Chicago has missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in three out of the last four seasons, but with a reinvigorated and much-improved lineup, there is a good chance that could change in 2022.
The Chicago Blackhawks are a far cry from the team that won three Stanley Cups in six seasons. Now, just six years removed from their last championship, only two Cup winners from that era remain on the roster, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
While it will likely be a while before the ‘Hawks are hoisting any hardware again, this is a team that should, at the very least, find themselves in the midst of a battle to make the playoffs. General Manager Stan Bowman has made it clear with his offseason moves that, while Chicago may be in a self-described ‘rebuild’, he doesn’t want to waste any time in getting the team back to their winning ways.
The two biggest pick-ups of the summer, Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury, should both help the team tremendously this year. In Fleury, the ‘Hawks finally have a bonafide star goaltender after the departure of Corey Crawford. Jones, meanwhile, is a serviceable top-four defenseman, and while he may never be Viktor Hedman or Cale Makar, at only 26-years-old, he still has some upside.
While Fleury’s future with the ‘Hawks after this year is uncertain, Jones signed an eight-year contract extension with Chicago, so he is clearly going to be the piece that the team builds its defensive core around for the near future.
There are also a number of young offensive talents that should get a chance to show their worth this year. Lukas Reichel had a fantastic rookie showcase against Minnesota and will likely get a good opportunity to make the NHL club. Additionally, Henrik Borgström is also waiting his turn to jump into the lineup, among other Blackhawks’ newbies.
The biggest question, though, is how this much-changed roster will gel together. As previously stated, the majority of the old guard is gone, and it’s time for the next generation of the Chicago Blackhawks to step up and take control of this team, and that includes bringing them back to the playoffs. Standing in their way, though, is a Central Division that could prove to be troublesome.
The seven other teams in the Central are all fairly decent, and almost all of them could make a push for the playoffs. While the Arizona Coyotes are probably not much of a postseason threat, there are other challenging clubs to face. Despite their exit against Vegas last year, the Colorado Avalanche are an offensive juggernaut that are still considered major Cup contenders. Add to that the talented Winnipeg Jets, the St. Louis Blues (who are only two years removed from a championship), and the physicality of the Dallas Stars, and perhaps the Blackhawks are still the odd one out.
However, I truly believe that the moves Stan Bowman made, while controversial, will help the ‘Hawks in both the short and long-term and I don’t see any reason why this team can’t and won’t get back into the playoffs. At the very least, a wild card spot should be in order for Chicago in 2022, as anything less than a return to the postseason will likely be considered a huge disappointment.
We’ll see how things play out once the regular season starts, which is now just weeks away. The preseason starts this Wednesday against Detroit, and the Blackhawks’ will open the season in Denver against the Avalanche on Oct. 13.