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2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Preview: RISE

2018-10-28

CHECK OUT THE BLACKHAWKS SEASON INTRO ABOVE!


Being up three games to one in a playoff series is usually a great place to be. Don't tell that to the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago had such a lead against the rival Dallas Stars in the first round of the playoffs last season. A team that the Hawks couldn't beat once in the regular season was on the brink of elimination. It seemed destiny was another step down from reality.

And then reality set in. Dallas won Game 5. Then they won a thrilling 4-3 Game 6. Then the Stars went home for Game 7 and shut out the Blackhawks.

Series over. Season over.

Back to the drawing board.

Chicago had a lot to retool after several players left for free agency. There was never a doubt from general manager Thomas Gidlow, though, on the direction of the hockey club.

"We're in this for the long haul, and we've come from dead last to fifth overall in the league in one season," said Gidlow. "We've made progress, but we're not going to hop off the train because we didn't make it to the station. We will get there. The station is still there."

25 trades were made by Gidlow this offseason - a paltry sum compared to the near 40 he made in his first offseason last year. Resolute not to retool his club on free agents alone, Gidlow rebuilt his club using the art of the deal, making the Blackhawks younger without sacrificing skill or ability.

"Our team is built to last," commented Gidlow, who does see an end in sight to using trades as extensively as he does. "We make trades to continue making our team better while building for the future. We're nearing a point now where we can let what we've built simmer a bit."

"When we got here last year, there wasn't much in terms of quality depth in the organization nor on the pro club. Now, we're definitely in the ballpark."

Rockford, the Hawks AHL affiliate, figures to have far more stability this season with a plethora of skilled young players, combined with holdovers from last season. There are also some exciting prospects waiting in the wings, including 2018 draft picks Justin Almeida (21 points in 13 WHL games this season), Vladislav Kotkov (12 points in 13 QMJHL games), and Xavier Bernard (10 points in 13 QMJHL games).


Projected Lines - Forward

Andrew Cogliano - Jonathan Toews - Cam Atkinson
Erik Haula - Jordan Staal - Reilly Smith
Jimmy Vesey - Nick Bjugstad - Tomas Tatar
Marcus Foligno - Vladimir Sobotka - Tyler Pitlick

Extras: Jacob Josefson (C)

Only five forwards who were on the team at the end of the 2017-18 season remain. Cogliano brings defensive acumen to the Toews/Atkinson pairing, something that lacked last season. Scary to think that Toews and Atkinson could fare better than the 88 goals and 107 assists they combined for last year. Haula, a late-offseason acquisition from Nashville, gives Chicago three sniping wingers in the top six. The key at forward is center depth, as Staal allows Bjugstad to slot into the third line with upstarts Vesey and Tatar, while Sobotka anchors line four. It's a balanced approach, similar to how Chicago built their squad last season. Except this crew is much more likely to stick around a while (nine are either RFA aged or signed for four seasons).

Projected Pairings - Defense

Jake Muzzin - Derek Forbort
Matt Niskanen - Marc Staal
Justin Schultz - Nikita Zaitsev

Extra: Casey Nelson

The Hawks managed to maintain four of their defensemen from last season after losing several to free agency. After striking out on Drew Doughty, Chicago re-upped with Niskanen who figures to be a prominent ice-time machine as he's been in the past. Bringing in Marc Staal, Schultz, and Zaitsev signals a retooling for size, speed, and dependability, added to the returning Muzzin and Forbort. It's a mobile, skilled group that can jump up on the rush and be counted on for consistent play in their own end. Consistency is the name of the game here - something Chicago needs on D to get over the hump in an ultra-competitive division and conference.

Projected Goaltenders

Cory Schneider
Curtis McElhinney

A fresh goaltending duo for the Blackhawks, who lost Brian Elliott to free agency and dealt Mike Condon after a lackluster season as the backup. Schneider gives Chicago stability between the pipes and with the veteran McElhinney in tow, there's little need to ride the starter as much as last year (Elliott played 69 games in the 2017-18 season). It's a solid upgrade, and combined with the retooled team as a whole, should serve the Hawks well.

Season Outlook

With all of the teams in the Central Division making roster upgrades (and Colorado not needing to make many after a Stanley Cup-winning season), the road ahead for Chicago is not going to be an easy one. Matching last year's 53 win total may prove difficult, but finishing with a similar +75 goals for differential certainly seems attainable. The Hawks may not near 300 goals again, but there's no denying the depth and ability of their front nine at forward.

With the emphasis on acquiring solid two-way players, there is reason to believe Chicago can greatly improve on a penalty kill ranked 15th by season's end. They led the league on the power play with a 22.3% success rate, and while that mark may not be replicated precisely, there's no reason why this team can't put one in with the man advantage at a one-in-five rate.

As deep as the Central is, it's hard to predict exactly how it will all shake out. Chicago could feasibly win the division or end up in the middle of the pack. Head coach Gerald Gallant will have his hands full keeping the Hawks laser-focused on the main goals: making the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup.




Doug Waite

I finally got to watch this. Glad I won the Masterson last year because, I feel it is going to be impossible to repeat. Such a great video Thomas.

2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Preview: RISE
After a one-season resurrection, Hawks reload for deeper run

• 2 teams Like this  14 days
Thomas Gidlow High praise coming from a graphic master such as yourself sir. But your season guides are a cut above. Cant wait to see it!
11 days  0 teams Like this
Brandyn Errickson

Great propaganda video...I'm sure that roster part at the end will be out of date within a week or so.

2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Preview: RISE
After a one-season resurrection, Hawks reload for deeper run

• 2 teams Like this  13 days
Stu Hopkins

That was incredible

2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Preview: RISE
After a one-season resurrection, Hawks reload for deeper run

• 2 teams Like this  16 days
Dan Bacon

Pretty sick Tommy! Nicely done! Start working on your year end disappointment video now though ;)

2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Preview: RISE
After a one-season resurrection, Hawks reload for deeper run

• 2 teams Like this  17 days
Travis Fleming

Definitely a solid roster. The Central division is going to be a dog fight.

2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Preview: RISE
After a one-season resurrection, Hawks reload for deeper run

• 2 teams Like this  17 days
Travis Fleming Also, I wish the Canucks had the same kind of marketing budget as the Blackhawks lol
17 days  1 teams Like this
Martins Auzins

Very nice article, very solid lineup too. Video touch is something new, I like it.

2018-19 Chicago Blackhawks Preview: RISE
After a one-season resurrection, Hawks reload for deeper run

• 2 teams Like this  17 days