Looking ahead for the Chicago Blackhawks: Time to hit the free-agent market

Patrick Gorski/Icon Sportswire

As each NHL team is eliminated from playoff contention -- either mathematically or by losing in the postseason -- we'll take a look at why its quest for the Stanley Cup fell short in 2018-19, along with three keys to its offseason, impact prospects for 2019-20 and a way-too-early prediction for what next season will hold.

What went wrong

When the Blackhawks fired Joel Quenneville on Nov. 6, just 15 games into the season, it was apparent that management was writing the 2018-19 season off as a transition year. While there was a bit of a learning curve under rookie coach Jeremy Colliton, the Blackhawks showed life in the second half of the season, playing at a playoff-team pace. For a months-long stretch earlier in the season, Chicago had the league's most sizzling power play. Patrick Kane was making a case for the Hart Trophy, Jonathan Toews bounced back from an off-year, and Alex DeBrincat kept showing why he could be an elite NHL goal scorer for years to come.

Ultimately, it was too much ground to make up after the rough start. The depth production was troublesome. The defense, as a whole, was an incredibly shaky unit, giving up way too many goals and high-danger chances. It didn't help that the team was without No. 1 goaltender Corey Crawford for an extended period yet again due to concussion issues.

Despite miraculously coming within four points of the second wild-card spot entering a March 21 game against the Flyers, the Blackhawks crumbled when it mattered most, losing that game and a must-win against division-rival Colorado (which was playing without two of its top three players) to fall too far back in the race.

Despite showing some signs that this team might be able to squeeze one more playoff run out of its dynastic core, it became clear that 2018-19 wasn't going to be the season that happened.