The shock of the Chicago Blackhawks losing to the St. Louis Blues on Monday night has not quote worn off yet — at least not among the die-hard fans who didn’t want to even think about baseball until June. Surely, weren’t the Blackhawks supposed to win the Stanley Cup this year, becoming the first team in almost two decades to win back-to-back championships? Alas, it was not meant to be. Game 7 was close. The entire Blackhawks-Blues first round series was close. But being close isn’t good enough when you are down a goal on the losing end.
Still, let us not forget that the 2015-16 season was nothing to frown upon. From on the ice, to behind the bench, to the front office, it was a great season overall for the Chicago Blackhawks. Here are the top six highlights from the year that was.
1. Kane wins the Art Ross Trophy
No Chicago Blackhawks player has led the league in scoring since Stan Mikita tallied 40 goals and 47 assists in 72 games during the 1967-68 season. Even more significant is that Kane, the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, is the first American to win the Art Ross Trophy. His 106 points (46 goals, 60 assists) were 17 more than Jamie Benn of the Dallas Stars, who finished second in the scoring race with 89 points. Kane is only 27, and has several more prime seasons left in his career. Considering that his two linemates, Artem Anisimov and rookie Artemi Panarin, will be back next season, a second scoring title is a very real possibility.
2. Coach Q now second all-time in wins
When the Blackhawks beat the Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on January 14, it was head coach Joel Quenneville’s 783rd all-time coaching win. This moved him past former coaching great Al Arbour, making him second only to Scotty Bowman, who accrued 1,248 wins in 30 seasons as a head coach. Quenneville currently has 801 wins under his belt; 376 of those wins (about 47%) came during his eight seasons in Chicago.
So, could Coach Q ever catch Bowman, who coached until age 69? It is possible. Quenneville is 57 years old. If he coaches until he is 69, that would give him 12 seasons to get another 448 wins to be first all-time. The team that he coaches would need to average 38 wins a season. Considering that the Blackhawks have averaged 47 wins per season during Quenneville’s eight seasons — and yes, that is including the lockout year when they won 36 out of 48 games — becoming the all-time coaching wins leader is not out of reach.
3. Hawks set franchise-record win streak
Of course, if you get a lot of wins in a season — the ‘Hawks had 47 this year — you are bound to set a few franchise records in the process. The Blackhawks won 12 consecutive games, from December 29, 2015 to January 19, 2016. In that stretch, they outscored their opponents 47-22. For a while, it looked like no one could beat the ‘Hawks. The 12-game win streak surpassed their previous record of 10 straight wins, set during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season.
4. Kane sets 2 scoring streak records
Another franchise record was set when Patrick Kane went on a streak of his own. In 26 straight games, Kane scored one or more points. True, he fell way short of Wayne Gretzky’s record of scoring a point in 51 consecutive games, set during the 1983-84 season. Kane surpassed Bobby Hull’s team record of 21 straight games with a point, set during the 1971-72 season. He also beat the previous point streak record for an American, which was set by Ed Olczyk in 1989-90 with 18 games, and tied by Phil Kessel in 2008-09. Kane could seemingly do no wrong on the ice this year.
5. “Breadman” makes bid for Calder
At the start of the season, practically everyone predicted that Oilers first-round pick Connor McDavid would win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year. But an injury to McDavid in November, as well as outstanding play by Blackhawks’ rookie Artemi Panarin, made many change their mind. McDavid might be the better player and may have a better career, but there is no arguing that Panarin was the top rookie this year. In 80 games, “Breadman” had the most goals (30), assists (47) and points (77) among all rookies this year. His 77 points was 21 better than Jack Eichel, who scored 56 points in 81 games. More importantly, Panarin elevated Kane to the next level. Panarin speaks little English, and Kane speaks no Russian, but you wouldn’t know that by the way the two played with each other this season.
6. Saad trade pans out
Things looked a bit worrisome in the summer of 2015 when GM Stan Bowman traded away Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad in separate deals to clear cap space. The Sharp trade didn’t really work out — both players the ‘Hawks got in that deal have since moved on — but the Saad trade paid dividends. In the deal, the ‘Hawks sent Saad and two minor league players to the Columbus Blue Jackets for center Artem Anisimov, prospect Marko Dano, a fourth round pick in the 2016 draft and Jeremy Morin. (Yes, the same Jeremy Morin the Blackhawks acquired in the 2010 Dustin Byfuglien trade, then sent to Columbus in 2014.) At that point, Saad looked like the best player in that mix.
Ten months later, the Blackahwks clearly won that trade. Saad went on to lead the Blue Jackets in goals, but that’s not saying much since it’s the Blue Jackets. Anisimov became that solid number two center the Blackhawks desperately needed, and clicked on a line with Kane and Panarin. Dano, considered a top prospect with the ‘Hawks, was part of the trade that brought Andrew Ladd back to the Blackhawks. Unfortunately, Ladd’s “rental” didn’t help the ‘Hawks win the Cup like the Antoine Vermette “rental” did the previous season. But another bonus is that the ‘Hawks (again) traded Morin, this time to Toronto, for for Richard Panik, who had three assists in six playoff games and will probably see his role expanded in Chicago next season.
No Stanley Cup this year. Heck, not even four wins in the playoffs. But the Blackhawks had a better regular season than most of the other 29 teams. With a little more nurturing of their prospects, and a few more roster tweaks, there is little reason that the ‘Hawks can’t win the Cup next year. ■