Nick Schmaltz

O Captain! My Captain! Patrick Kane named USA captain for World Championship

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USA TODAY

O Captain! My Captain! Patrick Kane named USA captain for World Championship

The Blackhawks will not be participating in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, but several players will still be playing in May.

Monday, Patrick Kane confirmed that he will join Team USA for the 2018 IIHF World Championship. The games will take place in Copenhagen and Herning, Denmark, from May 4-20.

Kane, 29, will captain an American squad well-represented by the Blackhawks. Alex DeBrincat and Connor Murphy will also compete for Team USA, while Nick Schmaltz is contemplating whether or not to play.

Tomas Jurco (Slovakia) will also compete in the tournament.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks 2017-18 season

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks 2017-18 season

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks season in 2017-18 after finishing with a 33-39-10 record and 76 points:

1. Corey Crawford's injury

There are many different reasons as to why the Blackhawks missed the playoffs for the first time in a decade, none more obvious than the injury to one of the best goaltenders in the league. There's no way around it.

Crawford was 16-9-2 with a 2.27 goals against average, .929 save percentage and two shutouts before essentially being shut down for the rest of the season after Christmas. To the Blackhawks' credit, they never used that as an excuse but the numbers clearly don't lie.

Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass and J-F Berube each held their own for a while but could never seize the opportunity down the stretch. Collin Delia looked sharp in his NHL debut, and heck, even 36-year-old Scott Foster managed to find himself between the pipes, a fitting event given how the season unfolded in goal.

Stan Bowman said Friday on NBC Sports Chicago that "we don't have any concerns" about Crawford's long-term health and "there's no reason for us not to be expecting him back," echoing team president John McDonough's comments from a few days earlier.

That's a great sign, because Crawford has masked most of the team's deficiencies since they won their last Stanley Cup in 2015.

In a way, his injury could be viewed as a silver lining because it magnified the real flaws and gave the Blackhawks an opportunity to know exactly what they need to address in the offseason while expecting their Vezina-type netminder to be 100 percent healthy and return to top form.

2. The next generation

If there's one positive to take away from the 2017-18 season, it's the emergence of the younger players like Alex DeBrincat, Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz, all three of whom established important roles with the club going forward.

DeBrincat finished with a team-best 28 goals and ranked tied for second in points (52). Only Patrick Kane (76) had more points than Schmaltz (52). And Hinostroza was fifth in points-per-game (0.50).

Bowman singled out DeBrincat and Schmaltz on Friday as "the next guys we're going to really commit a lot of dollars to," reaffirming the desire to get younger and build from within. Add top prospect Dylan Sikura into the mix up front, and the Blackhawks have speed and youth sprinkled all over their roster.

This is the future and the present. The second wave of talent is here.

3. Special teams disaster

The Blackhawks usually have a decent special teams unit under Joel Quenneville. If it's not the power play, it's the penalty kill and if it's not the penalty kill, it's the power play. This season was rough in both departments.

They finished with a 16.0 percent success rate with the man advantage, which ranked 28th in the league, and a 79.2 percent success rate on the penalty kill, which ranked 20th. The former in particular is a staggering number when you look at the core group leading the charge.

Even if the Blackhawks power play was just average, their spot in the standings might look different. But it was a momentum killer all season long, and an area that needs to get better if they want to turn things around quickly.

The penalty kill is fine structurally and will probably have a bounce-back season.

As late as Dec. 14, 2017, they were ranked fifth with an 83.8 percentage — nine days before Crawford played his final game of the season. So that unraveled quickly in large part because of their goaltending. Perhaps the biggest challenge is finding someone other than Jonathan Toews to take a defensive faceoff.

It's difficult to stay above water and in the playoff race when you're special teams is dragging you down from both ends, and that's exactly what happened for the Blackhawks.

4. An inexperienced blue line

The Blackhawks gave up the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances during 5-on-5 play this season, and a lot of that had to do with inexperience on the back end.

After Duncan Keith (34) and Brent Seabrook (32), there was a significant drop-off: Before this season, Jan Rutta hadn't played in an NHL game, Erik Gustafsson had 41 games under his belt, Gustav Forsling had 38, Jordan Oesterle had 25 and Carl Dahlstrom and Blake Hillman each were among the defensive crop that made their debuts. 

It made for some heavy growing pains, ones that you hope will pay off in the long term and serve as learning lessons for next season and beyond.

Offensively, the production wasn't there, either. 

The Blackhawks had only 18 goals from their defensemen in the first 57 games, with Keith scoring only two all season long. It put a ton of pressure on the forwards to score.

That's a position that should be No. 1 on the offseason priority list, and Bowman said "it's possible" the Blackhawks will explore landing a Top 4 defenseman. But they won't mortgage the future to do it.

"The things that would factor into those decisions would be where the salary cap is at, how much room you have and probably the biggest thing is just the term," he said.

5. Patrick Sharp's farewell

When Sharp re-signed with the Blackhawks last offseason, he made it clear he wasn't simply coming back for a victory lap. He wanted to contribute to a team that had Stanley Cup aspirations.

Unfortunately for the reasons listed above, plans changed and it turned out to be exactly that.

But his send-off in his final game at United Center was a perfect way to go out given the circumstances, allowing the city of Chicago to celebrate what he did for the organization and community: Three Stanley Cups, a four-time 30-goal scorer and alternate captain.

No. 10 will forever be known as playing an integral part of putting the Blackhawks back on the map.

Glass half full? There was something to be excited about in Blackhawks loss to Bruins

Glass half full? There was something to be excited about in Blackhawks loss to Bruins

There hasn't been much to cheer for this season if you're a Blackhawks fan.

It was another painful unraveling on Saturday after they allowed four power-play goals and suffered their second regulation loss (17-2-3) when leading after two periods in a 7-4 loss to the Boston Bruins.

But, taking a glass half-full approach, there was something to be excited about.

Matthew Highmore scored his first career NHL goal, added two blocked shots and two hits in a season-high 15:48 of ice time.

John Hayden, who was recalled from the AHL's Rockford IceHogs on an emergency basis, showed some fight — literally — by dropping the gloves in his second shift then scoring a goal the next period. He basically picked up where he left off in Rockford, where he had five goals and nine assists for 14 points in 22 games.

Erik Gustafsson had a career-high three points, and has two goals in three games since signing a two-year contract extension. He had only one goal in his previous 60 games, dating back to last year's rookie campaign.

Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz each registered an assist to maintain their position among the Top 4 scorers on the Blackhawks, while David Kampf also recorded an assist for the second straight game, had a team-high four takeaways and won at least half of his faceoffs for the seventh straight game — he's 52-for-86 (60.5 percent) over that span.

Notice a common theme?

Every single one of those players are aged 25 or younger and made an impact on the scoresheet. Even more encouraging, they did it against a team that is arguably the best in the NHL.

They're taking it upon themselves to stand out in this final month, which is essentially an open audition for next season and beyond.

Sure, the youth movement comes with bumps and bruises, and it's hard to look at this game and feel good about it, but it would be even more alarming if there weren't signs of development in those younger players. That sets franchise's back years.

That's not the case going on in Chicago.

It's about how quickly they can put it all together and make it work as a group, and moving past the developmental stages of the retooling process by 2018-19.