The Chicago Blackhawks upset the heavily-favored Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round of the 2020 NHL postseason, however it looks as if the franchise is taking a step back.
General manager Stan Bowman has sent a letter to season ticket holders informing them that a rebuild is on the horizon and to brace for some short-term pain while the organization undergoes some on-ice personnel changes
While the team’s core reportedly isn’t too pleased with the decision, the Blackhawks certainly face an uncertain future moving forward.
Let’s take a look at how the 2020-21 season could shake up for the storied franchise while we break down the team, their odds and some predictions on how this thing should shake up.
*Odds courtesy of BetOnline
2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks Season Preview & Odds
- Last Season: 32-30-8 (7th in Pacific Division)
- Key Additions: C/ LW/RW Mattias Janmark, D Nikita Zadorov, C Lucas Wallmark
- Projected Salary Cap Space: $5,213,687
- 2021 Stanley Cup Odds: +8000
- 2021 Western Conference Odds: +4000
The Blackhawks’ offense has retreated some in recent years and we shouldn’t expect any positive regression this time around.
They did upgrade their blueline with the addition of Nikita Zadorov from the Colorado Avalanche, but the trade cost them left winger Brandon Saad, ending his second stint with the club that drafted him in the second round of the 2011 draft.
Saad tallied a healthy 33 points in 58 games in the shortened 2019-20 regular season, but he managed 21 goals in that time, the sixth time in his eight-year career that he’s tallied at least 19 goals in a season. That type of production doesn’t just fall off trees.
The team still does has plenty of talent up front, however. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane remain from the good ol’ days, but the likes of Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik, Dylan Strome, Kirby Dach and Alex Nylander are young, talented players that will begin the year on the NHL roster and will be expected to help do some of the heavy lifting next season.
It’s not as if the Blackhawks were a bottom-feeding offense a season ago. The Blackhawks finished 18th with 2.97 goals per game on the season, but despite a wealth of talent on the power play, their man advantage clicked at just 15.2%, good for 28th league wide.
The team can look towards a bounce back season from DeBrincat who fell to just 18 goals in 70 games after tallying 41 across 82 contests the season prior. His shooting percentage cratered from 18.6% in 2018-19 to 8.7% a season ago, so perhaps we should expect something more in the middle than either of the book ends he displayed over the last two seasons.
Alex DeBrincat with the goal of the year? pic.twitter.com/WvCLBjZit7
— Barstool Chicago (@barstoolchicago) November 8, 2019
Kane has continued on his Fall of Fame career as he charged his way to an eighth-ranked 84 points last season and Toews found more offensive punch with 60 points himself across 70 contests. That duo is the least of the team’s worries moving forward, but the Blackhawks don’t have a ton of reason to believe their offense will surge into the league’s best next season.
They do have talent and a decent pick of building blocks moving forward, but it doesn’t appear reinforcements will be on their way any time soon.
While the addition of Zadorov brings a physical, NHL defensemen into the fold, the Blackhawks’ back end isn’t likely to be a bright spot this season.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) May 10, 2018
Keep in mind they traded a fellow left-shot blueliner in Olli Maatta to the Kings this offseason, so it’s a blueline that is once again devoid of depth.
Brent Seabrook is said to be ready to go for the 2020-21 season, but his game is in full decline at 35 years old and plenty of miles on that body. Seabrook underwent three surgeries for his right shoulder and both hips in late December and missed the remainder of the 2019-20 season as a result. It’s hard to imagine Seabrook resembling his old form coming off multiple surgeries, although he will have more than a year to heal before the 2020-21 season gets underway.
Fellow veteran Duncan Keith has more health on his side and his production hasn’t exactly been terrible after tallying a decent 27 points in 61 games last season. That said, Keith is now 37 years old and professional athletes do not improve as they age. In his defense, Keith skated in all 82 regular-season games in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons.
The Blackhawks do have a skilled, young, offensively-minded defenseman in Adam Boqvist, but there’s a learning curve to be had here. He notched just 13 points in 41 regular-season contests and averaged a touch over 16 minutes per game. The 20-year-old will need time to develop and will remain one of Bowman’s long-term projects as the roster turns over.
