NHL off-season outlook: Chicago Blackhawks
This is the latest in THN.com’s ongoing analysis of the off-season plans of the NHL’s 32 teams. Today we break down the Chicago Blackhawks success plan.
2021-22 review: 28-42-12
Finish in the Central Division: 1st
Salary cap space available (according to CapFriendly.com): $20.1 million
Restricted Free Agents: Kirby Dach, F; Dominik Kubalik, F; Philipp Koubashev, F; Dylan Strome, F; Caleb Jones, D.
Unrestricted Free Agents: Calvin De Haan, D; Erik Gustafsson, D; Collin Delia, G; Kevin Lankinen, G
What Chicago has: Accomplished star veterans in forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews; a first-pair defender nibbling minutes from Seth Jones; a dynamic winger in Alex DeBrincat; above-average young forwards in Dylan Strome and Kirby Dach; a new head coach in the person of the highly respected Luke Richardson; a new management tenure for general manager Kyle Davidson, who will have his first full year as Hawks general manager in 2022-23
What Chicago needs: Two NHL-caliber goaltenders; veteran helper at all positions; a significantly improved penalty kill; a much deeper prospect pool
What is realistic for Chicago next season: The Blackhawks cleaned up on the management side last season, parting ways with longtime general manager Stan Bowman and head coach Jeremy Colliton during the year, and replacing them with Kyle Davidson as as general manager and, this offseason, Luke Richardson as their permanent bench boss. . But this is still a team that’s also changing their guard on the ice, and moves this summer will help dictate whether they can do that by the spring of 2023.
Stanley Cup-winning forwards and franchise cornerstones Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane remain with the Hawks, with both entering the final season of their lucrative contracts. We’ve said before that many hockey watchers believe the duo want to stay in Chicago for their entire careers, but are they ready for another year without playoff games? Because that’s a distinct possibility no matter what Davidson does to the roster this summer.
Hawks fans should expect Davidson to dedicate a sizable chunk of his salary cap space to goaltenders, with veterans like Toronto’s Jack Campbell and St. Louis’ Ville Husso potentially out of the agent market. free without restriction. The good news for Chicago is that there’s virtually nowhere to go except on the goalie front.
But no amount of net acquisition will make the Blackhawks a playoff team. They were the second worst team in the Central Division last season, better than the putrid Arizona Coyotes – and the third worst team in the Central Division (the Winnipeg Jets) had 21 points more than Chicago. Additionally, the team that earned the last playoff spot in Central last year (the Nashville Predators) has 17 more wins and 29 more points than the Hawks. Even with internal improvement, there isn’t enough quality talent to project Chicago as a true playoff team.
And if Davidson decides to trade DeBrincat — who scored a record 41 goals last year — Richardson’s goal of making the Hawks consistently competitive will be that much more difficult. Such a move may cause Toews and/or Kane to reconsider their dedication to the organization, making it a bit more baffling that Richardson would consider dealing DeBrincat. Yes, the 24-year-old will be a restricted free agent next summer, but the Hawks will have $53 million in projected cap space by then. The expensive contract of striker Tyler Jonson (5 million dollars next year) will then be canceled. But there aren’t many 40-goal scorers, especially those who are still under the control of the team.
Either way, the Blackhawks aren’t, as currently constructed, talented enough to seriously challenge Colorado, Minnesota, the Blues, Stars or Preds to earn a playoff berth. Richardson will get some honest effort from the players that make up Chicago’s roster, but it still looks like a season of tumult and organizational patience.
The sex scandal that rocked the franchise isn’t forgotten and shouldn’t be, but the Hawks’ on-ice product will have a big rock to push down a hill, and that’s just to be respectable again. The matter of pushing the Avs, Wild et al and really doing damage after the season is a whole different story.