By now, we all know the moves made by the Colorado Avalanche this offseason, so we have launched a series to look at what the other teams in Central Division have done this summer. Earlier this week we took a look at the big moves in St. Louis. Out next stop is Chicago.
Few teams in the modern-day NHL have managed to achieve the kind of success that the Chicago Blackhawks did from 2009 to 2017.
Under the direction of head coach Joel Quenneville, with leaders like Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith and supporting cast members like Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and Corey Crawford, they looked to be absolutely unstoppable. Three Stanley Cups from 2010 to 2015 was a shocking level of elite performance compared to the relative power of the Western Conference.
This last year, though, the Blackhawks finally started to fall apart. Maybe it was the exhaustion from all the deep postseason runs they’d made, and maybe it was the lack of cap space to add quality pieces as their stars started to age. In all likelihood, it was a combination of both with an added stroke of simple bad luck.
Whatever it was, though, left the Blackhawks looking less like a cup contender and more like a lottery pick as soon as they lost Crawford in December. By the end of the year, they were barely scraping together wins, and they entered the offseason in the kind of turmoil that Chicago fans hadn’t seen since Bill Wirtz was at the helm of the hockey team.
They were expected to make some big changes this offseason, and they certainly made a few splashes—but in a division full of contenders, the moves they made may be nothing but a positive for the Colorado Avalanche.
We’ve already taken a look at what the Blues offseason meant for Colorado. Now, here’s a look at how some of Chicago’s moves will affect their rivals:
Adding Cam Ward
Fewer July 1st moves (made by GMs other than Lou Lamoriello and Jim Benning, that is) made less sense than the acquisition of Cam Ward for Chicago.
Signed to a one-year deal, Ward is only around for the short-term—which makes sense. He’s there as a stopgap to help out in case Crawford isn’t ready to go and Anton Forsberg continues to struggle.
What doesn’t make sense, though, is how they signed him.
It’s true that Ward was an NHL starter for years, and that he has a Stanley Cup ring—largely earned on the merit of his postseason performance, nonetheless. But as Hurricanes fans can attest, the validity of his status as a starter has been less than certain for quite a few seasons, and he hasn’t put up anything but borderline league average numbers in at least the last six years. He hasn’t hit a .910 save percentage since 2015, and his numbers in the two seasons prior were even worse.
Despite that, Chicago inked him to a deal worth $3 million next season, and then gave him a no-movement clause to boot. That means that, even if he struggles immensely and Crawford shows that he’s perfectly healthy, the Blackhawks can neither trade him nor place him on waivers for AHL assignment purposes. He’s there, for better or for worse, until July 1st of next summer.
He has a fantastic locker room presence and does have plenty of NHL experience, which helps after the struggles that Forsberg, Jeff Glass, JF Berube, and Collin Delia experienced with the team last year. But given his performances from 2012 up through last year, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to miraculously become a true replacement for Crawford. Given the amount of money tied up in him alone—and the inability to move him to the AHL or out of the system if things don’t work—this could be a huge benefit to Colorado as a divisional rival.
Dealing Marian Hossa
On the surface, there’s not a lot about this deal that really hurts the Blackhawks any more than it hurt them last year. The most important piece of the Hossa trade—Hossa himself—was out for the entirety of the 2017-18 season with a skin condition that likely means he won’t play professional hockey again.
In order to free up some of the cap space he left behind, though, Chicago had to give up a decent, developing young middle six forward. Vinnie Hinostroza may only be a depth forward at best, but Chicago struggled immensely to score goals this past year—and losing another one of their forwards with potential goal-scoring ability to free up the cap space will make it that much harder for them to compete in the Central.
What this could mean, though, is that the Blackhawks will now be able to pull the trigger on either acquiring Jeff Skinner or Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes, or perhaps another player of that calibre from around the NHL. Now that they have the space, they could look to pick up someone else—and for Colorado, that could be bad in the long run.
Keeping Joel Quenneville
One of the head coaches that was considered to be on the hot seat heading into the 2018 offseason was Quenneville, given the poor performance of Chicago last year.
With his still-quality record, though, moving out Quenneville would have been a poor move for Chicago without giving him a chance to see what he can do with the roster this upcoming year. Assuming that Crawford will be back (are you sensing a theme with their offseason and future plans yet?), it’s entirely possible that the Blackhawks will be just fine with ‘Coach Q’ at the helm again next year. Adding more unnecessary turmoil heading into an already-uncertain 2018-19 campaign could have been a poor move indeed.