The Chicago Blackhawks have not been good this season. Audible Gasp! Shock! – I know.
So far, they’ve lost twice to the Tampa Bay Lightning and once to the Florida Panthers, giving up five goals in each of the first three games, while scoring just five goals TOTAL of their own. Though, to be fair, it is a very weird season.
Coming out of the postseason bubble, the league has shortened the schedule to 56 games and scrambled all the divisions. There was an almost two-week “training camp” before heading into the full-blown regular season. Oh and COVID is still raging, too. Regular season? That’s an oxymoron for the NHL in 2021.
No, this isn’t a regular season by any stretch of the imagination and this Blackhawks squad is anything but regular in terms of what we were expecting to see a few months ago. There’s no Jonathan Toews, no Kirby Dach, no Alexander Nylander, and no Brent Seabrook (oh, and Corey Crawford left via free agency before retiring). In their place, the roster has been loaded full of new faces and young/inexperienced players. I’m not exactly sure what I expected heading into game four, but I don’t think it was quite this.
But while being out-scored 15-5 in the first three games of the season looks awful on paper – indeed, it *is* awful no matter which way you slice it – that’s not exactly the focus of Jeremy Colliton and the Blackhawks. Right now, they’re directing their attention to the smaller details, focusing on building a base layer of confidence and good habits for their young players to grow into the future stars of the organization we all hope they can be:
I asked Colliton if he was concerned about the big-picture scenario of the Blackhawks being 0-3 and outscored 15-5.
Here was his response: pic.twitter.com/TB8YkAuFPh
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) January 18, 2021
For example, Adam Boqvist has not been good, as a whole, to start this season. He was “benched” in the second half of the second period on Sunday night, but was given a vote of confidence from the coaching staff for his response in the third period. A baby step.
Another example: Pius Suter is playing Center out of necessity for Chicago and his play through three games has been rewarded with powerplay responsibilities and being paired with Patrick Kane. It almost led to an “Assist of the Year” play on Sunday night, had Kane not been called offside on the play.
One more example, Philipp Kurashev was given the opportunity to show the Blackhawks what he could do in just the second game of the season. Following 60 minutes of the “Brandon Pirri 2.0 experiment,” Kurashev was slotted into the lineup for Chicago in a top-six role and through two games has impressed in small stretches. Again, baby steps.
Jeremy Colliton on Philipp Kurashev, Pius Suter: "They're both pretty intelligent, hockey IQ is there. Both of them have shown they can play center, which is nice. You love to have that in your group. They both can play wing. That's just nice for flexibility." #Blackhawks (2/2)
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) January 18, 2021
These are just a few instances from early this season where the youth and the new faces for the Blackhawks have been given opportunities or have had to learn from getting them taken away. It’s a trial and error system fit for playing rookies and prospects like you would in the preseason. The Blackhawks are still trying to figure out who they are and what they have in the cupboards before it’s too late in 2021.
Colliton on taxi squad: "We're not limited in any way [waivers], so I'm not going to commit to anything. I'm not going to commit to a timeline. But we've already got a bunch of guys into their first games and playing in big roles. I expect that's going to continue." #Blackhawks
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) January 18, 2021
This season is about development, not contending.
I suspect every member of the Blackhawks’ taxi squad to play a handful of games this season, if not more. Kurashev is already in the lineup, Brandon Hagel will surely get a shot, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Lucas Carlsson, Nicolas Beaudin, or Wyatt Kalynuk got chances to take the place of Boqvist or Ian Mitchell.
In net for the Blackhawks, one would think that Kevin Lankinen can’t possibly do any worse than Malcolm Subban or Collin Delia have to begin the year.
Jeremy Colliton said the plan is to give Collin Delia, Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban an equal opportunity to start in goal: "It's going to be a relatively open competition." #Blackhawks
— Charlie Roumeliotis (@CRoumeliotis) January 18, 2021
As Colliton said, of course you want to win games, but that is not the goal this season. It’s going to be really challenging to remember that when you’re watching the games and want to chuck your remote or phone across the room, trust me. But pulling back the layers of the game, we’re going to have to find where the Blackhawks are doing things right and, more importantly, who is doing it on a consistent basis for the long-term.