Chicago Blackhawks must be solutions-oriented in second half
Chicago Blackhawks must be solutions-oriented in second half
The Chicago Blackhawks would love to get into the playoff race after the All-Star break, but they've got to use the remaining 31 games to work on solutions to long-term problems.
The NHL All-Star break ended Monday and teams across the league will be looking to take advantage of their last 30-something games of the season. The Chicago Blackhawks will pick up their season on Friday with 31 games to make something positive of their season. The fear, of course, is that the front office will be under the impression that making the playoffs is the only way to do that. In reality, with the franchise in last place again in the Central Division, four points behind of the Blues who also have two games in hand, trying to wring everything out of the roster in its current state would be detrimental long-term. __Play to win:__ [Enter our free contests to win BetChicago prize packs or even cash!](https://betchicago.chalkline.com/) Instead, the Blackhawks should be focusing on developing solutions to the issues that put them in this mess in the first place. They can’t solve everything in the second half of the season. But there are things they can work on to improve their positioning for the future. In particular, there should be three clear areas of focus in the final 31 games: lineup manipulation, roster construction and prospect development. __Lineup manipulation__ Ideally, the Blackhawks would be able to trim the fat and shed all of the bad contracts that got them into this position in the first place. Brent Seabrook will go down as an all-time great for this franchise, but his deal is the prime example as one of the worst in the NHL. Seabrook is a shell of the top-line defender who helped lead Chicago to three Stanley Cups but carries a $6.875 million cap hit for five more seasons after 2018-19. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks won’t be able to move that contract. They’ll have to live with it. So for Seabrook it’s a matter of finding him a blue-line partner who is going to complement what he can still do well. Mark Lazerus of The Athletic [did an excellent job](https://theathletic.com/773989/2019/01/18/how-do-you-solve-a-problem-like-brent-seabrook-here-are-a-few-ideas/) looking at what they could do to mask their Seabrook problem moving forward, because trading a burgeoning star like Henri Jokiharju or Alex DeBrincat just to get him off the books is a non-starter. __Roster construction__ While Seabrook will have to stick around, there are other players the Blackhawks could move to free up salary and create roster space before the Feb. 25 deadline. We discussed that last month [in detail](https://www.betchicago.com/blackhawks-trade-chips-options-chicago) and the Blackhawks have made some progress since then, dealing defensemen Brandon Manning and Jan Rutta in separate deals on Dec. 30 and Jan. 11. There is still more the Blackhawks could do. Guys like Artem Anisimov and Marcus Kruger aren’t going to generate returns that change the franchise's fortunes in an instant, but there’s clear value to getting Anisimov’s salary off [the books](https://www.capfriendly.com/teams/blackhawks) while he still has value and getting something for Kruger before he becomes a free agent in the offseason. Anything that can be spared should and just about anybody on the roster that a team wants to make an extraordinary offer should be available outside of the players we outlined in the aforementioned Dec. 9 piece. That would put players like Duncan Keith and Brandon Saad on the trading block. __Prospect development__ Last but not even close to least. The focus of the next 31 games should be about putting younger players in a position where they’re getting a lot of ice time. In all likelihood, that’s going to make a miserable season even worse from the standpoint of their record. But the Blackhawks are already taking the second-lowest percent of available points in the NHL and they have the second-worst goal differential in the league, so how much worse could it really get? Chicago has begun this process to an extent. Collin Delia has been called up and is getting regular net time. However, that’s not enough. Dylan Sikura was up for a short time, but averaged less than 11 minutes of ice time per night in 11 games before being sent back down. Victor Ejdsell hasn’t been called up from Rockford at all this season after looking like he was capable of producing from the bottom six in a short stint with the big club last season. It’d be nice to see both of those players get called back up and given significant ice time. If Matthew Highmore returns from injury this season, he should be in consideration too depending on whether it’s in his best interest or not. Beyond those guys, the Blackhawks need to continue putting their young NHLers in expanded roles. Dylan Strome has been the [most pleasant surprise](https://www.betchicago.com/dylan-strome-giving-blackhawks-hope) of the season so far, with 21 points in 27 games since coming over in the Nick Schmaltz trade. Dominik Kahun and David Kampf have shown flashes of having a future in Chicago’s forward rotation. Jokiharju is a future star, but he’s been shifted around a lot and should probably be given a bigger role on special teams. Basically, everybody under the age of 25 within a stone’s throw of being ready for the NHL (or already in the NHL) deserves as many minutes as they can get. __The end result__ You don’t see a lot of tanking in the NHL. They have a lottery system and good luck telling NHL players that they should be doing anything less than their best on a given night. But chances are that they’re going to wind up with a high pick in next year’s draft regardless of whether they’re trying or not. But scaling back the minutes of experienced NHL veterans in favor of unproven younger players increases the possibility that they’ll pick high while also helping them work on long-term solutions for their current issues. They won’t solve any of those problems in the next 31 games. But they’ve got to make better use of the second half of the season than they did the first half. __Read on:__ [Blackhawks first-period OVERs were a massive hit in first half](https://www.betchicago.com/nhl-betting-records-blackhawks-first-half-over)2019-01-29T23:02:04.332Z2019-01-29T15:00-06:00