Ah, 2016 you’ve had your ups and downs. The Blackhawks experienced the same this year. While the end of last season came quicker than they’d hoped, the start of this one has been pretty positive.
The Blackhawks have three more games before they ring in 2017 with the Winter Classic in St. Louis. Still, we’re late enough in the year where we can reflect on the past 350-plus days. For the Blackhawks, it’s been an interesting one, with plenty of highs and lows.
So on this post-Christmas Day, when we assume you’re still cleaning up the house and regretting the 20 cookies you had on Sunday, let’s look at the Blackhawks’ Top 10 moments of 2016.
1. Artemi Panarin cashes in. It was the final regular-season game of 2015-16, which would be an overtime loss for the Blackhawks in Columbus. But for Panarin, it was time to collect. Panarin recorded two goals and an assist to finish in the top 10 among forwards in scoring categories, earning him $1.725 million in bonuses. He would earn $2.575 million total, which came out of this current salary cap. Yeah, it was costly for the Blackhawks but they knew what they were getting into when they agreed to the bonuses with Panarin, who went on to win the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. Oh and guess what? Panarin’s probably going to hit bonuses again this season. Brace yourself, 2016-17 cap.
2. Patrick Kane eclipses 100-point season. We could argue all day on who helped who on the second line: Kane helped Panarin to his great season or vice-versa. Whatever your view, Kane had an incredible season with 106 points. He became the first U.S.-born player to eclipse 100 points since Doug Weight (104 points with the Edmonton Oilers in 1995-96) and the first Blackhawks player to achieve it since Jeremy Roenick (107 points in 1993-94). Like Panarin, Kane collected some hardware, claiming the Art Ross Trophy for leading the NHL in points and the Hart Trophy for league MVP.
3. Joel Quenneville moves into second all-time in coaching victories. Quenneville’s tremendous coaching career reached a lofty height on Jan. 14, when he passed Al Arbour to become the second all-time winningest coach in NHL history. That victory, over the Montreal Canadiens, was also part of what became the Blackhawks’ 12-game winning streak. Quenneville joked that there’s no way he’ll touch Scotty Bowman’s record total of 1,244 victories – “Scotty’s safe,” he said. That may be true, but Quenneville’s place among the best is nevertheless impressive.
4. The Blues eliminate the Blackhawks. It wouldn’t have surprised any of us if Brent Seabrook once again came through with a clutch playoff goal, and he was about a millimeter away, on each side of the net, from doing so on April 25. It was not to be, however, as Seabrook’s attempted game-tying goal went off both posts and stayed out. Former Blackhawks forward Troy Brouwer’s goal proved to be the game winner, as the Blues sent the Blackhawks packing in Game 7. Regardless of the Blackhawks’ fate it was a thrilling series, one of the best of last season’s playoffs.
5. Marian Hossa scores his 500th career goal. There was as much relief as elation for Hossa at that moment. Immediately after scoring he headed to the Blackhawks’ bench, where he was mobbed by teammates. If there was ever a sweeter moment it was a few nights later, when Hossa’s daughter Zoja playfully honked his nose during his 500th-goal ceremony. The goal, which Hossa had several chances to score the previous season, was a weight off his shoulders and the rejuvenated Hossa scored 16 goals before suffering an upper-body injury against Ottawa.
6. The Blackhawks say goodbye to Andrew Shaw. The agitating Shaw was a fan favorite, and after losing Brandon Saad the previous summer, Blackhawks fans hoped Shaw wouldn’t go, too. He did, signing a six-year, $23.4 million deal with the Montreal Canadiens. Shaw could bring a great amount of energy and a tremendous net-front presence; he could also commit penalties at the worst possible time. While Shaw is still missed, the Blackhawks have done alright without him. Ryan Hartman has emerged as a strong player in his own right, and he’s drawing more penalties than he’s committing.
7. Brian Campbell signs with the Blackhawks. Every now and then a move has nothing to do with money. There’s no better example of that than Campbell. At 37, wanting to make his offseason home a permanent one and wanting another chance to win a Cup, Campbell signed a one-year, $2 million deal with Chicago. Campbell could have made more money elsewhere. But as he said on July 1, when he signed his deal, money is no longer the main factor. Family was. With that, the Blackhawks’ defense went from depleted to deep again.
8. Blackhawks re-acquire Andrew Ladd. The Blackhawks were playing the Nashville Predators the night of Feb. 25 but the big news happened before the puck even dropped. The Blackhawks brought Ladd, a big part of the 2010 Stanley Cup team, back to Chicago. One of the Blackhawks’ biggest issues last season was finding a top-line left with to play with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Alas, the move didn’t have the desired effect. Ladd had just one goal and one assist in seven postseason games. This summer he signed a lucrative contract with the New York Islanders, where he continues to struggle (five goals, three assists, a minus-10 in 33 games).
9. The forgettable outdoor game. We joke that the Blackhawks have played in 37 outdoor games since the NHL started them a few years ago, although we’ll maintain we’re not that far off. Most of the time, the Blackhawks are part of a great show. But on Feb. 21, the Blackhawks didn’t show up. The host Minnesota Wild thrashed the Blackhawks 6-1 that day, and would sweep the regular-season series against Chicago. For the Blackhawks, it was another lopsided loss in a season that had an alarming amount of them.
10. Corey Crawford leads the league in shutouts. On Jan. 24, Crawford recorded his seventh shutout of the 2015-16 season, giving him the league’s best total in that category. For Crawford’s first few seasons he was only given so much credit; many said he benefitted from the team in front of him. But last season the Blackhawks were not the same team, especially on defense, and Crawford buoyed them plenty. That’s continued this season, as the Blackhawks’ goaltending has been stellar.