To say that the Chicago Blackhawks are off to a slow start is an understatement. This team is riddled with reasons why, but the main reason seems to be the core of this team. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp garner much appreciation for their efforts in at least two cup runs, for some three. However, a recent slip in production from every core member is spelling doom for the Hawks.
Jonathan Toews— the Captain, feisty two-way player, and clear leader of this team has seen his production dip this year. Since the 2014-2015 season, Toews has seen his points per game drop from .81 points per game to .62 points this year. A little over half a point per game is a far cry from his one point per game production in 2010-2011 season. Further, Toews has registered no points in 17 of the 35 games. The Captain continues to excel at the dot and fights board battles with the best of them. For the Hawks to improve, their first line center must improve his offensive production. Finally, if he continues this decline, his contract will become an albatross on the necks of the Hawks. He is inked for $10.5 million per year through the 2022-2023 season.
Patrick Kane has seen his production dip, albeit ever so slightly. In the past four years, Kane has yet to slip below one point per game. Two years ago, Kane tallied 1.29 point per game- this year, he sits at exactly one. Of the core players, Kane gets a pass. While not 1.29 points per game, one point is still impressive considering his line mates have changed frequently. I still propose one more line change- put rookie Alex DeBrincat on his left wing to recapture the magic he shared with Artemi Panarin. Kane is stranded on an island at times, and continues to prove he is worth his impressive salary.
When the Blackhawks reacquired Brandon Saad from the Columbus Bluejackets, expectations were high that Saad would continue to improve offensively and he would jumpstart Jonathan Toews. Both have yet to happen. Over the past two seasons, Saad scored at a clip of nearly .70 points per game. This season has seen a dip to less than half a point per game. Worse still–Saad scored seven points in the first four games, but only 10 points in the next 31 for a paltry .32 points per game. The pre-season and the first four games proved what Saad is capable of, but his recent slide is concerning.
Duncan Keith is not immune to this slide as well. Over the past four seasons, Keith has seen his offensive production slip from a .68 points per game twice to a low of .48 this season. Even more concerning is that Keith has yet to score a goal this year. Keith still logs the most minutes per game for the Hawks and is the clear defensive leader. His importance to this team cannot be understated. However, his production must return for the Hawks to turn the corner.
Brent Seabrook has been a serious point of contention for the Hawks this year. Seabrook has played for Chicago since the 2005-2006 season. He is clearly a large part of three Stanley Cups. He is “core” as “core” gets. Sadly, he is slowing down, and much to the chagrin of many Blackhawks fans, he recently signed a contract that will help be a Blackhawk through the 2023-2024 season with a cap hit of $6.875 million. As he has slowed down in speed, his offensive production has also cooled off. This season Seabrook is scoring .31 points per game, down from .60 points per game two season ago and half a point per game last year. Future issues with his contract are for another article. For now, he is clearly not scoring as he has in the past and is becoming a defensive liability.
I hesitate to put Patrick Sharp on this list because his contract was a gift for the Hawks. At $800,000 and no non-movement clause, Sharp was a steal and worth the gamble. At this point, the gamble has not paid off. Through 35 games, Sharp is scoring .26 points per game, down form .72 two years ago. Sharp’s hip injury last year has likely taken its toll. Sharp was brought in to provide leadership and some offensive consistency. At this point, leadership is not enough.
The core group takes over half of the salary cap and should consistently lead the team in production. With this group struggling, it’s up to the supporting cast to pick up the slack. To this point, the most consistent help has come from Artem Anisimov and rookie Alex DeBrincat. Anisimov had an excellent November tallying 11 points in 13 games. DeBrincat is second on the team in scoring with 23 points through 35 games. What makes this stat even more impressive is not his diminutive stature. It’s the fact that he has not had a consistent line to play with all year, and he has not been given the chance to play alongside Kane for any extended period of time.
The rest of the team have had moments of brilliance, but have not had the consistency to support a struggling core group. A trade seems imminent. Obviously, the core group all have non-movement clauses which means they would have to waive that to be moved. It will have to be younger players at this point. The name Tomas Plekanec of the Montreal Canadiens has come up recently. THAT is a big NO. While Plekanec is a fine player, the last thing the Blackhawks need is another aging player who struggles to score. Plekanec, like the Blackhawks core, is in the midst of a downward trend scoring. Four years ago, Plekanec netted 60 points; last year, just 28. Through 35 games this year, he has 16 points. He clearly is not the answer the Hawks are looking for.
The Blackhawks have $2,280,834 in relief space from the Marian Hossa LTIR situation available should they choose to use it now. GM Stan Bowman has his work cut out for him. He must find scoring to support an aging core with long-term contracts. Any missteps here could mean another five years of missed playoffs followed by another few years of rebuilding. Let’s hope he uses the same foresight he used in choosing Corey Crawford over Scott Darling in the offseason.