After missing out on the playoffs last season, the Chicago Blackhawks have looked to regroup and make improvements in the off season. They still remain outsiders to be the Central Conference champions with, according to this sportsbook, odds of around 16/1 available to punters betting on NHL.
Last time out the Blackhawks finished sixth of eight in the Central Conference winning 24 games and losing 25. They ended up being nine points adrift of the playoff standings, with Nashville Predators finishing in fourth place on 64 points.
Chicago actually outscored Nashville who took the last playoff place 161 to 156, but it was their defense that let them down, conceding 186 whereas Nashville conceded 154. With a goal difference of -25 the Blackhawks needed to make additions on defense as a priority.
Having won the Stanley cup 3 times this millennium, most recently in 2014/15, Blackhawks fans knew they were in for a rebuilding year last season. What would have disappointed them was that the Blackhawks were out-chanced massively. They ranked last in expected goals percentage (43.96%) and high-danger chances (42.6%), which left then lucky Kevin Lankinen in goal had a number of standout games.
Despite his good work last season, Lankinen was not a consistently high level goal keeper. Marc-Andre Fleury, a reigning Vezina Trophy winner and three-time Stanley Cup Champion, will be the first choice in Chicago since his arrival from the Las Vegas Knights.
With Seth Jones, Connor Murphy and Jake McCabe leading the defense this season, the blue line is by far the best they have had for a number of years. To add to the stability of the group, Connor Murphy has signed a new four-year extension with the Blackhawks which gives Coach Jeremy Colliton his number one defenseman for the long-term and a chance to rebuild the defense to a playoff level unit.
A big miss for the side was Captain Jonathon Toews who missed last season with a chronic immune response syndrome. Though it may take him time to be ready and there is no set plan at present for his first game since August 2020, his presence will lift the team. He is a future hall of famer who has scored 20 or more goals in 12 of his 13 seasons in the NHL.
Once again, Patrick Kane was a standout performer for the Blackhawks last season. Kane had the most assists (51) and most points (66) for Chicago, giving everything for t hem once again with no team success to show for it. He is considered one of the greatest American born hockey players of all time and a vital part of the Blackhawks side.
This time round, Kane will not be relied upon quite as much as he was last season. With the additions of Tyler Johnson and Jujhar Khiara there is more depth in the squad ready to challenge for the playoffs in 2021/22. The Blackhawks really looked at how to support their star players and add depth to the roster after a few seasons on big changes in personnel.
The 2021 Entry Draft saw Chicago bring in players for the future, not players who will likely be NHL ready. Nolan Allen was taken at 32 overall and is a great skater ready to develop into a solid NHL defenseman.
Colton Dach was the Blackhawks second pick, brother of Kirby Dach already on the roster. He is a great shooter and in the WHL for Saskatoon Blades last season he played 20 games for a total of 11 goals, 9 assists and 16 PIMs.
Seven players were drafter in total, all with good speed and physicality who will be developed into NHL players over time. There was a considered, long-term-vision approach to the draft in Chicago.
Free agency was targeted for immediate gains over the draft and this has added to the experience on the roster. The Blackhawks had nine rookies make their NHL debuts and nice players score their first career goals. In total, the Blackhawks had 311 games played from their rookies, which was the most of any team in the NHL.
This addition of experience, and last years experience for Chicago’s rookies, gives Colliton a more positive outlook on his team’s potential. With a more balanced roster, the Blackhawks look to be in much better shape this time out.
It could be considered that the way the season had to be organized, and how games were scheduled may have had an effect on how the season turned out for Chicago in 2020/21. This season will return to the traditional format and will bring a sense of normality back to the team’s competing.
With many changes to the roster once again, it can be difficult to predict the outcome this season for the Blackhawks. With Toews back in the locker room and players like Patrick Kane, they are well within the mix to be competing for the Central Conference title.
They have looked at their issues on defense from last season and added a top level goal keeper along with depth on the defense. Having used a high number of rookies last season, they now have experienced competition for places which will keep pushing each other’s performance levels higher.
The Blackhawks will start the new season on the 30th September against the Detroit Red Wings who they beat six times and lost just twice to last season.