The NHL and NHLPA have agreed to begin training camp on July 10th. The camp will open for the 24 teams that have qualified for post-season play this year, including the Chicago Blackhawks.
“I think everyone’s excited to play hockey again,” Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat said. “I know it’s been a tough few months for a lot of us, not being able to get on the ice or anything, and to finally get back on the ice the past two days has been really fun for me.”
When the season was halted in March, the Blackhawks had many key injuries to their roster. Veterans Brent Seabrook, Calvin de Haan, and Andrew Shaw were all listed on long-term injury reserve; in addition to Adam Boqvist, Zack Smith, and Drake Caggiula, who were injured just before the stoppage.
On a video conference call with the media on Thursday, General Manager Stan Bowman confirmed that Adam Boqvist and Drake Caggiula have completely healed from their injuries (concussion and hand, respectively) and are ready for training camp. Although non-committal on Seabrook (shoulder, hips), Shaw (concussion), and Smith (back), he also stated that de Haan (shoulder) is on schedule with his recovery.
“(Calvin de Haan)’s probably the furthest along of all of them,” Bowman said. “He had his surgery right after Christmas and it was originally a four-to-six-month recovery, so we’re pretty much in that time frame now. And looking ahead to July 10, I would expect him to be ready.”
Adding Boqvist and especially de Haan would be a huge boost for the Hawks’ blue line, which has struggled to find its groove all year. Although de Haan has only played 29 games this year, his veteran presence and ability to play top-four will be critical against the Hawks’ qualifying-round opponent in the Edmonton Oilers.
In addition, Drake Caggiula adds some much-needed physicality to the lineup and provides head coach Jeremy Colliton with another option for his top-six forward core.
When the season was halted, the forward lines were as follows:
Although Debrincat and Strome had shown terrific chemistry last season, both players have underwhelmed this year. Colliton may try to reignite that magic, especially with the return of Drake Caggiula, who had seen time on Toews’ line this year. Another option would be to drop Caggiula to the third line, reuniting Kubalik with Toews.
Anything can happen between now and when play will actually resume, but assuming Shaw and Smith will not be ready for the qualifying round, the forward lines may look like this:
This setup may be too top-heavy offensively for Colliton. The absences of Shaw and Smith really thin-out the bottom six, so Colliton may want to spread his depth more evenly by elevating Dach to the second line while dropping Strome and/or Kubalik to the third line.
Compared to the myriad of defensive combinations this year, the blue line drastically improves with the return of de Haan and Boqvist, at least on paper.
With Robin Lehner traded at the deadline, a healthy Corey Crawford will have sole possession of the net, with Malcolm Subban as backup.
It will be interesting to see if rookie Adam Boqvist can handle top-four playoff minutes in his first NHL post-season — if not, he will have a serviceable veteran partner in Maatta on the third tandem. Not only will rookies like Boqvist and Kirby Dach be under the microscope, but Coach Jeremy Colliton himself, who will be coaching in his first-ever NHL post-season.
As the NHL’s Return to Play Plan enters Phase 3, the length of training camp and Phase 4 (an actual return to play) are yet to be determined — much like the Blackhawks themselves. Will we see the Blackhawks of yore, carried on the backs of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, and Corey Crawford? Or will we see the team that has either failed to qualify or advance past the first round since their 2015 Stanley Cup victory?