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Breaking down the Blackhawks’ trends in shot rates, goal differential

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Chicago has dropped in both categories during the last few seasons.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Chicago Blackhawks Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

It was not too long ago when the Blackhawks were the model of puck possession in the NHL. For five straight seasons after the 2013 Stanley Cup run, the Hawks had a Corsi-For (CF) that was higher than their Corsi-Against (CA). In other words, the Hawks would control the puck for the majority of the game, generate plenty of shots and scoring opportunities, and limit chances for opposing teams. However, as time went on and general manager Stan Bowman was forced to make numerous moves to clear salary cap space, the Hawks CA began to regress until its breaking point during the 2017-2018 season.

Below is an interesting look at the regression of the Blackhawks’ Shot Rates from 2013-2014 to the 17-18 season.

The Four Quadrants

Good: Lots of shots for and puck possession. Opponents rarely drove the momentum of the game.
Fun: Plenty of shots for, but also too many shots against. Back and forth game with lots of chances for both teams.
Dull: More shots against than shots for. Opponents had the puck more often than not.
Bad: Lots of shots against and poor puck management.

The Hawks regression towards the ‘Fun’ and ‘Bad’ quadrants intensified after the 2014-2015 Stanley Cup winning season.

During the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons, the Hawks’ shot rates were nearly identical. The Hawks’ CF dropped below 50 in both seasons, 48.8 and 48.9 respectively, and CA values were rapidly trending in the wrong direction. During the 15-16 season, their CA was 47.0. In the 16-17 season their CA was 47.6. When you compare that with the CA values during the 13-14 and 14-15 seasons, 41.2 and 45.4 respectively, it was clear that the Hawks were tumbling towards the ‘Fun’ quadrant after being in the ‘Good’ quadrant four straight seasons.

In the 2017-2018 season, the Hawks broke through the X-axis and dropped into the ‘Fun’ quadrant. The Hawks had their best CF of the five seasons at 55.9, but their CA finally burst above 50 and ended up at 50.8. After Corey Crawford was put on the shelf for a concussion in December 2017, the goaltending tandem of Anton Forsberg, J.F. Berube, and Jeff Glass were no match for all of the chances generated by the opposition. Although the Hawks were producing their fair share of puck possession and scoring chances, they just could not keep the puck out of their own net.

The regression of the Hawks’ CA value continued into this season and it inevitably accelerated above their CF value, which drifted the Hawks into the dreaded ‘Bad’ quadrant. At the moment, the Hawks have a 60.0 CA and a 55.4 CF. The Anaheim Ducks, New York Rangers, and Ottawa Senators are the only teams with worse CA values.

Shot Rates for this season

No wonder the Hawks’ Expected Goal Differential chart this season has a few nose dives below the trendline and is currently plateauing below minus-1. This means the Hawks are consistently losing games by one goal or more. The Hawks have the second worse goal differential in the league. It currently sits at minus-34. The Kings are dead last with a minus-36 differential.

What does this all mean?

1. The Hawks’ ability to limit opponent puck possession and scoring chances has significantly regressed since the 13-14 season. Turning this trend around starts with remodeling the defensive core. Losing first and second round draft picks to contend for multiple Stanley Cups eliminated opportunities for Bowman to replenish his blue line pipeline with high end talent. Middle to late round defensive draft picks have not panned out, but there is reason for hope. Henri Jokiharju, a 2017 first round pick, is already with the NHL squad and is continuing to develop his skillset. Nicolas Beaudin, Adam Boqvist, and Ian Mitchell are all highly regarded defensive prospects that joined the Hawks pipeline recently and should be in the NHL, if all goes to plan, within the next two seasons. All signs point to a much improved defense in the near future.

2. Offensive depth has been depleted. Even though the top-six have been generating scoring chances and puck possession, opponents feast on the bottom six and the liabilities on defense. The Hawks desperately need a third and fourth line that can control the puck and score an occasional goal. It will boost the CF values back above 50 and inevitably drop the CA values back below 50, which will lead to an improved goal differential and more wins. A handful of talented offensive prospects are developing in the AHL, junior leagues and NCAA that can slot into the bottom-six in the near future: MacKenzie Entwistle, Dylan Sikura, Philipp Kurashev, Jake Wise and Evan Barratt.

3. The night is always darkest before the dawn. We all just witnessed the price of consistent success in the NHL. The downfall happened a lot more abruptly than most of us imagined, but there are reasons to be excited for the near future. Another lottery pick is almost certainly on the horizon. Patrick Kane is on pace to set a new career high in points this season. Jonathan Toews looks refreshed and revitalized on offense. Alex DeBrincat is having an impressive sophomore campaign and is on pace for 40 goals. Collin Delia has been splendid so far in relief of Crawford, and has slotted in as the future starter. The power play has been clicking at an elite rate, and the team seems to have bought into the coaching change.

These are all reasons that should reinforce your belief in an exciting and successful future for the Chicago Blackhawks franchise.