Stan Bowman Speaks: Nikita Zadorov, Fans at the United Center, the 2021-22 Roster, More

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Stan Bowman Speaks: Nikita Zadorov, Fans at the United Center, the 2021-22 Roster, More

Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks are coming down the final stretch of their abbreviated 2021 season and find themselves in the middle of a playoff chase.

That’s good news for Blackhawks President of Hockey Operations and General Manage Stan Bowman for obvious reasons.

Less obvious, however, is the fact that the team could very easily fall short of the postseason, and that could ALSO be good news for Bowman. In an odd win-win situation, Chicago could find themselves in the postseason for the second time in as many seasons or find themselves in the draft lottery, picking in the early teens. At this point, there is little to no difference between where they would likely draft in the lottery and if they were to get into the postseason (and likely lose in the opening round).

Bowman joined the ESPN Hockey Show on ESPN 1000 on Saturday morning, talking about the trade deadline and the outlook for the future of the organization, among a plethora of other topics. So let’s get into it.

After the NHL Trade Deadline, Bowman has kept his eye on the future of the organization with a handful of trades that gained future capital in the form of draft picks and prospects, helping set up the team in the long-term to replenish their farm system. As far as what the roster will look like for next season, though, there is likely not going to be too much turnover. Even with the Seattle expansion draft coming up this summer, it looks like the Blackhawks will have very few openings on their roster to plug with offseason moves.

Of course every situation is fluid in the offseason, but Bowman mentioned players like Alex Nylander, Jonathan Toews, Henrik Borgström, and Lukas Reichel as players he expected to be in the mix for roster spots in 2021-22. Chicago is entering this offseason with five unrestricted free agents and nine restricted free agents that will need new contracts for the 2021-22 season and four unsigned prospects that would need contracts to be signed in the summer.

One player who is part of the restricted free agent group is defenseman Nikita Zadorov.

Acquired prior to this season in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche, Zadorov is on an expiring deal that holds a $3.2M Cap hit and has arbitration rights in the offseason. He has skated in 43 games this season with the Blackhawks, tallying seven points, 31 PIMs, 140 hits and 18:55 minutes per game, which is third on the Blackhawks among defensemen. Zadorov’s calling card when coming to the Blackhawks this season was his physicality, having led the NHL in hits during the 2017-18 season. His 140 hits are ninth in the NHL this season and fourth among defensemen.

Bowman figures to have Zadorov as part of the Blackhawks beyond this season. Some of the hesitation from the fan community around Zadorov is his cap hit this season and expecting a raise in the offseason, while not having a level of play that would correlate to what that cap hit might come out to. The probability of losing Calvin de Haan to the Seattle expansion draft will have an impact on what happens with Zadorov, but with the current defensemen under contract heading into next season, the Blackhawks will need a veteran presence that can compliment Connor Murphy and Duncan Keith.

Another player that has played their way into the long-term plans for the Blackhawks has been goaltender Kevin Lankinen. Starting the season as the No.3 goalie in the rotation to start the year, Lankinen has started the most games of any goalie for Chicago this year with 32 appearances with a 16-12-4 record, a .914 save-percentage, and a 2.79 GAA. He has the most appearances for rookie goaltenders this season and the second-most wins for rookies.

The backup position is still up in the air for the Blackhawks beyond this season. Malcom Subban and Collin Delia are both signed for the 2021-22 season but with the reluctance to play Delia and Subban regularly, the Blackhawks might look outside the organization for a backup goalie and possibly give Subban and/or Delia a change of scenery to shake-up their careers.

One thing that is also uncertain for the future of the Blackhawks and the NHL is what scheduling will look like. This season, only playing teams in their division, the Blackhawks got very familiar with their opponents quickly. It helped that teams would play each other twice and sometimes three times in-a-row. Stan Bowman (and myself) would be in favor of keeping the block or series style of scheduling in the NHL beyond the 2021 season.

Not that I want much of the 2021 season or the reasons why it was such a different season to stay around, but the cutdown on travel is good for the players and for the environment alike. Also, if the Detroit Red Wings could stay in the same division, that would be fine by me.

COVID was the reason for the wonky 2021 season and as far as we have seen over the last six months, vaccines are our best bet at getting to the light at the end of the tunnel for normalcy in life. Earlier this week, the Blackhawks were given the opportunity to get a COVID vaccine before leaving for Detroit. Head coach Jeremy Colliton and forward Ryan Carpenter revealed that they took the vaccine, but not all players were confirmed to have gotten the shot.

The COVID-19 vaccines are our tickets back to normalcy in life, and part of the joinery back to normalcy has been NHL arenas opening up to fans throughout this season. Some teams have had limited capacity since the beginning, but most have opened up as the season has gone along. On Friday, the San Jose Sharks announced they would allow fans back by the end of April, and that left the Blackhawks as the last U.S.-based NHL team without fans in the building.

The Blackhawks and Bowman have little control over the process of fans coming back to the arena and unfortunately, City of Chicago officials have not made getting fans back in to the United Center a high priority. If the Blackhawks do make the postseason, there is a higher chance that fans could get back into the stands by that time. The City of Chicago wants to see consistent rolling seven-day averages for positive case rates below 5% and Chicago has been hovering around that number in recent weeks.

While the likelihood of the Blackhawks getting to the postseason seems to be low, given the recent results for Chicago, there is optimism for the future from Bowman and the organization. Of course there is, they are in the business of optimism. But the Blackhawks are trending in the right direction in the development of their young players and it is paramount for that to continue, for Bowman, Colliton, and the fan base alike.

Author: Mario Tirabassi

Mario Tirabassi is a writer for Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @Mario_Tirabassi.