This year for the Chicago Blackhawks, the magic word is, "compete". It isn't "win", which we all knew before the season started, and it isn't lose. Professional sports teams don't lose on purpose, at least they aren't supposed to. Much to their credit, Chicago's roster players are showing up every night, despite the fact that they aren't winning.
Head coach Luke Richardson has to start somewhere with this group. If they aren't going to be winning games then they can be a tough match-up for anyone that has to take them on. If this is the first step for the team in its rebuilding process then it's a worthwhile one. The last couple of years under Jeremy Colliton and Derek King have looked a lot different. The players were on the ice doing stuff, even winning sometimes, but the battle wasn't there. It's important that the team have an identity and core principles to guide them. This year that sense of competition is evident, even though after losing to the Islanders Chicago has now dropped four games in a row.
It's not just a moral victory either. The mentality to play a hard-nosed game in the face of adversity makes a difference. For younger players, it has to be clear that success isn't a given. For professional athletes, that should be understood. However, just to be really clear and help the players out, Kyle Davidson made the team extra bad on purpose. It's probably some kind of developmental strategy, sort of like taking an excessive handicap in golf just to see if you can still play a decent round afterwards.
In order to overcome a self-imposed obstacle, and Chicago's rebuild was a deliberate choice to make the team bad, the players are going to have to be willing to grind out points however they can. This means they'll need to compete all over the ice, in all three zones, and for every shift of every period. Nothing less will get results.
This mentality is evident during these games, and broadcasters have remarked on it in I believe just about every game so far this year. At some point during every broadcast, regardless if it's the home or away team calling the game, there will be a discussion about the hard-nosed approach Chicago is taking with their opponents. Hits don't win games, but the willingness to force the other team to "pay a price" if they think they're going to walk into Chicago's end and score is on full display this year.
That hit by Katchouk might be up for the hit of the year. It's an isolated sample, but it's an attitude that's been missing from the rosters in recent years. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that this is part of Richardson's effect on the team. Some players will bring this approach anyway, but not all of them and not consistently.
Yes, 2022-23 is going to be mediocre with regard to overall success. Chicago is a bad team, and they will very likely get worse as Davidson tries to load up on picks and prospects to reverse Chicago's fortunes. It seems counter-intuitive to say that, but this is the world of pro sports. When questioned about how committed he is to rebuilding, Davidson insisted that the rebuild was going to be seen through from start to finish. No matter what.
"The Blackhawks can win all they want. “The plan does not change,” promised Chicago general manager Kyle Davidson. “No, no. ... We’re committed.” "- Mark Spector, SportsNet
(The full article can be found here.)
This means that even if it looks like Chicago might be able to hang with the best in the league, Davidson won't let it happen. Richardson will have to ensure that his players are ready to compete in the face of the excessive adversity created by the organization's rebuild. So far, that message has sunk in. As the season progresses I expect to see more of the prospects in the NHL as players are traded before the March deadline. Hopefully, Ricardson's message is contagious and the less-experienced guys come out ready to play as hard as the veterans. If this is the case, then the team is off to a good start under Richardson, even if the standings say otherwise.