The last time the Chicago Blackhawks played in front of a pack United Center was 365 days ago.
March 11, 2020 — the day the NBA stopped games literally minutes before tip-off — is a day that many of us will remember as the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in America. I remember watching the Blackhawks playing the San Jose Sharks, Chicago winning handedly, and thinking to myself, “I don’t think they should be playing this game.” No one knew the full extent of what was going on, or what was ahead of us.
The next afternoon, it was all shutdown. Sports, businesses, offices, restaurants, everything.
A year later, we still wear masks (I hope you all are), we still sanitize everything, and we are now getting the vaccine distributed globally. We’re still a ways away from packing the United Center again, but we’re on the way.
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) March 11, 2021
• Today is also Michal Handzus’ 43rd Birthday, so that’s a happier celebration for March 11th.
— Bleacher Nation Blackhawks (@BN_Blackhawks) March 11, 2021
• The Blackhawks and Dallas Stars get back at it tonight after Tuesday night’s 6-1 drubbing. Hopefully the Blackhawks can put a better team effort together for Patrick Kane’s 1,001st regular season game, seeing as they stunk up the American Airlines Center for his 1,000th.
• The Blackhawks still are in a playoff spot in the Central Division, sitting in fourth based on points (31) and points percentage (.574).
• Tonight’s game between the Blackhawks and Stars will be Chicago’s 28th game this season, halfway through the shortened 56-game schedule for 2021. It’s crazy to think that the Blackhawks are in the position that they are currently, given the way the season began and even before that with all the injuries and huge question marks on the roster prior to training camp. If they can replicate the same success they have had in the first half of the season, we’ll be seeing more games at the United Center after the May 10th regular season finale.
• The NHL trade deadline is coming up in a month on April 12th. The Blackhawks are likely to be quiet around the deadline, opting to possibly take on bad contracts from teams looking to offload in exchange for valuable draft capital. It would be the first time in a long time the Blackhawks would be the one making deals to build for the future at the deadline, rather than piling up for a short-term run. What’s even crazier is that the Blackhawks could push their way into the playoffs even without adding at the deadline. It’s been a wild season already.
• What might help Chicago’s case for making a playoff push is the near-return of Kirby Dach. Dach is still recovering from broken wrist surgery back in late-December, but has been skating with the team in the past week. He was originally given a four-to-five month timetable for recovery and is still a month and a half from reaching the four-month mark from his surgery on April 28th. Dach acknowledged his recovery is ahead of schedule, but that he and team doctors are being cautious to not get him back as a full participant in practice, ready to play games, until he is fully healed.
• In case you missed it yesterday, the NHL and ESPN announced a seven-year broadcast deal.
The seven-year television, streaming & media rights deal begins with the 2021-22 season
— ESPN PR (@ESPNPR) March 10, 2021
• The deal is basically a half a deal, with the other half of the broadcasting rights still up for grabs. ESPN returns to the hockey business for the first time since 2004. The last NHL game to be broadcast by ESPN was Game Seven of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004 between the Calgary Flames and Tampa Bay Lightning.
• There’s still not a lot known about the logistics of the ESPN/ABC broadcasts like who will be on the commentary team(s) or the presentations style of the games, but we do know that the iconic NHL on ESPN theme music is back!
Confirmed: the classic NHL on ESPN theme is returning pic.twitter.com/ApDV7FttMw
— Bleacher Nation Blackhawks (@BN_Blackhawks) March 10, 2021
• I swear if we get Gary Thorne back in the booth…be still my 11-year-old heart.
• My one, broad wish for the NHL going to ESPN is that the network takes it seriously. The jokes over the years since the “Worldwide Leader” lost the broadcast deal in 2004 have mostly been warranted. The NHL’s biggest moments and stories have been constantly buried on the network’s biggest platforms for years in favor of sometimes insanely frivolous stories in the NFL, NBA, and MLB realms. Just do it justice, it’s the lowest bar of what I expect from ESPN.
• Let’s have a Thursday ya’ll!