The Blackhawks made an overhaul of their roster, parting ways with promising youngsters for proven veterans.
The Chicago Blackhawks made a full 180 from their claim of a rebuild (as you all know), signing veterans to help them win, headed by Marc-Andre Fleury. The new cast of veterans join the old in Patrick Kane and hopefully Jonathan Toews, who has been reported to be “healthy and jacked” according to Mark Lazerus, who heard from insiders.
Now, let’s put in the different factors that could make or break the season. In this article, I will be talking about expectations that everything goes as plan for the Blackhawks:
- Toews returns
- Kirby Dach takes a step forward and becomes an impact player
- Seth Jones returns to form
- MAF remains Vezina-caliber
- Jeremy Colliton becomes a Head Coach
1. Toews Returns, Dach Becomes an Impact Player
Something that plagued the Blackhawks last season was lack of depth and success down the middle, which is why I think David Kampf was playing with Kane and Alex Debrincat. They needed a reliable faceoff winning center to aid the offensive zone time as you can’t really keep possession if you keep losing faceoffs. If Jonathan Toews is cleared to return, the Blackhawks should have that reliable center they dearly missed.
He should also be expected to add ~60 points to the team, which is what he had the last season he played. Before that, he had 81 points. Honestly, I’m expecting a big season from Toews who looks to return after dealing with his illness last year. He will be looked at to captain the Blackhawks back to the playoffs, and Toews will be more than ready to do so.
Kirby Dach has been very focused this offseason, training to be an impact player for the Blackhawks this season. His wrist is fully healed, and he is looking to be that franchise star the Blackhawks hoped he would become when they drafted him at 3rd overall.
His season was shortened in 2021, which was expected due to his injury in the World Juniors. Despite not fully recovered, he put up 10 points in 18 games, which should be encouraging to fans. If he can not be 100% and still contribute to the team positively, how much more so when he is 100%, motivated, and aiming for new heights.
With all this fanfare, Dach has a couple holes he needs to fill before he can become a #1 center:
- Shooting Selection
Dach has been dreadful with face-offs with a 36.8% win rate. If he hopes to crack that top-line role, he needs to work on his success in the circle. You can’t play with Kane and Debrincat if you can’t get them the puck. I hope he focused on this because you can’t hope to be an impactful center if you can’t be dependable in the faceoff dot.
And shooting… I’m sure we all agree on this. Though Dach isn’t a sniper, he passed up too many scoring-chance sin favor of giving the chance to his line mate. While unselfish play is a good thing, too much of it can cost your team a win. If Dach has an open shooting lane, he should take the shot instead of holding the puck for a play that won’t develop.
So, with a rejuvenated Toews coming back and a focused Kirby Dach, the Blackhawks should have a great 1-2 punch down the middle of their lineup. But none of this matters if Seth Jones can’t hold his end of the bargain.
2. Seth Jones Returns to Form
Just two years ago, Seth Jones was considered an elite defenseman, shutting down the opposition’s top forwards and played over an hour in the track meet against the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020. He was the #1 defenseman for the Columbus Blue Jackets… Until he wasn’t. Sure, we can make arguments that the Blue Jackets sucked last year in all aspects, which they did, but I really couldn’t say that the Blackhawks have a better system, though they do have a better lineup on paper.
Jones has to be that two-way elite defenseman for this team to win, as his 9.5 million salary shows. The Blackhawks are depending on him to not only score and contribute offensively, but get back and properly defend the opponent’s best line. He is the new minute-eater for the Blackhawks with the departure of the aging Duncan Keith, and he will be depended on to repeat Keith’s decade-long impact towards contention.
Now, the defense is all set and playing to form. How about the goaltender?
3. Marc-Andre Fleury Remains Vezina-Caliber
MAF has been one of the best goaltenders in the league for a long time. He won three Stanley Cups with the Penguins, and lead the Golden Knights to the Stanley Cup Finals for a third-straight year in 2018. He won the Vezina trophy this past season, and is ready to do the same for his third team. I personally do not see Fleury declining this season, playing 55-60 games, and leading the Blackhawks to the playoffs. He is an x-factor with the ability to win them off-games, which are valuable points in a grueling Central Division.
4. Jeremy Colliton Becomes a Head Coach
And last is the coach, Jeremy Colliton, who enters his 4th season behind the bench, with the last three seasons ending with mediocre middle-of-the-pack finishes. His man-system does not work for the NHL, and he just didn’t seem to want to change anything. There is no growth thus far in his ability to coach the Blackhawks, and I am still skeptical if he really can lead the Blackhawks back to contention.
Yes, the Blackhawks rave over his hockey IQ and ability to be an impactful head coach in the NHL. This may be true, though he still has trouble coaching against the best in the NHL, making the wrong calls and sending out the wrong match-ups. IF, somehow, Colliton grows a lot over the offseason and draws up effective strategies with different options, then this team will go far. They have the roster to make a run, now all they need is a good coaching staff to lead them.
If the Blackhawks have all these things go well, then they will be a force to be reckoned with. They realistically have all the pieces they need to make a run with a good mix of young players and veterans. If they have a coach who can finally outcoach the opposition, this team will not finish with mediocre results, but (hot take here) make a run for the Stanley Cup.