To say that the inaugural season of BEARD Hockey was a disappointment for the Chicago Blackhawks is an understatement to say the least.
38-36-8 Overall Record. Negative 21 goal differential. 8-20-4 over final 32 games.
A team built with postseason dreams completely had the wheels fall off over the last 40% of the season. Lines were mixed and matched. Ice time was reduced. Bag skates were had. Nothing worked.
Head Coach Craig Berube was retained and given the all too familiar refrain from management of full belief in his abilities to lead this team. League analysts have pegged Berube to be on one of the hotter seats in BEARD should the Hawks struggle again this year.
On the ice, the biggest change for the Hawks is between the pipes. The organization’s Dispersal Draft strategy of taking goalies late that had some NHL rerate upside paid off in spades. The team was able to turn Kevin Lankinen and Cal Peterson into high draft picks. Alex Nedeljkovic was retained and the beneficiary of the team’s NHL rerate. Him, along with future franchise star netminder, Spencer Knight will man the crease this year.
Their improvements also allowed the team to cash in on incumbent starter Robin Lehner, who was dealt to the St. Louis Blues.
On defense, Captain John Carlson returns to lead the blueliners. He will be joined with returning players Esa Lindell, Adam Fox, and Henri Jokiharju. Defense is where the team decided to make their UFA splash this offseason bringing in John Klingberg on Day 1 and Scott Mayfield later in the offseason.
Bringing in those UFAs then led to the trade of veteran Kris Letang who was dealt to the Winnipeg Jets for a group of youngsters led by Liam Foudy. This group of 6 on paper should be in the discussion for best blueline in the league.
Up front, the group of forwards assembled by the Blackhawks seems to be unmatched throughout the league. Ryan Strome was the big offseason addition and he along with Elias Pettersson, Mathew Barzal, Mitch Marner, Kyle Connor and Andrei Svechnikov will be expected to take a step forward in the productivity levels this year if the team wants to accomplish feats they fell way short of last season.
Youngsters Tim Stutzle and the aforementioned Spencer Knight will both get ample opportunity to showcase their talents and their development will occur with the big club for the entirety of this season. Coach Berube and GM Dan Bacon met with both young future stars and relayed the message that neither would be sent down this year even if they are struggling. This will hopefully help them each through the rough stretches that are sure to come during their rookie seasons.
30-16-4. That was the Blackhawks record through the first 60% of last season. 1st place in the Central Division.
The hope inside the locker room is that the team will get off to a similar start this year but be able to maintain it through the stretch run. Their Central division foes will not make it easy however, as league pundits have called the division the toughest top to bottom group of teams they might have ever seen.
Bacon, Berube and the team feel they have all the pieces within their walls for this to be a successful season and put last year in the rearview mirror. The fanbase can only hope their assessment is reflected with on-ice play.