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Top 10 Blackhawks stories of 2017

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The year brought major changes to the roster, coaching staff and expectations.

Chicago Blackhawks v Nashville Predators - Game Three Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

This year has been one of the most roller coaster ones for the Chicago Blackhawks in recent memory. Chicago had the highest of highs when they earned the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and hosted the NHL draft, but also experience an unthinkable low when they were swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by Central Division foe Nashville.

Before going through the top 10 Blackhawks stories of 2017, let’s look at some that missed the cut.

  • The year started with a thud for Chicago on Jan. 1 as they retroactively placed forward Marcus Kruger on injured reserve and fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues in the Winter Classic at Busch Stadium. Kruger remained on IR for three weeks with a hand injury.
  • On Feb. 28, the Hawks reacquired defenseman Johnny Oduya, who won two Cups with Chicago in 2013 and ‘15, in a trade for prospect Mark McNeill.
  • March brought three prospect signings with forwards John Hayden and Anthony Louis and defenseman Luc Snuggerud. Hayden (Yale) and Louis (Miami of Ohio) both played four seasons at their respective schools, while Snuggerud decided to leave Nebraska-Omaha after his junior season. Hayden would make his NHL debut March 16 and earn a roster spot and play in the playoffs as Louis and Snuggerud log minutes with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL.
  • Less than a month after the playoffs ended for Chicago they signed forward Richard Panik to a two-year contract extension worth $2.8 million a year with the Blackhawks on May 11. Panik tallied a career-high 22 goals and 22 assists during the 2016–17 season.
  • An unexpected great signing by the Hawks came in June when they inked defenseman Jan Rutta to a one-year deal. The Czech defenseman has been a bright spot on Chicago’s blue line this season.
  • After one final season with the Hawks, defenseman Brian Campbell announced his retirement July 17. Campbell delivered a tear-filled retirement speech at the United Center, and has stayed with Chicago in the business operations department working on community relations and youth hockey initiatives.
  • Eddie Olczyk, television color commentator for NBC and Hawks games on NBC Sports Chicago, announced in a statement in August that he had been diagnosed with colon cancer. Olczyk underwent surgery to remove a tumor and chemotherapy treatments. After only six weeks removed from starting chemotherapy, he returned to the broadcast booth alongside Doc Emrick to call the Hawks vs. Blues game in St. Louis.
  • In November, the Hawks opened their new 125,000 square-foot, $65 million community ice arena called the MB Ice Arena. The facility, which features two ice rinks, 10 locker rooms and a weight room, also serve as a hub for youth hockey development programs, recreational leagues and high school teams.

Here are the top 10 Blackhawks stories, both good and bad, in 2017:

10. Hosting NHL draft

Let’s start out with a positive on this list. Chicago hosted the NHL draft for the first time in the event’s 53-year history. Hawks captain Jonathan Toews (No. 3 in 2006) and Patrick Kane (No. 1 in 2007) were called onto the stage by general manager to announce Chicago’s pick at No. 29. Chicago selected defenseman Henri Jokiharju from Finland with the pick.

9. Sharp returns

The Hawks brought back forward Patrick Sharp, who won three Cups with Chicago, on a one-year deal. Due to salary-cap issues, Chicago traded Sharp and defensive prospect Stephen Johns to Dallas in exchange for defenseman Trevor Daley and forward Ryan Garbutt. Sharp took a pay-cut to return, but it hasn’t been a great reunion. The 36-year-old has tallied only three goals and nine points in 35 games this season while bouncing up and down the lineup.

8. Hossa on long-term injured reserve

Chicago was dealt a big blow when news came that forward Marian Hossa, a future Hockey Hall of Famer and three-time Cup champion, would miss the 2017-18 season because of what he called a “progressive skin disorder” and what team doctor Michael Terry described as the “dramatic nature” and “decreasing effectiveness” of the medication he has been taking. The disorder could end Hossa’s career for good.

Hossa — the best free-agent signing in team and possibly in Chicago sports history — has four years left on his 12-year contract signed before the 2009-10 season. Instead of being hit with a “recapture” penalty of more than $4 million against the cap for the next four years, the Hawks placed Hossa on IR in October. The move gave the Hawks up to $5.275 million in cap relief, and opened up playing time for Chicago’s top young players.

7. DeBrincat’s rise

Alex DeBrincat went from promising prospect to the best prospect in the system and finally an NHL player in 2017. DeBrincat, a 2016 second-round pick by the Hawks, completed his third straight 100-point and 50-goal season in the Ontario Hockey League with the Erie Otters. The 19-year-old led the league with 65 goals, 62 assists and 127 points in 63 regular-season games to win the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s Most Valuable Player. He is the first Hawks prospect to win the award since Stan Mikita after the 1958-59 season. He also was named the Canadian Hockey League’s Player of the Year.

