It may have taken a worldwide pandemic and a cancellation of the remaining 189 regular season games, but the Chicago Blackhawks will squeak into the NHL postseason this year.
Defined by season-ending injuries to star players (Calvin de Haan, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Shaw) and streaky team play, the Hawks were dangerously close to missing the postseason for the third consecutive year. Yet in light of the NHL’s decision to include the top 12 teams from each conference — instead of the usual 8 — the Hawks will barely sneak in as the last team to qualify in the Western Conference.
Details are still somewhat hazy, but here are a few of the established parameters so far:
- The playoffs will take place in two host cities that have yet to be determined, with Chicago being one of ten cities currently being considered.
- The top 12 teams (by points) in each conference will compete for postseason play.
- The top 4 teams in each conference receive a bye into Round 2 – but in order to determine seeding for Round 2, these teams will play a Round Robin against each other.
- Teams 5-12 in each conference will face each other in a best-of series, with the 5th seed facing the 12th seed; the 6th seed against the 11th; etc.
- The remaining 7 teams in both conferences that did not qualify for postseason play will automatically be entered into the draft lottery.
Commissioner Gary Bettman could not provide an exact date as to when actual play will resume, nor was he certain if the initial round would be a 5-game or 7-game best-of series. He was also non-committal if the second round would be a bracket format or determined by seeding.
Whenever play does resume, the Blackhawks will face the Edmonton Oilers, who are the 5th seed in the west. This match-up is interesting, considering that both clubs haven’t made the playoffs since 2017. Both teams have two of the biggest stars in the league in Connor McDavid and Patrick Kane; and both teams will be hungry to advance to the next round after years of mediocrity.
The Blackhawks may have the advantage in net with Corey Crawford, but the Oilers have a very physical roster which includes Zack Kassian, James Neal, and Darnell Nurse. In addition to their physicality, Edmonton had the best-ranked power play in the league, far surpassing Chicago’s, which was 28th. Although both teams finished with a top-10 penalty kill, Edmonton had the second-best penalty kill in the league, while Chicago ranked 9th.
Like always, the Blackhawks will need to rely on their speed and skill against a more physical opponent; while staying out of the penalty box at all costs. They will also need to find a consistent top-four defense, which may be a tall order considering their current injuries on the blue line.
When the season was halted in early March, the Hawks were as bi-polar as they had been all year. They went 6-4 in their last 10 games, which included a 4-game winning streak sandwiched between two 2-game losing streaks. Brent Seabrook, Calvin de Haan, and Andrew Shaw were all out with season-ending injuries; while Drake Caggiula and Adam Boqvist were injured just before the hiatus. It’s unknown which, if any, of these players will return once the NHL resumes play. Caggiula has the best chance to return, since his injury (hand) was minor compared to the others. Boqvist had been placed in concussion protocol days before the season was paused.
Although some Hawk fans would prefer a higher draft pick in next year’s lottery, they will now have no choice but to root for the Hawks in the postseason this year. Hopefully, they can take solace in watching one of the most exciting players in Patrick Kane showcasing his abilities on a bigger stage while gunning for his 4th Stanley Cup.
If the documentary “The Last Dance” was any indication, many Chicago Bulls fans would have killed to watch their superstars in Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman go for just one more title. For an aging dynasty (Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford, Patrick Kane) that is as firmly at a crossroads as the 1998 Bulls, both the Blackhawks and their fans just got that last chance all but hand-delivered. Whatever the outcome may be, best enjoy it while you can.