The playoffs show that physicality and grit are pivotal to add to the skill of a team in order to find success, the Blackhawks can learn from this.
The Chicago Blackhawks are a fast, skilled team and everyone knew it. Patrick Kane and Alex Debrincat would lead the pack and win games in a skillful, offensive fashion. This is why playing physical was a method to beat them because they were unable to match the physicality. They were pushed around, and teams took advantage of that. The playoffs are full of physical, gritty hockey that meshes with skill, and every team in this year’s playoffs have both.
The Blackhawks need to follow suit, they could sign guys in free agency like Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, and Philipp Danault to do so. All three of these players are defensively sound and Danault has developed into an incredible two-way player, and the Blackhawks need more of them. Coleman and Goodrow would keep the opposition in check while still bringing valuable depth scoring to the team. The Blackhawks may look at who they have re-signed at the start of free agency, and sign these guys to short-term deals if they are available.
If they cannot, or do not, sign these guys then they need to assign the role. We can see that these types of players are pivotal to playoff success. The playoffs are where guys like Andrew Shaw and Bryan Bickell made a name for themselves: Tough, physical guys who will stop at nothing to put the puck into the net, protect their teammates, and annoy your star players to no end.
Mike Hardman, Mackenzie Entwhistle, and Reese Johnson are a few guys who will need to play like Shaw and Bickell to find success in the league. Johnson needs to get in the face of the opposition without getting a penalty, and Hardman and Entwhiste need to throw hits often and drop the gloves when needed. They can’t let themselves be bullied, and in doing so, the superstars will be protected.
Essentially, the Blackhawks can earn wins based on skill, but playing teams like Vegas and Boston, they will need to play physically. They need to add elements to their game and learn how to win “grind games”. The playoffs are almost all “grind-games” and, in this year’s playoffs, this Blackhawks team would have been utterly dominated. The Penguins are also a fast, skilled team, but they still have guys who can play physically when the game calls for it, so does Colorado.
The Blackhawks can’t just win games based on a great offensive night, or force Kevin Lankinen or Collin Delia to stand on their heads to record 45-save performances in a 6-5 OT win. They need guys who will play physically and have that ruthless tenacity like Andrew Shaw to succeed. Sometimes mind games are the way to defeat top teams, and the Blackhawks need to establish these types of players to propel themselves to the next level.