The undersized DeBrincat — listed at 5-7, 170 pounds — didn’t stop there. He earned a spot on the Hawks’ main roster and has scored 13 goals and 25 points in 37 games in his rookie season. He is tied with Artem Anisimov for second on the team in goals and only trails Patrick Kane (38) in points.

6. Quenneville’s milestone win

Hawks head coach Quenneville continued to rewrite the franchise record books in 2017. Quenneville became only the second coach in franchise history to win 400 games with Chicago’s 5-3 victory over Minnesota in February. He also won 593 games with St. Louis from 1996-2004.

5. Crawford... still pretty, pretty, pretty good

If Corey Crawford played in the NBA, every time he’d step up to the free-throw line he’d hear “M-V-P” chants. Time after time, Crawford has kept Chicago in games with little to not help from his teammates in front of him. Crawford may have had a “down” year statistically after he recorded a 2.55 goals-against average and .918 save percentage after having a 2.25 GAA and .922 SP during his previous four seasons.

The 33-year-old lost his backup and four defenseman this offseason, but he still shows up night in and night out with a herculean effort to keep the Hawks in games. He’s never played 60 games in a season or finished higher than fifth in Vezina trophy voting, but those things could change in 2018, when he returns from injury reserve for the second time this season.

4. Chicago lands No. 1 seed in West

The Hawks finished with the best regular-season record in the Western Conference. Chicago edged out Minnesota (106) and Anaheim (105) for the top spot. It was the Hawks’ third Central Division title in the last eight seasons; they also won it in 2009-10 and 2013 and went on to win the Stanley Cup each of those seasons. They finished third in the division in 2014-15 when they won their third Cup in six years.

3. Coaching changes

Chicago made changes to its roster and behind the bench in 2017. The Hawks fired assistant coach Mike Kitchen and AHL coach Ted Dent in back-to-back days in April. Kitchen was an assistant with Chicago since 2010, and was previously an assistant under Quenneville in St. Louis. Dent served as Rockford’s head coach since July 2011 after five seasons as an assistant.

Dent’s dismal was brought by a rift between him and Hawks management, which wasn’t thrilled when Dent apologized on Twitter to fans and made frustrated comments to a local TV station after the organization traded Rockford’s top players. The IceHogs posted a 221-179-33-21 record in six seasons with Dent at the helm.

Chicago hired AHL Charlotte head coach Ulf Samuelsson to replace Kitchen and 32-year-old Jeremy Colliton to take over the IceHogs. Samuelsson, a former defenseman, played seven seasons with Quenneville on the Hartford Whalers. Fellow assistant Kevin Dineen also played with him in Hartford.

2. Panarin/Hjalmarsson/Darling trades

The first major offseason move for Chicago was trading backup goaltender Scott Darling, who was a pending free agent, to Carolina in exchange for the Ottawa Senators’ original third-round pick in the 2017 draft. Carolina locked up Darling on a four-year, $16.6 million contract, while Chicago was left without a viable backup netminder. The Hawks used that pick to select center Evan Barratt of the U.S. Hockey Development Program. Barratt recorded 56 points in 63 games with U.S. U18 team during the 2015-16 season, and has four goals and eight points in 14 games with Penn State during his freshman season.

Chicago made some noise before the draft by making big trades with the Arizona Coyotes and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Hawks sent veteran defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, a three-time Cup winner, to Arizona for defenseman Connor Murphy and forward Laurent Dauphin. They then shipped forwards Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte and a 2017 sixth-rounder to the Blue Jackets for forward Brandon Saad, goaltender Anton Forsberg and a 2018 fifth-round pick.

Panarin spent the past two seasons with Chicago, including winning the 2015-16 Calder Trophy as the NHL’s best first-year player. Saad, who won two Cups in ‘13 and ‘15 with Chicago, rejoined the Hawks after two seasons with Columbus. Saad made his presence felt immediately with a hat trick against his hometown Penguins on opening night.

1. Nashville sweeps Hawks in first round

Chicago became the first No. 1 seed in NBA or NHL history to be swept in the first round by a No. 8 seed in Nashville. The Predators would go on to win the West and fall in six games to Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Final. The Hawks were overwhelmed by the Predators speed and were outscored 13-3 in the series, including being shutout in both home games in the series. The stunning upset brought massive changes to the Hawks’ roster and coaching staff in the offseason.