Our annual What Went Wrong series examines the teams that failed to make the playoffs. Over the coming weeks, we’ll go through them team-by-team, discuss how their season went and then highlight the players that either significantly underperformed in 2017-18 or that they’ll need more from going forward.
The Chicago Blackhawks missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and finished 25th overall with a 33-39-10 record. Chicago went from having the best record in the conference in 2016-17 to placing third-worst in the West this past season. The Blackhawks managed to overcome the losses of key players over the years, which resulted mostly from salary cap issues, but the team wasn’t able to conquer their problems in 2017-18.
Before the season started the Blackhawks were without dependable veteran defender Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin, who were traded to Arizona and Columbus, respectively, Marian Hossa, who is not expected to play again due to a rare skin disorder, spent the entire campaign on the injured list. The absence of Hjalmarsson, along with departures of Trevor van Riemsdyk, Johnny Oduya and Brian Campbell left the Blackhawks with a depleted and inexperienced back end. It didn’t help matters that Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who were supposed to anchor the group, struggled mightily at both ends of the ice. Hossa’s absence represented a big hole up front and the loss of Panarin made it worse, especially since Brandon Saad, who came over from the Blue Jackets in the deal, failed to fill the offensive void.
Losing Corey Crawford was a significant blow that Chicago didn’t account for and it played a significant role in the Blackhawks’ disappointing season. He sat out the last 47 games of the year due to a head injury. Prior to getting hurt, Crawford had a 16-9-2 record with a 2.27 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. He was helping to mask a great of Chicago’s problems before he got hurt. Anton Forsberg, Jeff Glass and Jean-Francois Berube were not adequate replacements. They had some bright spots, but none of them proved to be stable crease options.
Patrick Kane had a great year, with a team-leading 76 points, despite Chicago’s struggles in the attacking zone. However, the rest of the team didn’t seem to have much luck around the net. The Blackhawks' offense failed to capitalize on their opportunities with a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of only 7.12, which ranked 27th overall. Chicago was also dismal with the man advantage with a 16.0 percent success rate (28th in the league) and the penalty kill ranked 20th in the NHL.
Jonathan Toews, Keith, Seabrook and Crawford have plenty to prove going into the 2018-19 campaign. The team’s aging core needs help from players like Alex DeBrincat, Vinnie Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz, Erik Gustafsson and Gustav Forsling if Chicago is going to bounce back and return to the postseason.
Jonathan Toews - Toews sat out the last eight games of the year due to an upper-body injury. He managed to hit the 20-goal for an 11th straight season, but his 20 markers was a career low and so was his 52 points in 74 matches. He had 48 points in 2012-13, but that came in 47 contests during a lockout-shortened campaign. Toews’ 9.5 shooting percentage in 2017-18 fell well below his career mark of 14.1 percent. The Blackhawks captain will try to prove he isn’t on the decline next year.
Brandon Saad - Saad had a hot start to the season, with six goals and two assists in his first six outings, but the offense quickly dried up and lengthy scoring droughts plagued him throughout the year. He finished the campaign with 18 goals and 35 points in 82 contests. Saad is confident he can rebound next year with better puck luck. His shooting percentage at 5-on-5 dropped to 6.68 in 2017-18 after he had an average of 8.93 going into the season.
Duncan Keith - Keith didn’t score his first goal of the season until Chicago’s 58th game. He netted just two goals on 187 shots in 82 matches, while adding just 30 assists and 10 power-play points. Keith also struggled defensively and he ended up with a minus-29 rating. He believes he can bounce back in 2018-19.
Corey Crawford - As previously mentioned, Crawford sat out most of the year due to a head injury. He has never played in 60 games in his career, but he is expected to be ready for next season. The team is hopeful that Crawford will return to the form that he has displayed throughout his career.
NEW YORK RANGERS
The New York Rangers failed to reach the postseason for the first time since 2010. The Blueshirts got off to a sluggish start (4-7-2) and struggled mightily in the second half, while winning just nine of their final 32 matches (9-19-4) of the year. Only the Blackhawks failed to record more points than the Rangers from February until the end of the regular season.
New York’s descent down the standings during that time coincided with the organization’s decision to shift to a rebuild and focus more on the team’s younger players. Rick Nash was shipped to Boston, Michael Grabner was dealt to New Jersey, while J.T. Miller and captain Ryan McDonagh were sent to Tampa Bay.
The Rangers struggled defensively allowing 3.21 goals-against per game (fourth-most in the league) and 35.3 shots against per game (second-most in the NHL). That put plenty of pressure on Henrik Lundqvist, who didn’t post numbers we are accustomed to seeing from him. New York was also missing big free-agent addition Kevin Shattenkirk for a large chunk of the year because of a knee injury. The team’s shortcomings defensively were all the more glaring because the offense wasn’t exactly firing on an cylinders with 2.78 goals for per contest (22nd in the league). Mika Zibanejad led the club with 27 goals and Kevin Hayes (25) was the only other member of the Rangers to top the 20-goal plateau.
New York quickly fired head coach Alain Vigneault after the regular season ended. Former Boston University bench boss David Quinn was recently hired to take over behind the bench. He will be tasked with helping the young players on the Rangers integrate into the team and develop. New York has some strong building blocks in Lias Andersson, Filip Chytil, Libor Hajek, Brett Howden, Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and Neal Pionk for Quinn to work with.
Henrik Lundqvist - Lundqvist’s 2.98 goals-against average was the worst of his career and his 26 victories was his lowest total ever at the NHL level, excluding the lockout-shortened season of 2012-13. His struggles in the crease were largely the byproduct of the lack of support around him and he dealt with a knee injury for most of the year. The Rangers need a big bounce-back performance from Lundqvist if the team has any aspirations of returning to postseason contention in 2018-19.
Kevin Shattenkirk - Shattenkirk skated in just 46 contests with the Rangers after he signed a four-year contract worth $26.6 million last summer. He missed the final 36 games of the season after he underwent surgery for a meniscus tear in his knee. Shattenkirk was mired in a 30-game goalless drought prior to his injury and he only had eight assists during that span. He is capable of doing much better and needs to get himself back on track. With McDonagh gone, Shattenkirk will be counted on to help lead New York’s defense group.
Pavel Buchnevich - Buchnevich will be expected to elevate his play in 2018-19 after he showed progress this past campaign with 14 goals and 43 points in 74 contests. It’s been widely believed that former coach Alain Vigneault was holding Buchnevich back for the last two seasons with trips to the press box and ice time as a bottom-six forward. Some injury issues didn’t help either. If the 23-year-old forward stays healthy and cements a spot on one of the Rangers’ top-two lines then he should be able to make an impact on the scoresheet more often than not.
Vladislav Namestnikov - Namestnikov was a key piece that came back from the Lightning in the trade that sent McDonagh and Miller to Tampa Bay. However, he didn’t produce much as a member of the Rangers with two goals and two assists in 19 appearances. Namestnikov had a goal and a helper in his New York debut, but he failed to generate much after that.