Chicago Blackhawks: Guide to the unique 2020-21 season

Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Blackhawks Mandatory Credit: Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Blackhawks start their season tomorrow against the Lightning, but before we even get close to puck drop, let’s talk about a few things for this season in its entirety.

Even though it might be cheaper for the NHL not to have a season this year, that would not be right for the game of hockey and its great fans. The NHL is coming back, and I am excited. Finally, being able to watch the standings and seeing how the Chicago Blackhawks size up against some of the great teams in the NHL will be fun.

Even though Chicago will not be as competitive as they have in years past, that does not mean we won’t have anything fun to watch all year. Things are going to be different in the NHL for 2020-21. Let’s go over some of the differences.

Same division new faces:

The NHL had to realign their divisions for the coming season due to COVID-19 and hoping to limit travel for franchises. With the Canadian US border being hard to cross due to the pandemic, all of the Canadian teams will play in their own division, the North Division. This will mean that the rest of the NHL will be impacted by just that one change.

Chicago won’t have Winnipeg, St. Louis, Minnesota, or Colorado in their division this season. Instead, the NHL has paired them with teams like Columbus, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, and our old friends, the Detroit Redwings.

If Chicago has to rebuild, I would want them to do it during a time when the Detroit Redwings might be one of the only teams worse than Chicago. I will not go out and declare that Chicago’s best matchups to watch this season will be against Detroit, but I think they will provide Blackhawks fans with a little bit of comfort this season. The divisions are not the only thing that will be different in 2021.

The schedule will make things difficult:

If you have taken a look at the Blackhawks schedule thus far, you might think that your phone is broken. Every game keeps popping up twice, making it look like Chicago will play Tampa Bay twice before heading over to the Panthers to play them twice, and they do this throughout the entire season. Something has to be wrong, right?

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Wrong. The NHL is having teams play each other multiple times before traveling to a different city or welcoming in a new opponent in the hopes of limiting the team’s exposure for COVID-19. It makes sense from a COVID standpoint to limit travel and keep teams within certain cities for longer amounts of time, plus it will enable a fun series type aspect when approaching the different matchups through the year.

That also brings up another fun point for this new season. Chicago will only play the teams that are within their own division this season. Similar to the 2012-13 season when the NHL didn’t have teams play opponents outside of their conference, now the NHL is keeping everything within the divisions in 2021.

The first time any teams will play outside of their divisions will come in the conference final of the Stanley Cup playoffs. With Chicago’s division including Tampa Bay, there is a decent chance the Lightning will represent the Central Division in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The playoffs will start with the top four teams from each division competing against each other to name one division champion, and then it is just two more rounds of hockey before the Stanley Cup will be awarded. So, if Chicago wants to make the playoffs, they need to be in the top four of their division.

(For more on the 2020-21 NHL schedule, check out the press release from the NHL on December 23, 2020)

Roster Preview:

Unless you have not been paying attention the past few months, you probably already know that Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, and Alex Nylander will not be apart of the Blackhawks team to start the year due to injuries. Dach and Nylander will be out for a while, while we do not know a lot about the Toews injury at this time.

So, without those three players, Chicago will need to rely on some untested options. The roster this season will include players like DeBrincat, Strome, Kane, Kubalik, Suter, Pirri, Janmark, Wallmark, Shaw, Highmore, Kampf, Carpenter, Keith, Murphy, de Haan, Mitchell, Zadorov, and Boqvist.

Nikita Zadoroz missed time during training camp but seems ready to go now to start the season with Chicago.

Chicago will also have to wait to see players like Brent Seabrook and Carl Soderberg this season. Soderberg had issues getting his Visa to travel to Chicago and now needs to self-quarantine for seven days.

Seabrook is still missing from the team, and it sounds like a rather mirky situation. Scott Powers of The Athletic reported this earlier today:

This is not going to be the same team we have seen in the past in Chicago, but even still, I am excited to finally have hockey back! Let’s go Blackhawks against the Lightning tomorrow night.