Blackhawks mailbag: What could the defense look like in 2019-20?


Blackhawks mailbag: What could the defense look like in 2019-20?

Every Friday this offseason, Charlie Roumeliotis will look to answer your Blackhawks and hockey-related questions. Be sure to chime in using the hashtag #HawksMailbag on Twitter for a chance to have your question answered in the next edition.  

This is supposed to be a solid group of goalies in this draft, do the Hawks draft another goalie this year?

Because of how long it takes for goaltenders to develop, the Blackhawks are at a point where they have to start preparing for life without Corey Crawford, even if he re-signs with the team after next season. Crawford will be 35 when his contract expires next summer, and you must have an idea of who his replacement is going to be ahead of time.

Collin Delia, who signed a three-year extension, took a big step this past season and is expected to be the backup for the 2019-20 campaign. Kevin Lankinen split time in Rockford but had a breakout performance at the 2019 IIHF World Championship by leading Finland to a gold medal and posting a .942 save percentage. Alexis Gravel, who was drafted in the sixth round (No. 162 overall) in 2018, is still only 19.

We see how important it is in today's NHL to have two reliable goaltenders, so adding depth in that department is never a bad thing. It's certainly possible the Blackhawks look at the goalie market in this year's draft to see if they can find a hidden gem. You can never have enough of them.

Do all the draftees naming Hawks as favorite players have any sort of actual impact on the drafting process?

In the big picture, no. But history indicates it doesn't hurt because the Blackhawks like when there's that added element of playing for pride and the crest on the front of the sweater.

Ryan Hartman, Vinnie Hinostroza and Nick Schmaltz are among the most notable recent draftees by the Blackhawks who were Chicago-area natives (Hartman, Hinostroza) and/or Blackhawks fans (Schmaltz). Alex Turcotte, among other prospects who have made it known that the Blackhawks were their favorite team growing up, would fall into this category as an Island Lake native and someone who grew up rooting for the Blackhawks, even admitting he was at the 2010 championship parade.

Do the Blackhawks really have the roster space to go out and get a defenseman during free agency? Already have Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, Gustafsson, Jokiharju, Koekkoek, Dahlstrom, likely Forsling, and possibly Boqvist. Maybe Byram as well.

What do you expect the blue line to look like next season, draft, trades and current prospects in mind?

Combining these two questions. It's hard to imagine the Blackhawks rolling back the same defensive group. There will be changes on the back end. What that may look like is the interesting question because six defensemen (Carl Dahlstrom, Erik Gustafsson, Duncan Keith, Slater Koekkoek, Connor Murphy and Brent Seabrook) are all under contract. And that doesn't include Henri Jokiharju, who could compete for a full-time roster spot next season.

The unrestricted free agent market on defense consists of Jake Gardiner, Erik Karlsson and Tyler Myers at the top, all three of whom are looking for a big payday and term. The Blackhawks’ defensive group is simply too crowded right now, and not necessarily in a good way. They’re loaded with depth defensemen but not enough impact-type players.

That being said, the Blackhawks are expected to go after another depth defenseman this summer to help shore up their defensive game and penalty kill. If they want to add a top-four blue liner, it might be more likely that it would come in the form of a trade. 

Hey Charlie!

1) Kevin Lankinen - fluke or for real?

2) With the addition of these European players, what kind of message does that send to those knocking on the door in Rockford? Is it healthy competition or a sign Hawks are moving on from those in Rockford?


1) Lankinen’s performance at the Worlds was no fluke. He was terrific and played against elite competition. But because that tournament is played on a larger ice surface, the angles are a little different so that should be noted.

2) I asked Jeremy Colliton this question on the latest Hawks Talk Podcast and here was his response: “That gets back to the discussion about depth: We need more. We need more competition throughout the lineup, not just for a place on the roster but for a place every night. And then the role within that, whether that's special teams or matchup line or certain combos, the more options we have obviously the stronger our team will be. But we're going to have injuries. I think this year we were relatively healthy. It will probably be naive to think that we'll be as healthy next year. We need guys who can play ... you gotta be ready to go 25, 26, 27 guys deep in your organization to win, so we need to keep working on that."

Do the Blackhawks go back to drafting 12th in the 2nd round and onwards, or do they continue to pick 3rd each round?

Who do you think can be of value in the second round for the Blackhawks?

Thank you for bringing up this question. I made a mistake on a recent episode of the Hawks Talk Podcast by saying the Blackhawks move up nine spots in every round, but that’s not the case with lottery teams. Rounds 2 and on are sorted by where you finished in the standings.

As far as who could be an attractive player in the second round for the Blackhawks, I won't pretend to be a draft guru and throw out names I don't know much about. We're hoping to get one or two more experts on the podcast before the NHL Draft on June 21-22 and perhaps dive into second round options. Stay tuned.

