What We Learned: Blackhawks face the new normal
(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)
Take solace in the affirmation that Stan Bowman won’t, in fact, fire Joel Quenneville.
There would have been a lot of psychic catharsis in canning someone in the wake of not only a second straight first-round bounce-out, but also the first-ever sweep by a No. 8 seed of a No. 1 seed in the history of not only the NHL, but the NBA as well. It would have been a dumb move, given that Quenneville is one of the three best coaches in the game, but if people wanted blood, that would have been Bowman’s best option to do so.
Well, not “best,” but certainly “easiest.”
Instead, Bowman used a lot of tough words, including saying “unacceptable” about 600 times, about making significant changes. But you really have to question whether it’s a promise on which he can actually follow through. The amount of money Chicago necessarily has to spend on its core starting next season is massive, and there probably aren’t a lot of contracts that are feasibly movable.
Toews and Kane? Well, you’d probably get a lot of interest if you were to put them on the market, but come on. You can’t put Toews or Kane on the market.
Brent Seabrook? Yeah, for some reason it’s tough to see a lot of interest in a “defense-first” guy 32-year-old who’s signed at that price for another seven years, especially because he has a no-move until 2022.
Corey Crawford? He’s 32 and signed for three more seasons, and has a partial-no-trade-slash-no-move.
Marian Hossa? That’s the price you pay for all those cheap years when he was younger and good. Now that he’s 38, that contract’s stuck. He, too, has a no-move.
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Duncan Keith? He’s your No. 1 D (for better or worse at this point) and he’s almost 34, and he’s signed for six more seasons. And he has a no-move.
Artem Anisimov? Four more years for him, and he has a no-move. (Why does Anisimov have a no-move?)
Niklas Hjalmarsson? He’s one of the better defensemen at what he does in the league, and he has a modified no-trade and a no-move.
Panarin? He starts a new contract next season, and he just signed, but he has no protections from trades.
Those are just about the only guys you could move who would make any sort of big difference, right? All of them are at least difficult to swap out, in part because Bowman felt like he had to give out no-trades and no-moves to keep the core together at something resembling a low price point. And of course, these eight guys make a combined $59.33 million. Next year’s salary cap is projected to land somewhere in the $75-76 million range, and even on the high end there, that’s nine guys eating 78 percent of your total cap number.
It gives you about $17 million to play with, which sounds like a decent amount.
Because in addition to those core guys, Marcus Kruger makes a little more than $3 million for the next two seasons. Now you’re north of $62.4 million (and 82 percent of the cap) on 10 guys. Add in all the entry-level guys, plus a few vets who still have cheap contracts for next year and you’re looking at more than $69.65 million. That’s 91.6 percent of the cap. It gives you $6.35 million to work with.
Oh and of course, because certain players hit their performance bonuses this season, Chicago also has a sizable cap overage: $3.558 million. That bumps you to $73.2 million. You have $2.79 million to spend. And that’s without re-signing three RFAs.
And even if you feel like you have a little wiggle room coming off the books with Johnny Oduya and Brian Campbell, you don’t. You need to replace two defensemen and find a backup goalie with that money.
This really isn’t a pretty picture here.
This is all, of course, “in theory.” Bowman has proven himself adept at getting out of cap-related jams in the past several years, and the good news is that he probably does have options to move even one of the more intractable contracts on the team. Given how seemingly hell-bent he is on shaking things up, there’s no telling who he exposes in the expansion draft in a few months.
But again, given all the no-moves on that roster, what’s your best option in the expansion draft? Hope they take Kruger, probably. There’s no way you can let Panarin be exposed there. He may cost $6 million, but can you replace his offense for less than that via free agency? Even if you don’t look for a Panarin replacement on the open market, who could you trade for to keep this train going? And with what?
The good news is a lot of GMs are likely to be more than willing to help Bowman out. We’ve seen plenty of times in the past that anyone coming out of Chicago is viewed as a capital-W Winner who helps them immediately. Whether that continues now that they’ve won three playoff games in the past two seasons and Chicago is looking vulnerable for the first time in like eight years. Why help them now? Why not let them twist in the wind? Almost anyone they’ll be looking to trade — unless they really want to blow this thing up — won’t be a huge help to you.
The one thing that’s weird about all this is Bowman’s apparent level of surprise that things worked out this way. Chicago has been on the decline for years now, and while this team won a Cup as recently as two seasons ago, the changes he’s been forced to make by the salary cap and his own team’s success were always going to lead to this point.
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Granted, if you’re looking at the corsi numbers or any other “advanced” stats, they’re not going to tell the full story about how good this team is because it has above-average players at every position, and that’s going to allow you to win more games than you statistically “should” simply because that’s the talent level you bring to the table. Crawford will always stop more shots than the average goalie, Toews/Kane/Panarin will always score more than the average shooter.
But the concessions made because of the cap finally caught up with this club. Over the past three years, things have gotten dire in a hurry.
In terms of expected-goals, to go from “outperforming 53 percent” to “outperforming 49 percent” is gonna knock you on your ass. Especially because, come playoff time, most teams you play are always going to have elite players that allow their team to outperform their own numbers, whatever they happen to be. (And this season, Nashville’s was 52 percent, while Chicago’s was 48.9 percent.)
