Things are not going well for the Chicago Blackhawks. The team missed the playoffs in 2018-2019, marking the first time since the mid-2000s that they’ve missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons.
The Blackhawks went 36-34-12, good for sixth in the Central Division and 10th in the Western Conference.
So, what went wrong?
Scoring was not an issue for Chicago, who managed 270 goals – fourth in the Western Conference and behind only the Winnipeg Jets, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames. The Blackhawks had four players with 20 or more goals and two players with 40 or more goals. Alex DeBrincat had a career-best 41 goals and Patrick Kane posted 44, two shy of his career-high 46 goals in 2015-2016.
To make the accomplishments of DeBrincat and Kane all the more vital, they did this while the Blackhawks struggled in almost every possession metric. The team finished below average with a 49.3 Corsi For percentage in five-on-five situations.
The trouble for the Blackhawks really begins in goals against and that’s where those possession metrics may give us a clue. Chicago allowed an awful 292 goals against, the most goals against in the Western Conference – even worse than the Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings and other basement-dwellers.
It is only because the Blackhawks scored so often that they avoided a worse goal differential than minus-22, which is bad enough on its own but not as terrible as Edmonton’s minus-42.
What makes the Blackhawks stand out as awful in their field is that they are the only team inside the top eight goal-scoring clubs in the Western Conference to hold a negative goal differential. Every other team scored more than they allowed and by a wide margin, so the issues of a leaky defence should be apparent.
Cam Ward and Corey Crawford split time in the Chicago crease in 2018-2019. Crawford had 39 starts, while Ward had 29. Both goalies are in their mid-30s. Crawford posted a .908 save percentage with a 2.93 goals against average, easily his worst to date.
And Ward, likewise, picked 2018-2019 to have his career-worst year. His 3.67 goals against average and .897 save percentage were terrible.
The Blackhawks have already at least partway addressed this issue, signing goalie Robin Lehner to a one-year deal worth $5 million. That will either push Crawford out of the starting post altogether or push him to be a better starter and work a tandem. Both Crawford and Lehner will be UFAs next summer, so you can imagine what Stan Bowman is setting up.
Lehner is the younger goalie, while Collin Delia is waiting in the wings and signed for the next three seasons.
The Blackhawks do not have much cap space to speak of and their roster is pretty well set. They’re a shade older than the league average and can obviously still pump out the offence, but a defence with an average age of 27.9 may not be able to hang against a surplus of faster forwards.
It’s up to head coach Jeremy Colliton to find a way to work with this group.
There was some caution surrounding his hiring and he has so far done little to prove detractors wrong, but he can also only play the hand he’s dealt. The return of Andrew Shaw could go a long way, but the Blackhawks positively have their work cut out for them as they try to address all that went wrong in 2018-2019.
(Lead photo credit: Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)