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31 in 31

Inside look at Chicago Blackhawks

Lehner, Maatta, de Haan added to improve defense, bolster chance to make playoffs

by Tracey Myers @TraMyers_NHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

31 in 31: Chicago Blackhawks

31 in 31: Chicago Blackhawks 2019-20 season preview

NHL.com's Dan Rosen and NHL Network's Mike Johnson discuss the biggest questions facing the Chicago Blackhawks for the 2019-20 season

  • 05:52 •

NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams throughout August. Today, the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Chicago Blackhawks had a busy offseason, adding key veterans at every position after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a second consecutive season.

"The bigger difference now is we have a full roster of players who have proven they can play in the League," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "In the past, sometimes situations are different, and you're relying on some younger players to take that step forward and hope they can prove they're ready to be NHLers. If you look at our group now, sort of top to bottom, we have players who have proven they can play in the NHL. Now it's a matter of finding the right role for them on our team, but we've got a lot more experience."

 

[Blackhawks 31 IN 31: 3 Questions | Top prospects | Fantasy breakdown | Behind the numbers]

 

The Blackhawks' biggest splash came July 1, when goalie Robin Lehner agreed to a one-year, $5 million contract. Lehner was 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and six shutouts in 46 games (43 starts) for the New York Islanders and was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the top NHL goalie. He provides security for No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford, who has missed 80 games over the past two seasons because of concussions.

"Corey Crawford, in my book, he's still one of the top goalies in the League, and Robin Lehner's a Vezina finalist," Chicago goalie coach Jimmy Waite said. "It's going to be a great year and it's a big year for us. That's why we made that move. We needed to have 82 good starts on the goalies this year, because it's a big year for us."

Crawford and Lehner each should benefit from changes made at defenseman.

After allowing 291 goals last season, second-most in the NHL (Ottawa Senators, 301), Chicago acquired defenseman Olli Maatta in a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Dominik Kahun and a fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft on June 15. Nine days later, the Blackhawks acquired defenseman Calvin de Haan and center prospect Aleksi Saarela in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes for goalie Anton Forsberg and defenseman Gustav Forsling.

"We obviously gave up way too much [last season] and we have to be better as far as a defensive group," Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook said. "As long as I've been here, we've never had a problem with scoring goals. That's going to come. I think we just need to shore up the back end, and obviously with the additions we've made, that's going to help."

The Blackhawks, who finished six points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Western Conference last season, also acquired two-way forwards Andrew Shaw (in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for three draft picks on June 30) and Zack Smith (in a trade with the Senators for forward Artem Anisimov on July 16), and signed center Ryan Carpenter to a three-year contract July 1 to add more grit and defensive acumen up front.

Video: Top five plays of 2018-19: Toews

They provide a nice complement to forward Patrick Kane, who was third in the League with an NHL career-high 110 points (44 goals, 66 assists) in 81 games; center Jonathan Toews, who had an NHL career-high 81 points (35 goals, 46 assists) in 82 games; forward Alex DeBrincat, who had an NHL career-high 76 points (41 goals, 35 assists) in 82 games; and center Dylan Strome, who had 51 points (17 goals, 34 assists) in 58 games with Chicago.

Shaw, who won the Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015, returns to provide a net-front presence Chicago has lacked since he was traded to Montreal in 2016.

"I'm just going to go out there and do what I do: work, compete, battle, throw a couple of hits and go to the net," Shaw said. "I'm just going to be me."

Forward Alexander Nylander, 21, was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres in a trade for defenseman Henri Jokiharju on July 9.

"I think we're just more flexible with our roster and lineup," Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Last season, we had to outscore teams to win. That was the formula, and it worked somewhat in the second half. We were able to climb back in the race. But ultimately, I don't think anyone believes that's the formula.

"There'll be some games we win 5-4, but we also need to win 2-1. The type of hockey that wins in the playoffs, you've got to have some grind to your game, and you look at the guys we got, a lot of them bring that dimension."

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