Our Chicago Blackhawks 2021-22 Preview is a part of our 2021-22 NHL Team Preview Series. Starting September 9th, we have covered one team per day in the leadup to the 2021-22 season. After a crazy busy offseason with a ton of player movement we need something to help summarize what happened and give an outlook of the impact on each team. Make sure to check back each day for the next team in the list!
For more content, check out our weekly podcast where we cover the biggest storylines, trends, and memorable moments from around the NHL! And, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep up to date with our content and league happenings.
Before we even talk about the team for the upcoming season, let’s make sure everyone knows what is happening in the organization right now.
Content Warning: The following will reference sexual abuse.
First off, huge shoutout to Rick Westhead and Katie Strang for being the main two reporters reporting on anything related to this story. Have a read through this article for a more detailed summary. To outline it here, two former Chicago players were sexually abused by then-video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010. The players told skills coach Paul Vincent, who took it to the team’s psychologist and a security officer. Shortly after, Vincent was pulled into a meeting with management and was told “We’ve got it handled. You are assuming something happened and we’re going to look into it. You don’t need to look into it anymore” by Al MacIssac, vice president of hockey operations. The players were subsequently bullied by their teammates. It was regarded as a well-kept secret among members of the organization of what happened.
Aldrich was let go by the organization very quietly only to be accused of and eventually jailed for sexually assaulting a high school hockey player who is alleging that Chicago provided a positive job reference that helped Aldrich get this position.
Chicago is asking for both lawsuits to be dismissed as they don’t have a legal responsibility to report what happened within the organization and they did not provide a job reference specifically for the position with the high school therefore they aren’t responsible there either.
This all happened in 2010 and we are just finding out about it in 2021. Stan Bowman (still with Chicago), Kevin Cheveldayoff (now GM in Winnipeg), and Marc Bergevin (now GM in Montreal) were all members of the Chicago franchise at the time in various management and front office positions.
We are now waiting on a review by a law firm, Jenner & Block, to report on claims that the organization covered it up.
The Steve Dangle Podcast released an episode with Rick Westhead at the beginning of August that provides a better timeline of events with discussion of what is being done and what to expect moving forward. Check that out here.
Now that I’ve made sure everyone here knows this story and has the information, we will move over the on-ice side of things for the rest of this preview.
The 2020-21 season for Chicago was entirely forgettable. A 24-25-7 record placed them 6th in the Central Division and 21st in the league. They finished 16th in goals for with 159 and 24th in goals against with 184. A fairly sizeable group of individual players had impressive seasons for themselves, but the team’s lack of depth and cohesion just wasn’t good enough to allow them to be competitive in a tough division.
Patrick Kane (66 points), Alex DeBrincat (56 points), Pius Suter (27 points), Brandon Hagel (24 points), Connor Murphy and Calvin de Haan were noticeably good on defense, and Kevin Lankinen took the team by storm early in the season and was the starter for most of it, only really faltering and losing the spot in the last couple weeks. Those are a few decent blocks to build from, especially with Kirby Dach back to play a full season and Jonathan Toews (hopefully) healthy as well.
It seems, however, that Chicago has taken this ‘few decent pieces’ mantra a bit too far and are pushing hard for a last Cup window in the Toews and Kane era. The offseason moves indicate the direction of the team has treated this down period since 2016 as a retool and are now trying to contend.
For some inexplicable reason, the team did not qualify Pius Suter, the Swiss rookie who had 14 goals and 27 points, with all but 3 points coming at even strength. Maybe the team just didn’t think there would be room if Toews comes back and with the acquisition of Tyler Johnson? But Suter is probably still a better option on wing than some of the players who will end up on the NHL roster.
Two mainstays of Chicago’s defense for years, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, have been traded away. This is not a huge loss to the quality of the roster, since Seabrook is injured and on LTIR and Keith has been in a severe decline for the last few seasons.
Chicago’s push for being competitive now is being led by the acquisition of Seth Jones in a blockbuster trade that sent Adam Boqvist out. The overall trade, including a bunch of draft picks and leading to an 8-year, $9.5M AAV contract for Seth Jones, is a massive overpayment.
What it seems to be to me is Chicago making a last ditch move out of desperation to stay relevant for a couple more seasons while Toews and Kane are still around. Unfortunately, although the organization was on the right track in getting prospects and younger players developing and working their way into the NHL, they moved a bit too quickly and might not have been ready to make this move. They will be hard pressed in a division with Colorado, St. Louis, WInnipeg, Dallas, and Minnesota to find a playoff spot. Even Nashville could be a close competitor for Chicago. Their best hope, in my opinion, is that the Pacific is so weak that both wildcard spots come from the Central, giving Chicago a chance at a fifth place finish and playoff spot.
