The Quarterfinals round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs has come to an end, and what a thrilling round it was. Colorado's dominance, Connor McDavid's brilliance, and New York's resilience are just a few of the highlights. Five of the eight series went the distance and were decided by Game 7s. Two of the 5 Game 7s were decided in overtime. It was a thrilling string of games. With the Blackhawks far removed from playoff discussion and consideration, what can we learn from the first round about the Chicago Blackhawks?
1. Playoff Hockey Is Fun. We Need It To Survive.
If an alien from outer space landed on earth and told you the only thing you could do to keep yourself from being abducted was convince said alien to like hockey, you could show that alien almost any game from this postseason and he/she/(do they have genders in outer space?) would be sold.
That's what playoff hockey is. it's fun. Just flat out, plain ol' fun. Simultaneously, it contains the most exhilarating and most deflating moments in all of sports. Most hockey fans could recount most of their favorite and most traumatizing moments of their life as tied to the postseason.
We need that back for the Blackhawks. 2017 feels like centuries ago at this point. 2020 was a nice tease with their "faux" playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers, but they were unmatched against Vegas. It's been a long time. But we need it back. I don't have all the answers or solutions for what they need to do to get back to that level, but what I do know is they need to get back to that level. And the sooner the better.
2. Blackhawks Need More Star Power
One thing is abundantly clear while watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs: these teams have some real dudes. Not just guys, not just players, DUDES, many of which are under the age of 30. Ten of the sixteen teams in the postseason had multiple all-stars. Meanwhile, the Blackhawks' "stars" are Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews (both over 30), Alex DeBrincat, and Seth Jones. Having half your stars being over 30 and not getting younger is not a winning approach, unless your team is prepared to win NOW.
The Blackhawks are not one of those teams. They are many years and many drafts and free agencies and trades away from actually competing again. More than anything, more than age, the Blackhawks just need all-star caliber players. This season, DeBrincat was the sole representative from Chicago in the All-Star Game.
That has to change. With limited capital in terms of cap space and draft picks, the Blackhawks will have to do what they can until they can recoup some of that cap money and regain a normal number of draft picks. I believe the Blackhawks should stick to the approach of being sellers and cultivating the players you already have to see if any of them can become stars. Perhaps, even Lukas Reichel, for example.
3. Blackhawks Need A New Culture
One thing you notice about these teams is that every single one of them believes they belong. They are confident in their abilities and they know how to "turn it on" when they need to. Well, all except maybe the Nashville Predators who got swept out of the first round. The point still stands to reason, the positive, winning culture you have will help boost your team's morale and ability to compete. Sadly for the Blackhawks, that belief and confidence has faded. Sure, you still have experienced and historically winning players like Kane and Toews, but even Captain Serious stated earlier this season that he was having a hard time adjusting to a rebuild. He knows just as well as the rest of us that the Blackhawks are not a winning team. Even if they wanted to feel like they were, they just don't have the talent to go along with it. Also, under Colliton, they seemed like they were far from a winning culture.
So, what can the Blackhawks do? Every season that goes by offers new opportunities. That starts this summer with a wide open coaching pool (that will be competitive no doubt), a pretty large free agency class (check out Jesse Courville-Lynch's articles about that), and several late round draft picks. Whether you like where the Blackhawks stand or not, they have opportunity this summer. If GM Kyle Davidson and the rest of the front office can seize these opportunities for the next couple years, the Blackhawks may, very well, be able to recapture that winning spirit. Get the best players you can, get the best coach you can, prove (don't just say it) to yourself, the team, the league, and the fans that you intend to win. That tangible improvement and on-ice victories will be the difference maker to get the Blackhawks back to playoff status.