Blackhawks Need a Left Wing Makeover
With the NHL draft presumed to be soon, the Chicago Blackhawks have a lot of decisions to make. I think this year, especially, their picks will be intriguing. The positions that were considered to be “not of concern” have likely become a “top priority” of things to fix. The team could use just about everything. However, there is one position that I think will take precedent above the others: left-wing. The Blackhawks have made two not-so-subtle hints that they want a shakeup at the position.
Anders Lee Snafu
Anders Lee was considered to be a coveted free agent this previous offseason. The 29-year-old left wing can put up 40-plus points a season. He’s a target whose services were in high demand and even harder to land. The Blackhawks were a team whose chances to land him seemed close to none. With the payday he was expected to get and the Blackhawks’ tight salary cap, they weren’t exactly the picture of a match made in heaven – or would they have been?
Chicago supposedly had a chance to land him. However, Lee decided to return to his abode which is the New York Islanders. Hypothetically, if Lee did end up on the Blackhawks, it would probably signal the end of left-wing Brandon Saad’s tenure here as the team would have to do something to create cap space. Which brings us to the second hint:
Brandon Saad Rumors
27-year-old Saad has been a name that has been mentioned in trade rumors for a good while. The fire has continued to grow since the trade deadline in February. His name, specifically, keeps being linked to the Boston Bruins. Whether anything comes of that is yet to be seen. However, I think Saad being moved is a big possibility.
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He has a cap hit of $6 million AAV which will run until 2021. Although Saad has had his ups and downs since his return to the Blackhawks in 2017, he is still considered a good, two-way player. He is also someone that doesn’t have a no-movement clause. It makes him a bit easier to move than most of the team based on the clause alone.
Besides the hints, the other main indicator of a left-wing shakeup is based on the roster’s performance itself. Besides Saad, the group that has been used at left wing consists of Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik, Matthew Highmore, Zack Smith, and Alex Nylander.
More than half of that core has been questionable. DeBrincat and Kubalik have established themselves as dependable wings. Although Kubalik has had great success as a rookie with 46 points, there aren’t huge concerns with how that will play out going forward. That brings us to the other three question marks:
Matthew Highmore is someone who has played on-and-off for the Blackhawks since 2018. He is a center, but has been playing both left and right-wing for Chicago. In 36 games this season, the 24-year-old only had six points and was a minus-one. He recently signed a two-year extension with the team, but I don’t see him as a long-term answer at wing.
32-year-old Zach Smith is playing center and left-wing for Chicago. His role is more on the defensive side. In 50 games this season, he had four goals, seven assists, 11 points, and was a plus-two. His season took a hit when he had to have season-ending back surgery in March. He also a hand injury this season.
Injuries combined with a high cap hit at over $3 million makes him hard to trade. He already cleared waivers a year before the Blackhawks decided to trade for him, which doesn’t look good for his market value. Overall, this doesn’t make for a good recipe going forward. It makes his future with the Blackhawks doubtful.
When the Blackhawks traded defenseman Henri Jokiharju for 22-year-old Alex Nylander in 2019, I believe the hope for that trade was that Nylander would become an anchor at wing. It’s something you would expect to accompany an eighth overall draft pick, like himself. There was a lot riding for the Blackhawks with that trade. Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked in their favor. In 65 games this season, he had 10 goals, 16 assists, 26 points, and was a minus-two.
He shows flashes that he can be extremely good. Then, he shows flashes where his play is not up to par. I think Nylander’s sporadic play has put the team in a tough position. If he consistently played to the potential the team knows he has, then it wouldn’t make their need for reliable forwards so much more apparent.
The Blackhawks have focused their attention on defense the past couple of drafts. That should give them more leeway to shift their focus to other aspects of the roster. The Blackhawks’ success relies on every position being a consistent threat for opposing teams. Going back to the drawing board is their best bet to replenish forward depth within the organization. I think forwards, in general, will dominate Chicago’s draft picks, but maybe expect the left side to get a little more love.
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