For fans of the Chicago Blackhawks, things aren’t easy right now.
The team missed the playoffs last season and haven’t done an awful lot to improve their fortunes this summer, which is leading to a sense of ambiguity for the upcoming season. The Blackhawks finished 2017-2018 with just 33 wins and scored a miserable 229 goals, allowing 256 goals against in the process for a -27 goal differential.
Worse, Chicago finished last in the Central Division and near the bottom of the Western Conference with just the Vancouver Canucks and Arizona Coyotes beneath them.
With such a calamitous season, you would think serious change would be in the works.
But these Blackhawks have done little beyond hedging their bets on the health of starting netminder Corey Crawford and piling up veteran depth in case things go bottoms up once more.
Crawford missed the latter half of last season with an upper body injury and is on record saying he’s not 100 percent right now, but that could change come training camp. As of late July, he was saying he felt good but was otherwise not skating.
In lieu of something holding Crawford back, Chicago went out and signed veteran goalie Cam Ward. The former Hurricane was signed to a one-year deal that operates a lot like an insurance policy. The 34-year-old spent 13 seasons with Carolina and will vie with Anton Forsberg for the backup gig.
The question mark surrounding Crawford’s immediate future is the linchpin. If he’s ready, he’s in and that’s that. But if he’s not, the Blackhawks have Ward and Forsberg competing for the starting job. That’s not ideal.
Chicago also added Chris Kunitz and Brandon Manning via free agency this summer. General manager Stan Bowman traded Jordan Oesterle and Vinnie Hinostroza to Arizona (along with Marian Hossa and his money) to the Coyotes for Marcus Kruger, who won two Cups with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015.
With these pieces on the table, the imminent season doesn’t look promising. And indeed, the fanbase has been less than thrilled by the lack of movement. An untested, thin defensive unit and goaltending doubt hasn’t helped send the right message.
If there is anything to cling to, it could come in the form of a few prospects. Henri Jokiharju has been gaining comparisons to the likes of Nick Leddy and may be a bright spot, especially if he makes the most of training camp.
Young forwards like Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat will support the likes of Jonathan Toews, who scored just 20 goals last season for his lowest career total.
But really, this is a disappointing hockey team and little has been done to change that. Bowman could make a move or two in the late going, but it doesn’t seem likely. And that suggests that the 2018-2019 season will be more of the same for hockey fans in the Windy City.