Our Chicago Blackhawks 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
Can I just write this preview with an image? I mean, a picture is worth a thousand words, right?
Just kidding, I’ll put some actual words to this team’s state.
Despite the state of the roster and being last in their division, the Blackhawks finished with a record above .500 (32-30-8, .514 P%). The Blackhawks were average offensively on the backs of their top-6, finishing 18th wih 212 goals. They were slightly below average defensively, finishing 20th with 218 goals against.
Chicago managed to find their way into the expanded Return to Play format and actually made the playoffs by beating the Oilers in the play-in round, but that was unexpected and they would not have had a chance under normal circumstances. This surprise playoff appearance did not instill any false hopes in the front office, either, as they went full steam ahead on the rebuild this offseason.
Long story short, the Blackhawks are clearly out of any sort of plan to compete for much of anything and have admitted to being in a difficult stretch of rebuilding. This, combined with the moves made by the GM’s crew (notably trading away Brandon Saad) have led Jonathan Toews to be vocally critical of the team’s direction.
So, you have a significantly worse roster, an aging core that is becoming more and more injured, and a core that is also upset with the direction of the team. This is not a good situation in Chicago. Even though the intention is a retooling rather than a full-on rebuild, I foresee a bit of a disaster for the Blackhawks before this thing is over.
The offseason the Blackhawks just had was quite possibly the second worst in the entire NHL (shoutout to Arizona!). They traded away Brandon Saad and Dennis Gilbert (for Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm) and angered the longtime core in the process, they let Corey Crawford walk in free agency to roll with a tandem of Malcolm Subban and Colin Delia, traded Olli Maatta (for Brad Morrison), and traded Dylan Sikura for Brandon Pirri. In my opinion, this is downgrading at every turn. For a team that is trying to retool or rebuild, downgrading in trades is not the goal, nor is making a bunch of these types of trades and acquiring no draft picks in return.
The Central Division is highly competitive right now (although it does not look like the divisional alignment will run as normal for whatever the 2020-21 season ends up being). The Blackhawks are going to be in tough trying to do anything over the next few seasons unless they end up on some sort of Vancouver Canucks-esque youth explosion that moves a rebuild forward much quicker than expected. I can’t foresee that happening, though. Chicago’s roster just doesn’t have what Vancouver’s did.
Chicago Blackhawks Roster Overview
The Blackhawks could be good enough offensively if the stars align right. They still have Toews and Kane who have both been performing well in recent years, Dominik Kubalik and Kirby Dach had great rookie years they’d like to build on, especially Dach. However, that may be on hold for a while as Dach will be missing the first month or two of the season recovering from an injury sustained at the World Junior Classic.
Dylan Strome has his moments but is very streaky and needs to bounce back after a regression last season, and similar for Alex DeBrincat. The top end talent on this team is not the problem right now, they shouldn’t have too much trouble in this regard.
Beyond that group, however, the team will struggle mightily. The loss of Brandon Saad reduces their depth scoring that is already unimpressive at best. Outside of those top 6 forwards from the previous paragraph (of which Nylander and Dach had 26 and 23 points respectively), the highest scoring forward was David Kampf with 16 points. Chicago has players who will be getting second line time who didn’t hit 30 points and third liners who put up 15 points last season. The depth on this team is scary bad on paper.
Lucas Wallmark and Mattias Janmark will help in this regard. They both appear to be good for about 20-30 points. It remains to be seen if they will be able to maintain this in Chicago, as they are both coming from better teams (Wallmark from Carolina/Florida and Janmark from Dallas).
Chicago’s defense is increasingly questionable. Duncan Keith is still the leader on defense, he is still a solid NHL-calibre defender, but at 37 years old, who knows how much longer he will be able to keep up. His numbers are decreasing recently, though how much is related to age regression and how much is the decrease in quality of teammates is hard to determine. Regardless, look for him to eat as many minutes as he possibly can. In 2019-20, he was still playing over 24 minutes per game.
Adam Boqvist got most of his playing time with Keith last season, and that number should only increase with Erik Gustafsson leaving at the trade deadline. This is a great pairing, and a good opportunity to develop Boqvist and his offensive talents from the blueline. Described as a pure offensive defenseman and excellent skater, Boqvist will benefit greatly from playing with Keith. Duncan Keith was one of the league’s best two-way defenders for years so the defensive expertise passed down should round out Boqvist’s game.
The big question mark is with Brent Seabrook. He appears to be the odd man out in Chicago’s blueline. His age and injury history (including surgery on his hips and a shoulder over the 2019-20 season) have dropped him in the depth chart in recent years and there is a good chance he takes on a more off-ice role this season if his body can’t keep up with the wear and tear of the schedule. At the very least, he gives Chicago an option to play a game a week and help with fatigue in the top-6.
Connor Murphy and Calvin de Haan return and are joined by prospect Ian Mitchell and the newly acquired Nikita Zadorov. This group isn’t awful but when they’re competing against the defensive groups iced by teams like Colorado, Dallas, and Nashville, Chicago is lacking in a big way.
Malcolm Subban and Colin Delia are the projected tandem for the Blackhawks this season. Two goalies with a combined 84 NHL appearances and would barely be backups on a not insignificant number of NHL teams are being given the chance at a starting job in the NHL. Without a doubt this is the worst tandem in the league. With the lack of depth and defensive strength on this roster, Chicago won’t be able to cover for their goalies much either. Look for this team to give up a lot of goals.
One bright spot is the potential for Kevin Lankinen to break into the league. He is a rookie and so far less than impressive since coming over to North America, but has put up some magnificent numbers in and with Finland, including a 1.50 GAA and .942 SV% at the 2019 World Championships.
Maybe these two (or three if Lankinen works out) can pull a Columbus from 2019-20 (Korpisalo, Merzlikins) and impress, but the Blue Jackets’ rookie tandem had far more hype and potential around them.
Chicago Blackhawks 2020-21 Prediction
7th – 8th Central Division
Despite the Blackhawks now being in a worse Central Division, they are still very clearly in the bottom tier. Chicago will be in tough trying to do much, but they will likely finish ahead of Detroit so at least there is that?
That concludes our Chicago Blackhawks 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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