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How a systematic change could serve as turning point for Blackhawks

USA Today

How a systematic change could serve as turning point for Blackhawks

When Jeremy Colliton took over as head coach on Nov. 6, 2018, he implemented a man-on-man system in the defensive zone that took some time getting used to for the core players who had played zone coverage under Joel Quenneville for 10-plus years. 

What Colliton didn’t mess with too much is how the Blackhawks generated offense. He allowed his players to play a run-and-gun-type game and it was high risk, high reward. After all, the Blackhawks were among the league leaders in scoring chances generated off the rush, but they also gave up the most.

Colliton knew that wasn’t a great formula for long-term success, so the Blackhawks became more of a dump-and-chase team this season to eliminate neutral zone turnovers and odd-man rushes against. They also altered the way they transitioned out of their own end.

The problem? The offense dried up significantly.

After a brutal four-game road trip in which they were outshot by 65 and averaged only 26.2 shots per game, Colliton was forced to make a systematic change going into Thursday's game against the Vancouver Canucks and gave his players more freedom to create offense similar to the way they did last season. And it could be the turning point of the 2019-20 season. 

“We made a conscious effort to be a bit looser when the puck turned over, so we could create more out of D zone in transition and I think it's helped,” Colliton said following Sunday’s 5-4 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. “There's been a lot more plays available for us. Probably closer to how it looked last year, as far as our ability to make plays out of D-zone and through the neutral zone, and probably fits our top guys — and you can see, they're coming to life. It's good to see. Doesn't mean that the defensive side won't be a continued emphasis, because you've got to keep the puck out of your net to win, and when you get up like we did, would've loved to control the game.”

The results? The Blackhawks have scored 12 goals in their last three games and are 2-0-1 over that span.

“We’re trying to build some momentum here doing a lot of new things and new systems," Dylan Strome said on WGN Radio's postgame show after a 5-1 win over Vancouver. "It takes a little bit of getting used to. We kind of went back to our old system a little bit from last year, so [we felt] a lot more comfortable.”

Not only has the switch jumpstarted the offense, but the Blackhawks have seen improvement in their defensive numbers and it likely stems from the fact they aren’t spending as much time in their own zone.

Before the change on Thursday, the Blackhawks ranked 18th in scoring chances for (24.7), 18th in high-danger chances for (10.0), 30th in scoring chances against (29.2) and 30th in high-danger chances against (13.0) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Since the change, the Blackhawks rank seventh in scoring chances for (28.8), 15th in high-danger chances for (10.9), 22nd in scoring chances against (28.3) and 20th in high-danger chances against (11.8) per 60 minutes at 5-on-5. 

It's still not perfect, but we're finally starting to see what the Blackhawks are capable of as a group. They're playing looser and with more confidence, they're attacking and not chasing — they've scored the first two goals in each of the past three games — and they're racking up points because of it. 

The fundamental change doesn’t mean the Blackhawks are going to forget about the defense-first mentality they’re trying to establish. But Colliton knows he has to let his offensive players do what they do best and play to their strengths — it's no coincidence that Patrick Kane has caught fire in the last three games.

Now they’re trying to find a common ground where the team’s style of play can lead to sustained success, both on offense and defense.

“It's a happy medium,” Colliton said. “It was a big emphasis to keep the puck out of our net and still is. But at the same time, we've got to score more than them in order to win. We're trying to find the right balance and I think ultimately we need to win games to stay in the race, to allow ourselves to play important games. That's what we've done in the last week, we've got some points.”

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How to watch Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights: Time, TV schedule and streaming info

USA Today

How to watch Blackhawks vs. Golden Knights: Time, TV schedule and streaming info

The Blackhawks are in the spotlight on Wednesday against the Vegas Golden Knights. The Golden Knights are contending in the Pacific Division while the Blackhawks are hoping to make a run before Thanksgiving to solidify their position in the table.

But last Thursday, the Blackhawks knocked off another Pacific Division foe, the Vancouver Canucks.

With everyone tuned in on Wednesday night, the Blackhawks can show the league they're ready to make a run.

Here's how you can watch and stream the game:

Date: Wednesday, November 13
Time: 9:00 p.m. CST
Location: T-Mobile Arena | Las Vegas, Nevada
TV: NBC Sports
Stream: MyTeams

NBC Sports Chicago Coverage

Blackhawks Pregame: 8:30 p.m. CST
Blackhawks Postgame Live: 11:30 p.m. CST*

* - Immediately following conclusion of the game

Can't watch this game because your provider dropped NBC Sports Chicago?  Go to MYSPORTSCHICAGO.COM or Call 1-844-700-NBCS to get your Chicago sports back!