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2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Preview (w/video!)




What else needs to be said? Granted, it makes for a paltry article to sum up the Chicago Blackhawks offseason in one word. But it fits so well. Change.

And lots of it.

Just eight players who appeared on the 2018 training camp roster will appear on the 2019 camp roster. Incredibly, only one player from last season’s opening night lineup will may end up on this year’s club (Matt Niskanen).

All new captains. A new head coach in Rick Tocchet. A new farm coach is on the way as well.

What does it all mean? Change.

“We took a look at the landscape just after the draft and we felt we dropped back a bit, to be honest,” says GM Thomas Gidlow, who has made 40, 25, and 34 trades respectively in each of the last three offseasons. “We did well to generate opportunities to draft good young assets, and we decided to use some of them along with others from our roster to get as good as we feasibly could.”

“We wanted to remain competitive, and standing still was going backward, in our view.”

To wit: while divisional foes Minnesota, Winnipeg, and St. Louis largely stood pat through the offseason, Nashville, Colorado, and Dallas did not. The Stars, in particular, made major headway with 13 deals – including the outrageously bold trade to bring Jonathan Toews back to the Central just three months after his departure from Chicago.

“It wasn’t like we saw other teams making trades and decided to make deals just for the sake of making them. The goal is the same since we came here – to constantly improve. And I believe strongly that we’ve done that this offseason,” continued Gidlow.

With Toews gone, Gidlow and company had to choose a new captain. Opting to refresh the leadership completely, the Hawks have named David Krejci and Johnny Boychuk as alternate captains (Niskanen was an alternate last season). The new man on top? Zach Parise.

“Coming back here where I had some success, it’s really just an added honor to have the respect of the team to have the 'C' on my sweater,” said Parise. “I know the history behind this letter, and I know the guys on this team are a really solid group. I’m looking forward to the season.”

Parise was dealt twice last season and struggled to just 16 goals – his lowest output in five EHE seasons. He netted 32 in his last full season with one club; 2017-18 with Chicago.

“Last year was tough,” admitted Parise, who started the 2018-19 campaign with Colorado and managed just four goals in 27 games. “Obviously being traded is a tough thing and being traded twice in a manner of days is even tougher. It’s in the past and I’m ready to move on.”

One of the deeper lineups at forward in Chicago’s EHE lifetime, the Blackhawks sport a bonafide top 6 with solid depth in the bottom six.

Parise and T.J. Oshie will be looked upon to provide the top-end scoring, while playmakers Josh Bailey, David Krejci, and the ageless Joe Thornton should provide the scoring opportunities. A wildcard is the newly acquired Brett Connolly, who will be tasked to handle at least some of the offensive load left behind by Reilly Smith’s departure.

The Hawks’ third line is a hybrid of speed, offensive ability, and defensive prowess with Michael Grabner (who had 38 goals in Edmonton last season), Cody Eakin, and Jesper Fast. The fourth line is all grit and defense, who will simply be asked not to give up goals – Chicago’s fourth line gave up plenty in clutch situations last season.

With Tocchet firmly installed as a defense-first headmaster, the pieces are in place for a return to the usual stingy backend play Chicago was building a reputation for two seasons ago. A little less “wild west” and a little more “calm prairie” would be a welcome change indeed in the Windy City, and the personnel up front should provide stable two-way play when defending and on the attack.

The Blackhawks sacrificed some backend speed in the hopes of providing more stability over the long haul.

But of main interest will be how Tocchet chooses to deploy his youthful pairing of Olli Maatta and Victor Mete, who combined are just six years older than gray-beard Thornton.

At just 21 years old, Mete could be a breath of fresh air in terms of his emerging speed and breakout ability. Pairing him with Maatta, who will also seek opportunities to join the rush, could be a boom or bust situation.

The top four is solid, if not spectacular, though, and while they may not light up the scoreboard every night, they don’t need to. The forward group should be explosive enough to allow the backenders to mind the store. If a solid synergy can be established quickly, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic about Chicago’s chances on any given night.

