa Senators surrendered more goals than the Hawks’ 292 goals against.

It was imperative for Bowman to address such a glaring weakness during the offseason.  First, Bowman flipped center Dominik Kahun to the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for defenseman Olli Maatta.  While it’s tough to see Kahun go, his role in Chicago was limited to that of a depth forward. Maatta, despite being only 24-years old, already has a championship pedigree, playing an integral role in two Stanley Cups with the Penguins.   

Furthermore, Maatta immediately helps the Hawks address their most glaring weakness.  Maatta finished top-40 in blocked shots (ninth), defensive zone battles won (26th), and defensive zone blocked passes (40th). Injuries hampered Maatta last season though, as he eventually fell out of favor with the Penguins’ coaching staff and was a healthy scratch for three postseason contests.

The Hawks also acquired Calvin De Haan in exchange for defenseman Gustav Forsling and goaltender Anton Forsberg. De Haan, another conservative, stay-at-home defenseman, posted exceptional possession ratings for the Carolina Hurricanes, a team that dominated their own zone.  De Haan’s 55.5% Corsi Rating at even strength, a statistic which measures the differences in shots, blocks and misses, would have led the Blackhawks last season. What De Haan excels is what the Hawks have been sorely missing–a defensive stalwart that can serve as a buffer between the Hawks’ occasionally overzealous defensemen and the netminder.  

Unfortunately, we must also address the departure of Henri Jokiharju, the promising young defenseman who was traded for Alex Nylander. In staggered playing time, the 19-year old Jokiharju was already competing at the NHL level, leading the Blackhawks in Corsi. Hawks fans were excited to see Jokiharju become a pillar on the Hawks blue line, leaving many scratching their heads when he was sacrificed in order to acquire Nylander, who has thus far been considered an underachiever. The disappointment was further compounded upon when the Hawks passed on the consensus best defenseman in the 2019 draft, Bowen Byram, in favor of Dach.

The Blackhawks are currently at a crossroads. Duncan Keith and Seabrook have notably lost a step. Kane and Toews are still producing at a high level, but both are on the wrong side of 30. Though the situation may be volatile, it is still manageable with the right combination of draft picks, free agent acquisitions and cap management. The Hawks will need to quickly replenish their roster with younger counterparts to help relieve the burden off of their aging core. With players like Alex DeBrincat, Strome and Erik Gustaffson serving as complements to Toews, Kane and Saad, expect a return to playoff contention for the Chicago Blackhawks.