It’s not totally Bowman’s fault that he painted himself into this corner. The Seabrook contract is horrible, and was horrible the day it was signed. No doubt about that, it’s a huge mistake. And you can argue Toews and Kane are overpaid — they are — but any GM in the league would have given them those deals and walked away smiling. That’s the cost of doing business when you win three Cups.
So the problem for Bowman, and Quenneville, is that they’ve worked magic by bringing in good young players on ELCs for more than half a decade. It doesn’t seem to be working any more. Maybe you blame the aging core, which simply isn’t as good as it used to be, for not being able to bring those guys along.
And maybe you change one or two things this summer — although, again, I don’t see how — and revitalize certain aspects of the team for one last ride.
The point is, Bowman can be upset and call this unacceptable all he wants. But this was always going to come down the tracks. And even if he makes near-seismic changes, Chicago losing in the playoffs is going to be the norm moving forward. Partly because no one wins all these Cups forever. And partly because time, like a pack of wolves, catches up with everyone.
But if you win three Cups, you have to say it was worth it.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: What makes the Ducks a Cup contender? Maybe they can trick the Oilers into taking a bunch of dumbass penalties too.
Arizona Coyotes: Hey no big deal it’s just another arena deal that died before anyone had a chance to care about it. I bet this team stays in Arizona forever. Sure.
Boston Bruins: This is the kind of trenchant analysis we need more of in hockey.
Buffalo Sabres: Don’t get cheap on me, Dodgson.
Calgary Flames: How about clearing out all the horrible players at the bottom of the roster that really ended up holding the team back? Nah, you gotta throw big money at the 30-year-old coming off a .910 season. That’s the smart play.
Carolina Hurricanes: “Solve needs?” Is Klas Dahlbeck a goalie all of a sudden?
Chicago: I get the argument that Chicago just suffered from a lot of bad luck against the Predators and that overreaction wouldn’t be wise (which is why they call it “over”reaction) but like, something drastic has to change if this team wants to materially improve.
Colorado Avalanche: Haha. Good one, guys. Great joke.
Columbus Blue Jackets: This team should have decided to go on its 16-game winning streak in the playoffs, gang.
Dallas Stars: Hmm, this is a take that usually goes over well.
Detroit Red Wings: When guys focus on being “hard to play against” they usually become the opposite.
Edmonton Oilers: You jerks don’t even live on the east coast! Come on!
Florida Panthers: Yeah this is probably the end of the road for Roberto Luongo as a “1a” starting goalie. Hall of Fame career. What a player.
Los Angeles Kings: Okay, sure. That’s fine.
Minnesota Wild: This team probably needs like two or three borderline-elite forwards to make them truly competitive, up from the approximately zero they have now. Where do you get ’em? I don’t know.
Montreal Canadiens: It’s almost as if focusing solely on getting players who play physical hockey is, like, bad. Why didn’t anyone think of this before right now?
Nashville Predators: This is truly a weird matchup for the Predators. Like they Blues, they have a few high-end offensive talents, no forward depth, a solid blue line, and a goalie who punched well above his weight in the first round. Should be fun.
New Jersey Devils: Uhh, what.
New York Islanders: Move the Islanders to Quebec.
New York Rangers: Mats Zuccarello is awesome. Shout out to the little fella.
Ottawa Senators: Wow, yeah, remember how the Senators traded Mika Zibanejad? Derick Brassard was pretty bad in the regular season but this first round went well for Ottawa. Sens win the trade!!!
Philadelphia Flyers: This is the big deal, huh? Valtteri Filppula? Okay, I believe you.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Still no word on most of the injured guys. It’s probably gonna matter in the second round since they’ll have to play an actual good team.
San Jose Sharks: Don’t think there’s any “may have” about it. The Sharks as we’ve known them for like a decade are pretty much over. I think you might have to blow ‘er up.
St. Louis Blues: Wow, Magnus Paajarvi is still in the league.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Nikita Kucherov has a new agent. Hmm. Hmmmmm.
Toronto Maple Leafs: My son is making everyone proud.
Vancouver Canucks: Nikita Tryamkin leaving is not perplexing. The Canucks are a mess and if he goes back to the KHL he can play in the Olympics. I’ve cracked the case. You’re welcome.
Vegas Golden Knights: Hey, the practice rink is coming along nicely. Cool.
Washington Capitals: Yeah it’s because Tom Wilson is a meathead who sucks at hockey.
Winnipeg Jets: Say whatever you want. This team isn’t the next Leafs. They don’t have the coach or the talent. Period.
Play of the Weekend
This Tarasenko guy might be pretty good.
Gold Star Award
Well I guess you gotta give this to the guy who went .950-plus in the first round. Big ups to Jake Allen.
Minus of the Weekend
Weak. Second year in a row he chose not to go. https://t.co/mLoigvkqN8
— Eric Francis (@EricFrancis) April 21, 2017
Here’s an Eric Francis tweet from Friday about TJ Brodie turning down the World Championships due to what others in the Calgary media termed “family” issues. In what may or may not be a related note, Brodie’s fiancee has multiple sclerosis. Good tweet, Eric.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year
User “The Price is Right” is wrong.
Galchenyuk + Beaulieu + and Habs 2017 first rounder
You still owe me 10 more Iroquois twists.
Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)
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