The Hawks opted to let there be no confusion about who was going to be playing the bulk of the games in net.

Tuukka Rask will be heavily leaned on this season, for better or worse. Despite solid overall stats last season after coming over in a deal with the Rangers (2.40 GAA, .912 SP), Rask was wildly inconsistent down the stretch and downright bad in the postseason (4.36 GAA, .879 SP).

Pheonix Copley will step in as backup for at least the 2019-20 campaign. It’s likely you’ll see Copley only when Rask is in a real need of rest. If Rask is firing on all cylinders, it will be interesting to see how much, if any, Copley plays in the first quarter of the year. It could be a struggle to get to the league-required minimum for backups of 600 minutes played, if things go according to plan.

In Gidlow’s third year, the farm situation is as young as it’s ever been. Real quality youth will be on display at Allstate Arena, just a stone’s throw from United Center, with Chicago’s new AHL affiliate (the Chicago Wolves) and it’s 16,000+ seating capacity set to see a highly competitive group.

Only one player (Justin Falk, should he clear training camp waivers) is over 26 years old. The Wolves will be led by the new and improved Carter Verhaeghe, along with new acquisitions Matt Luff, Adam Mascherin, Ryan Kuffner, Mirco Mueller, Ilya Lyubsuhkin, Ben Gleason and Jonas Siegenthaler.

Anthony Stolarz takes over in net from long-time Hawk/IceHog Troy Grosenick, with young upstart Evan Cormier set to back him up. On paper, it’s easily the best AHL team Chicago has iced in the Gidlow era.

Adam Mascherin – Carter Verhaeghe (C) – Matt Luff
Ryan Kuffner – Curtis Lazar – Ryan Haggerty
Mason Marchment – John Quenneville – Nick Baptiste (A)
Anthony Louis – Daniel Audette – Dave Gust

Mirco Mueller – Jonas Siegenthaler
Ben Gleason – Ilya Lyubushkin
Justin Falk – Jake Bischoff (A)

Anthony Stolarz
Evan Cormier

The competition as always in the Gretzky Conference will be fierce, particularly in the Central Division. Feasibly, most would see Chicago in a dogfight amongst Colorado and Nashville for who will finish second to the mighty Dallas Stars, a nearly universal favorite to capture the Stanley Cup after just missing the mark last season.

If all goes (mostly) well, this is clearly a playoff team with aims at more. In Gidlow’s two seasons at the helm, the Blackhawks have not gotten past the first round. Of course, Gidlow would say the only goal is the Stanley Cup, but if the Blackhawks can win a playoff round and make some noise into the second and third stages of the playoffs, that would likely be seen (eventually) as a successful season.

It’s no guarantee, though. Almost every team in the Gretzky made improvements during the offseason. No game will be a cakewalk. And there will be adversity as there always is. If Gidlow can stay the course and ride out the rough patches, this is a team with unlimited potential.

If not…well, you guessed it.


Chip Whitley
Blackhawks Beat Reporter

Cisco Valle

A well written article, Love the Thornton signing

2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Preview (w/video!)
New leaders, new coaches, same goal for the Hawks

• 1 teams Like this  7 months
Martins Auzins

Pretty sweet article.

2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Preview (w/video!)
New leaders, new coaches, same goal for the Hawks

• 1 teams Like this  7 months
Kyle Phillips

Great stuff Thomas! Love the NHL 2001 callback :)

2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Preview (w/video!)
New leaders, new coaches, same goal for the Hawks

• 1 teams Like this  7 months
Thomas Gidlow It was that or "Push It" - I debated it right up to the end! :P
7 months  0 teams Like this
Dan Bacon

Legendary Awesomeness!!!

2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Preview (w/video!)
New leaders, new coaches, same goal for the Hawks

• 1 teams Like this  7 months
Brandyn Errickson

Outstanding. Well done.

2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks Preview (w/video!)
New leaders, new coaches, same goal for the Hawks

• 1 teams Like this  7 months