Much to the chagrin of the hockey world, the Chicago Blackhawks's card was flipped to reveal the Hawks won the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. The rebuild received the best shot in the arm that GM Kyle Davidson could have hoped for. Davidson and company have already started building the prospect pool- it's robust now and will grow even more over the next few drafts thanks to some deft trades. And, as equally important, they hired a hardnosed coach who revels in the details and has the respect of the players. The future seems to be set. Now the real work begins.
The Blackhawks need to study the Edmonton Oilers as a cautionary tale. Just 8 years ago, Edmonton won the Connor McDavid sweepstakes. Surely they should have a Cup by now? At least start contending, right? Well, it hasn't happened. And to make matters worse, the Oilers have three players with over 100 points in scoring; they represent numbers one, two and nine in terms of total points. On paper, this team should at least be playin in the conference finals. So what has gone wrong?
1. Consistency behind the bench. Since 2016, the Edmonton Oilers have had four coaches. Yes, you heard that right, four coaches: Todd McLellan, Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippett and Jay Woodcroft. When a team changes systems and schemes every other year, forward momentum is continuously stunted. Obviously, if a coach isn't getting the job done, he must be replaced. To this point, three bad choices, possibly four equals a lack of success.
It would appear that Chicago has made a great choice. Luke Richardson has already won the locker room, which is no easy task in a tank. The Blackhawks lost a lot of games, but with a severely undermanned team, they played especially hard and were competitive in most games. The other thing that Richardson brings is intangible. It's an attitude. If the Hawks can mirror their coach, they will play hard, they will battle on the boards, they will finish checks and they will be ready for playoff hockey.
2. Defense. Defense. Defense. The Oilers gave up more goals during the regular season than any other playoff team, except the Florida Panthers who snuck in as the last place team to enter the playoffs. Comparing those two, the difference has been that Edmonton gave up five, five, four and six goals over the past six games. The Panthers have not given up more than two in any game. Sergei Bobrovsky has played like a Stanley Cup goaltender. Skinner and Campbell have not for the Oilers.
Right now, the Blackhawks have two solid youngsters in the pipeline: Jaxson Stauber and Drew Commesso. Stauber played six games with the Blackhawks last year; he went 5-1 with a .911 save percentage. Commesso played for Boston University the last three years. He was 24-8 this season with a .913 save percentage. The feeling is that he is the goalie of the future. Time will tell, but the Hawks need to make the right moves between the pipes.
Of course, the goaltender is sometimes left to fend for himself due to poor defense. The Oilers were weak on defense. Nurse is their superstar, but he is not among the elite in the league. Behind him is a hodgepodge group with no real shutdown defender. The Blackhawks seem to be on the right track here with Kevin Korchinski and Ethan del Mastro. They already have Seth Jones locked down. I would think Korchinski will help Jones' game. Having defenseman who can move the puck and captain the powerpoint is essential, but so is lockdown depth.
3. Depth. The Edmonton Oilers are top heavy. Their production largely comes from McDavid, Draisitl and Nugent-Hopkins. They get very little production from their bottom six both offensively and defensively. (could easily throw Toronto into this) The playoffs have taught us that teams who can roll four lines and not drop off in terms of scoring or shutdown are more successful. Vegas and Seattle are a testament to this.
For the Hawks to avoid this, they need to build around Bedard. There needs to be a mix of scoring and skill with toughness. They must build a bottom six with players like Max Domi, Jason Dickinson, Cole Guttman, etc.- fighters who don't let the other team get comfortable. Davidson and company seem to be aware of this- the first indication is the coach. They hired a blue collar guy who will achieve this. Playoff teams are hardnosed, tough teams.