Now that we’ve seen the sun rise and set on the NHL Trade Deadline, the Chicago Blackhawks have a different feel to them as they head down the final stretch of the 2021 season. There’s still a lot of hockey left to play, but the Blackhawks are in a spot to look to the future, it’s what they did at the deadline.
Alex DeBrincat – Kirby Dach – Patrick Kane
Dominik Kubalík – Jonathan Toews – Philipp Kurashev
Brandon Hagel – Pius Suter – Dylan Strome
Brett Connolly – David Kämpf – Ryan Carpenter
Alex Nylander, Henrik Borgström
We still don’t know for sure what is going to happen with the health of Jonathan Toews. I’d like to be optimistic on the topic, so I figure he will be a go for the 2021-22 season with Chicago. The emergence of players like Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev, and Pius Suter will make it hard for the Blackhawks in their decision-making come free agency. Also, Henrik Borgström likely gets signed in the offseason and the Blackhawks have plans for him to be in the NHL lineup next season. With these things in mind, plus Chicago possibly giving Alex Nylander a second-chance next season, I think Adam Gaudette ends up not being re-signed (barring some kind of breakout in the final month of this season). Brett Connolly will likely be exposed in the Seattle expansion draft, but I don’t see him being selected from the pool of available Blackhawks, which will also likely include Calvin de Haan.
Duncan Keith – Adam Boqvist
Nikita Zadorov – Connor Murphy
Nicolas Beaudin – Wyatt Kalynuk
Ian Mitchell, Alec Regula
Mentioning de Haan, I expect him to be exposed in the Seattle expansion draft and be taken by the Kraken. That will factor into the Blackhawks re-signing Nikita Zadorov to have another veteran presence on the blue-line who can play a defense-first style along with Connor Murphy. Duncan Keith and Adam Boqvist return as Chicago’s top-pair next season, seems like a no-brainer at this point. The third-pairing will likely be young again next season and with Ian Mitchell’s fall from grace, he might end up seeing more time in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs than he will in the NHL. The organization seems to have positive views of Wyatt Kalynuk as of late and he hasn’t played his way out of the lineup since getting his first real chance to play. Nicolas Beaudin is NHL-ready and I feel next season is his breakout year.
Goaltending was a huge question-mark heading into this season. It’s still going to be a question-mark next season, even after the year that Kevin Lankinen has put together in 2021. If he’s the real deal, he’ll be back last the starter again next season. Without knowing what the market might be for free agent goalies, the Blackhawks may end up going with the duo they know in net, especially since Lankinen and Malcolm Subban combine for just a $1.65M AAV cap hit. Collin Delia, once in the high-graces of the organization, might benefit from a trade in the offseason for a new opportunity at being a NHL regular. He began 2021 with an upper-hand in the goalie competition and will finish the year, likely, playing more AHL games than NHL games this season.
After a weird and wonky 2021 season, the Blackhawks could use the 2021-22 campaign to find their way back up the ladder in the NHL. It’s paramount to their success that no one experiences a severe sophomore-slump and that if Jonathan Toews is healthy and in the lineup, that he is still able to play at a “Jonathan Toews” level. Chicago can count on players like Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat to lead the way, but they’ll need supplemental help across the board.
Obviously there is still a lot of time between now and the start of the 2021-22 season. The Expansion draft, entry draft, and free agency all have to come and go before we know exactly what to expect on opening night in October, but it’s fun to speculate. Heading into the 2021-22 season, I have much more faith in the team to deliver than I did heading into this abbreviated 2021 season.