Dobber's offseason fantasy hockey grades – Chicago Blackhawks
For the last 13 years (12 with The Hockey News) I have reviewed each team from a fantasy-hockey standpoint and graded them. My 14th annual review will appear here on DobberHockey throughout the summer. This is not a review of the likely performance on the ice or in the standings, but in the realm of fantasy hockey.
Impact of changes – These moves were all necessitated by the cap. Each of the four players coming in are making a very cheap NHL salary. The players going out were making a lot of money. Except for Teravainen, but he had to go to Carolina in order to bribe them into taking the Bickell contract. And after all that, the Blackhawks still have just $2.4 million in cap space. But at least they’re under the cap!
As things stand, the starter roster would require two rookies, two almost-rookies, and a journeyman. So after this team’s top six, the bottom really drops out. This isn’t the Chicago Blackhawks team you’ve been used to seeing over the last six or seven years. It runs deeper than just losing Shaw, Bickell and Teravainen. Artemi Panarin’s contract runs out after 2016-17. Think they can re-sign him? Nope. Not if he has another year even remotely close to the Calder-winning campaign he just had. Six million? Seven? Well out of Chicago’s price range. Will anyone take Marian Hossa’s $5.275 million cap hit for them? Doubtful. Brent Seabrook’s $6.875 million? That one could be moved and they may have to do it. Teams won’t be lining up to take on the $10.5 million salaries of Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, so consider those players nearly untradeable. And Corey Crawford at $6 million? Not when it’s a buyer’s market for goaltenders right now. No, the team would have to move one of their three defensemen – Seabrook, Duncan Keith ($5.538 million) or Niklas Hjalmarsson ($4.1 million). Then they could afford Panarin.
GM Stan Bowman is doing a great job of fighting the cap crisis and keeping the team competitive. But now he’s losing the fight. Although he may get one more year out of this awesome team and perhaps another Cup (though I doubt it) – he definitely won’t get two more. How far the team declines will depend very much on the readiness of the rookies.
Ready for full-time – This is year in which holding onto those Chicago prospects of yours may finally pay off. Cap concerns will see to it that Chicago brings up at least two newcomers, perhaps three, to be regulars this season.
Tyler Motte is an interesting one with perhaps the highest offensive upside, but also has some risk. He’s a smaller player (5-9) and I wonder if Chicago will bring on a second one into their top six (Panarin is also 5-9). After University of Michigan teammates Zach Hyman, Dylan Larkin and Andrew Copp left for pro hockey, it was up to Motte, J.T. Compher (Colorado prospect) and newcomer Kyle Connor (Winnipeg prospect) to become the leaders – and did they ever. Motte finished with 56 points in 38 games and was a Hobey Baker finalist. Then he turned pro and picked up five points in five games for Rockford to end the season.
Nick Schmaltz is Chicago’s top forward prospect and so he’s the safer prospect to own. However, he may still be a year away. He’ll get a long look in camp and have every opportunity to make the team, but if he does I would temper expectations to 30 points as a rookie. His long-term future is very bright though.
Ryan Hartman has put in his time and is ready to make the jump. He’s in the mold of an Andrew Shaw-type, posting back-to-back 30-point, 100-PIM seasons in the AHL. If he makes the team it will be on the checking line, but he could help with hits and PIM.
Backup goalie Scott Darling wasn’t terrible last year, but it doesn’t look as though he performed up to the organization’s standards because they went out and signed the best undrafted free agent goalie in the world (arguably) in Lars Johansson. Darling will be on a short leash because Johansson is 29 years old and at that age you don’t travel halfway around the world to play in the AHL.
Ville Pokka finished in the top 10 among defensemen in AHL scoring and he also impressed for Team Finland at the World Championships. With Michal Rozsival at this point just a part-time player, the only standing in Pokka’s way from making this team is free agent signee Michal Kempny.
Kempny is an undrafted, left-shooting defenseman who played most of his career in the Czech Republic, but last season was in the KHL. He is a capable puck-mover and at 25 years old he’s entering his prime. But he lacks Pokka’s size and pedigree, and he may not do as well on a bottom pairing as Pokka would. He needs to be on the second pairing and second PP unit in order to be useful to the organization.
Fantasy Outlook – Chicago is still a great team, but now they’re starting to show some chinks in the armor. You can wait another year, maybe two, to squeeze out as much value from your Blackhawks assets as possible. Or you can spend the next seven or eight months just quietly cutting back on your investment with this team and get ahead of what’s to come in two or three years. The prospect pipeline is reasonably deep, but with no high-upside blue-chippers. If they get lucky with players like Motte, Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat and Pokka, then they’ll buy themselves a few more years of greatness.
Fantasy Grade: B+ (last year was A)
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