Chicago Blackhawks Roster Additions
It will be interesting to see what a full season with a healthy Kirby Dach can do. Dach only played 18 games last season, recording 10 points. He spent most of his 5v5 time in that 18 games with Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, who both had excellent offensive seasons. Kane and DeBrincat spent a lot of time together last season with a wide variety of centres, so I have to assume at this point that the team would like Dach to centre those two on a full-time basis.
This gives Toews the second line in his return, provided he is ready for the ice time. He missed the entire 2020-21 season with a mysterious illness that took a serious toll on his physical and mental health, but Jonathan has announced he is feeling better and will be able to play. Domink Kubalik is sure to play on this line, as someone of his talent needs to be in the top 6 and it helps him focus on his scoring abilities playing with Toews. Dylan Strome is the best option to round out this line. For now.
Philipp Kurashev, initially slotting in on the third line, is right on Strome’s heels. In his first taste of NHL action last season, Kurashev recorded 16 points in 54 games. Strome has a tendency to underperform so a cold start could quickly find Kurashev moving into the top 6.
Tyler Johnson should be on the third line but he is another option that could jump up to play alongside Toews in certain situations. But, some combination of Johnson, Kurashev, Strome, Henrik Borgstrom, and (if he needs limited minutes) Jonathan Toews will round out the top 9.
This leaves Brandon Hagel, Jujhar Khaira, Adam Gaudette, and Ryan Carpenter to fill the bottom line. Khaira is not overly dominant offensively and is coming off of a tough season where he suffered multiple concussions, but is an excellent penalty killer to (maybe) help reduce the load on Jonathan Toews. Brandon Hagel should be a regular this season with his successful 2020-21 campaign, leaving Gaudette and Ryan Carpenter to compete for the remaining ice time.
Lukas Reichel had an amazing season playing in Germany and was rewarded with an entry level contract this offseason. Regarded as the team’s top prospect, there will absolutely be a shot for him to make the NHL roster next season.
On the new look defense, Seth Jones takes over the group. He is immediately the best defender on the roster. Though his impact on the game is polarizing, with some thinking he is one of the best and others think he is overrated, there is no denying he is Chicago’s new number one. And they paid a ton for it.
Calvin de Haan is one of Chicago’s better defensive defenders. He is the best option to start the season with Seth Jones as the left side for Chicago is fairly weak at the top.
Jake McCabe, newly signed out of Buffalo, missed most of the 2020-21 season due to injury but his acquisition will be another excellent defensive presence for the left side. A combination here with Connor Murphy projects to be a punishing physical pairing that can be used to wear down the opposition. There won’t be a whole lot of offense from these two but their steady defensive impact and physical presence will serve the team well.
Chicago has numerous options for filling out the bottom pairing. Ian Mitchell is a highly regarded defensive prospect for the team who saw 39 games of action in his rookie season and recorded 7 points. This spot is more or less his as the team does not have a lot of right-side depth. On the left side, however, the options are plenty. Caleb Jones, in my opinion, is the top option here partly due to him being technically the most experienced as well as being a fairly stable, well-rounded defender. Plus it gives Chicago the ability to blender the pairings for a Jones-Jones blueline.
Wyatt Kalynuk, Riley Stillman, and Nic Beaudin all had around 20 games played last season, are all solid prospects, and all could use the ice time to help develop. Some rotating cast between these 4 for the last left-side defender spot makes the most sense for Chicago.
Kevin Lankinen is the goalie of the future in Chicago after his sudden rise into the starter’s role for most of the season in 2020-21. His .910 SV% and 3.01 GAA were reasonably decent on a team of Chicago’s performance last season. Though he did eventually lose the starter’s role through the last couple of weeks of the season, a large portion of that was Coach Colliton wanting to get Colin Delia and Malcolm Subban some starts.
But, Lankinen will not be returning to the starter’s crease immediately in 2021-22. Full-time, anyways. Chicago acquired reigning Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury for essentially nothing from Vegas. This means at the very least, Fleury and Lankinen will split the crease unless one of them gets insanely hot for a stretch.
Chicago Blackhawks 2021-22 Prediction
5th-6th Central Divison
Chicago has gone all-in on competing and reopening their Cup window but I don’t think it’s going to be enough at this point. They’ll be competing with some of the best, proven teams in the league in a deep division. With the depth concerns on the roster and a lot of unproven talent, it’s hard to predict they’ll place highly.
Thanks for reading our Chicago Blackhawks 2021-22 Preview. Want to find more previews? Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2021-22 Season Preview Series.
Did you know we have a podcast? Click here to head to our episodes feed and see where you can listen to us talk hockey!