All told, the Blackhawks’ defense wasn’t exactly terrible on the surface, tying the Flames for both 15th with 3.06 goals against per game and eighth with an 82.1% mark on the penalty kill.
That said, their 35.1 shots against per game was the worst mark in the NHL and they ranked 30th in terms of high-danger scoring chances against. Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford helped post a sixth-ranked .844 save percentage on high-danger chances and an eighth-ranked .925 Sv% at 5v5 to help explain why the Blackhawks allowed the most shots per game yet ranked in the middle of the pack in team defense.
The problem is that both Lehner and Crawford are no longer with the organization, which could be the foremost of the team’s problems this season.
Here’s where things could get ugly for the Blackhawks this season.
After sporting a quality tandem of Lehner and Crawford last season, the Blackhawks are currently set to roll with Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia between the pipes this time around.
Prior to his inclusion in the Lehner trade with the Golden Knights, Subban posted a 3.18 GAA and .890 Sv% across 19 starts and 20 appearances with Vegas last season. In 60 starts and 69 career NHL appearances, Subban owns a 2.97 GAA and .890 Sv% with one shutout. His best season came with the 2017-18 Golden Knights in which he worked to a 2.68 GAA and .910 Sv% across 22 appearances.
Malcolm Subban said no no no on the NextGen Save of the Month 🙅♂️ pic.twitter.com/bn2li8wOO5
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) February 2, 2020
For his part, Delia has also seen modest NHL work. He’s appeared in just 18 NHL games in his two seasons, posting a 3.65 GAA and .906 Sv% in the process. The save percentage is actually quite healthy given the goals against figure, and that statistic speaks more to his work than that of his team. However, he did not appear in the NHL last season, but rather turned in a solid 2.66 GAA and .912 SV% in 32 games with AHL Rockford IceHogs a season ago.
All of that is well and good, but this is certainly one of the more bleaker goaltending outlooks in the league. Neither goaltender has come close to being a No.1 and they have combined for fewer than 100 career NHL appearances between the two of them with subpar numbers to boot.
The club let Crawford walk in free agency and he signed with the New Jersey Devils on a two-year pact on the open market. After the Blackhawks traded Lehner to the Golden Knights at the February trade deadline, he re-upped with the club on a five-year pact in free agency.
With a thin crop of goaltending options remaining on the open market in the form of Ryan Miller, Craig Anderson and Jimmy Howard, the Blackhawks appear set to ride with this tandem into next season, barring a trade that upgrades the goaltending situation.
2020-21 Chicago Blackhawks Predictions
It’s never an good sign for the immediate term when the front office declares a rebuild. When the team’s veterans speak out against it, the situation certainly does not improve.
It’s not the worst offense in the league. There is legitimate skill and talent in the forward group, and it’s that group that will be leaned on heavily into the future as the backbone of this team. Both Toews and Kane have three years remaining on their identical long-term contracts they signed, so it’s difficult to imagine them going anywhere this season, but a move cannot be ruled out if either has their sights set on additional glory after having already teamed up for three Stanley Cups.
It’s the remainder of the picture that looks bleak. The blueline isn’t likely to be any better this season than it was last, only this time they don’t have the excellent goaltending to bail them out. Make no mistake, the Subban/Delia tandem is a major, major downgrade from what the Blackhawks had in goal this time last year.
It’s cringe-worthy to note that the Blackhawks owe Seabrook $6.875M annually for the next four seasons and Keith $5,538,462 over the next three moving forward. That duo was once elite and a huge reason why the team rattled off three Stanley Cup championships in a six-year span, however both have regressed significantly and Seabrook has unfortunately been nothing more than a liability in recent seasons.
The Central Division is a tough one. The Avalanche, Stars and Blues are all legitimate Stanley Cup threats. The Predators, Jets and Wild might not be as dangerous as they were a year or two ago, but it’s hard to envision any one of those three falling behind these Blackhawks this season.
As a result, I have no choice but to predict a last-place finish for the Blackhawks within the Central again this season with a lottery pick on its way come the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.