We’re officially “on to next year” in the hockey world. The Penguins completed their quest to win back-to-back Stanley Cups by defeating Nashville 2-0 in Game 6 at Bridgestone Arena. Pittsburgh is the first team to repeat as champs since the 1997 and 1998 Red Wings, and have matched the Blackhawks with three Cups in this “era.”
Needless to say, what the Pens have accomplished is nothing short of impressive. When I think back to 2014 and 2015, the Penguins were just really stale. It had been six years since their ’09 triumph, Crosby was riddled with injuries, and there were talks about their window being closed. Then they moved “core” guys like Niskanen, Neal, Staal, and others in an effort to get younger, faster and fresher. They retooled and rebuilt around Crosby and Malkin, and haven’t looked back since hiring Mike Sullivan in the middle of the 2016 season.
The Pens should be a great example for Hawks fans to look at and find some hope. Granted the teams have different cap situations (we’ll get to that later), but there are some similarities between what the Pens did and what the Hawks have to do. Pittsburgh found a way to get faster all over the ice. They made some tough trades, trusted their young players, and freshened things up around their two superstars. Basically exactly what the Hawks should be looking to do this summer and beyond if they want to win any more championships.
On the other side of the coin, the Nashville Predators’ fairy tale run can to an abrupt halt after losing Game 6 in crushing fashion. A disallowed go-ahead goal, and then one terrible bounce with under two minutes left spelt their doom. A brutal way to lose. You can moan all you want about the officiating, but no one is engraving an asterisk next to the Pens’ names on the Cup any time soon. Wouldn’t be the first time a questionable call cost a team the Stanley Cup (1999, 2004).
But the Preds and their fans should keep their heads held high. They treated the hockey world to quite the show off the ice, and on it as well. As I said in previous posts, what we saw happen in Nashville this postseason was great for the game. Hopefully Nashville continues to cement itself as a great southern hockey town.
For the time being, congrats on having the same amount of Cups as the Blackhawks had playoff wins in 2017. #KeepTheRedOut!
Shifting gears to the team we really care about, the Blackhawks. With the season officially over, it’s once again time for a summer full of cap casualties, which we’ve grown far to accustomed to around these parts. Don’t blink, because it’s all going to be happening rather quickly. Here are some important dates coming up:
- June 17: List of protected/unprotected players for Vegas expansion draft officially unveiled
- June 21: NHL expansion draft
- June 23-24: NHL Draft in Chicago
- July 1: NHL Free Agency
The Hawks are currently around $4.5 million over the salary cap, so that means some of our favorite players are gonna be moved. These moves will not be tweaks either. After Nashville exposed the Hawks’ flaws that we were too blind or ignorant to see, there are going to be some major re-hauling done. As I said on Twitter, Stan can’t pinprick his way out of it this time. This one is going to sting. The Hawks made their bed, now they have to lie in it.
Media reports seem to be indicating a few things early in the game. It looks like Marcus Kruger’s time in a Hawks sweater is over, as a move to Las Vegas seems all but a done deal. That’s a real shame, and not something the Blackhawks are going to be able to overcome easily. While he doesn’t splatter the score sheet, you just don’t easily replace a guy like Kruger’s production on the penalty kill, on defense, and in your own zone. He’s been an unsung, underappreciated hero for years.
As far as defense goes, Keith isn’t going anywhere. TVR will probably be unprotected for Vegas, leaving Kempny and Forsling as the pivotal young guys next year. We’ve already talked about how the Hawks have to get younger and faster on defense through trades, free agency ($?) and the draft. With that in mind I see no logical reason to keep both Campbell and Oduya. It seems likely that Brent Seabrook will be staying in Chicago (He has a full no move clause). Niklas Hjalmarsson’s name has been thrown around as a potential mover, but he has a modified NMC that could make things harder.
So that leaves a few big forward names that could potentially be on their way out of town. Hossa and Anisimov are two options, but their no move clauses make things difficult (players can waive their NMC, but are in no way required to do so, the team offered it to them and they signed. Blame Stan if you’re mad at that). Hossa’s age has been of great concern, even after his stellar 2017 season. A trade of him would likely be a salary dump more than an expected return. We already mentioned Kruger and Hammer, so that brings us to the one rumored name that is causing quite the uproar: Artemi Panarin.
The Bread Man has quickly become a fan favorite in his first two years. The Hawks just signed him to a new $6mil/year deal through 2020 this season. He’s scored 61 goals since joining the Blackhawks, and has become one of the league’s best young stars. And that’s exactly why he’s a prime trade piece for the Hawks. Panarin is the Hawks’ biggest asset that will bring back the best return, especially if they’re trying to go after someone like Noah Hanifin or another young D-Man (which they should be).
Panarin is great, and losing him would be a huge bummer, but let’s not act like he’s irreplaceable. There’s this false sense among fans that Panarin is part of the Blackhawks’ “core.” Nope. Not even a little bit. The real core at this point only consists of Toews, Kane, Keith, Crow and that’s it. The “core” is beginning to shrink.
Panarin has also left much to be desired in the Hawks’ last two first round exits. He’s disappeared in the playoffs, can be lazy at times on the ice, and a little too quick to just sit around, watch the play, and wait for Kane to pass to him for a one-timer. And quite frankly, with the forward depth the Hawks have in the organization, it’s not like they can’t find someone else to do that (Hello, Alex DeBrincat). Again, this isn’t meant to shred apart Panarin, I’m just trying to explain why he’s the biggest piece the Hawks have to offer teams if they’re looking for a real return, and why it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they pulled the trigger.
Another, far more painful route, would be to make salary dump trades to just get under the cap with nothing in return. Then letting the kids develop more in 2017-18 with hopes of striking gold and making a real run at a Cup in 2019. That’s a scary road I’m not sure I want to travel.
Of course, all of this is pure speculation. The Hawks find themselves in a bind, and we’re going to find out how they figure to get out of it in the coming weeks. The NMC’s the front office offered are sure coming back to bite the team now, and only make this process more challenging.
The only thing here that’s a given is that one or a few beloved players are going to be moved, and it’s going to hurt. But if the Hawks want to extend their championship window any longer, they’re going to have to break a few eggs.