Jonathan Toews and Nick Schmaltz. Image by: Getty Images
The top-end talent will still be in the Windy City in 2019-20, but will they be surrounded by enough depth to make another run at the Stanley Cup?
Welcome to 2020 Vision, our new feature taking a look at how the roster of each NHL team may look three seasons from now when the 2019-2020 season begins.
Over the next month we’ll profile one team, in alphabetical order, each day and project what their roster (12 forwards, six defensemen, two goalies) will look like.
There were some ground rules for this exercise. We didn’t allow any blockbuster trades or free agent signings, but we did make assumptions about teams re-signing their own UFAs and RFAs.
Therefore, this isn’t intended to be a fantasy-like look at the league in 2019-20. Instead, since this is part of the THN Future Watch family, it’s meant to be a realistic, best-case-scenario projection for each team based on players already under contract, and prospects in their system.
he more things change, the more they stay the same in the Windy City, and all of the familiar faces should still be atop the Blackhawks’ lineup in three years’ time.
Come the 2019-20 campaign, Jonathan Toews will still be Chicago’s top-line center, Patrick Kane will still be the driving force behind the offense and Brandon Saad, who’s back with the Blackhawks after a surprising off-season trade, should find himself locked into a spot in the top six. The million dollar question, though, is how the rest of the offense develops around the fixtures of Chicago’s top six. Nick Schmaltz came along well in his rookie season, as did Ryan Hartman, but the Blackhawks’ depth has become thinner over the past few seasons as GM Stan Bowman has shipped out picks and prospects in order to keep the team in Stanley Cup contention.
Similarly, the defense is going to need some rejuvenation if Chicago is going to remain among the West’s best. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are going to remain the veteran leaders on the blueline, but Niklas Hjalmarsson’s departure opens up a hole that the Blackhawks hope will be filled by Connor Murphy. Filling out the lineup will be difficult, however. Gustav Forsling looked ready for full-time duty in his half-season with the big club and could find himself filling a puck-moving role, but prospects Lucas Carlsson and Luc Snuggerud will need to round out if Chicago is to have strength on the blueline.
Luckily, the young blueliners will still be able to rely on Corey Crawford, though the Blackhawks’ starter may be starting to show signs of slowing as he enters his mid-30s. That has to be cause for major concern in Chicago. Summer acquisition Anton Forsberg has potential, but enough to take over the No. 1 job?
GOT IT: High-end potential. Schmaltz’s 24 points in the final 35 games was hard evidence that he’s ready for full-time duty, and his continued improvement will give the Blackhawks a solid one-two punch down the middle. Maybe more intriguing, though, is Alex DeBrincat. His offensive numbers in major junior were awe-inspiring, and if he plays alongside and learns from someone such as Kane, DeBrincat could be a future top-line winger. If Chicago continues to have prospects who boom rather than bust, the top-six could be scary good again in a hurry.
NEED IT: Goaltending. Crawford has established himself as one of the league’s best, but Chicago is going to need someone to take over for their veteran netminder at some point. Forsberg’s numbers across three seasons — 10 games played, .879 save percentage, 4.02 goals-against average — leave much to be desired, but there’s room for growth. If he’s not the answer, though, the goaltending depth is a big, big problem.
CAP WATCH: Bowman’s job hasn’t been easy and it’s not about to get any easier. Already, the Blackhawks have $59 million in cap commitments and not a single big contract set to come off the books in the near future. That’s troublesome with Hartman and Hayden due new contracts by summer 2018, and each of Schmaltz, Kero, Forsling and Forsberg needing to be re-signed ahead of 2019-20. It might mean Bowman is in line for some incredibly tough roster decisions. He's all too familiar with that.
BOTTOM LINE: Chicago’s three Stanley Cups were made possible by a mix of top-end talent and strength throughout the lineup, but staying in contention and getting out of cap trouble has cost the Blackhawks high picks and top prospects, thinning out the depth in the process. Bowman’s ability to build a roster around his top stars should keep this team in the playoff hunt, but another real shot at a Stanley Cup might have to wait until the Blackhawks can reestablish the depth of their roster.
Up next: Colorado Avalanche