The Chicago Blackhawks have just three games remaining on the 2021 shortened schedule. They are 22-25-6 with 50 points in the Central Division standings and are officially eliminated from postseason play. It was a season full of ups and downs, but mostly downs as we got closer and closer to the trade deadline and the final stretch of the playoff “push.”
Chicago has gone just 10-18-2 since the beginning of March and their 22 points in the standings are tied for the fewest in the league in that time along with the Anaheim Ducks and Buffalo Sabres.
So looking back at how we expected the season to unfold back in January, were we mostly right or wrong in our predictions as the season comes to a close this weekend?
You can look back at how we perceived the preseason predictions at the mid-way point of the season here and compare to how the season finished.
Will the Blackhawks make the Playoffs?
What I said first: “LOL, God no. They are heavily out-gunned by the Lightning, Stars, and Hurricanes within the Central Division. The only team they MIGHT finish ahead of in the division is the Red Wings. Even that isn’t a given.”
Final Verdict: Correct. It took 52 of 56 games to eliminate the Blackhawks from the postseason in 2021. Not something I expected when the season began. Back in January, I was convinced the team would be out of it by March. They were in it until May, well really until mid-April, but mathematically they survived until May.
Patrick Kane will be the team’s MVP in 2021.
What I said first: “Again, I said some of these will be lukewarm. Kane is the best player on this roster and he’s going to have to drag this team to wins at times this season. He has the skills to do so, and it seems like he is onboard for the rebuild, so as long as he gets to play with the “good” young players.”
Final Verdict: Correct (barely). Kane was the Blackhawks’ best player from start to finish, but the finish to his season “fell off” in the final two months. Kane was a legitimate league MVP candidate at the mid-way point of the season, but his goal-scoring dried up and he became an assist-machine. I’d make a case for Alex DeBrincat to be the runner-up for Team MVP this season in a close race. His versatility in the lineup late in the year, his return to being a prolific goal-scorer, and his refined defensive skills this season have been a huge breakthrough for DeBrincat to be a star in the NHL.
Ian Mitchell will outplay Adam Boqvist and be given more responsibilities by season’s end.
What I said first: “All we’ve been fed as fans about Ian Mitchell is how ready he is for the NHL. Over the summer heading into the 2019-20 season, general manager Stan Bowman claimed he thought Mitchell could have played in the NHL the season prior. While this is not to say Boqvist will struggle, I’m just on the bandwagon that Mitchell is going to be good, really good, right out of the gate.”
Final Verdict: Very Wrong. Mitchell fell off towards the mid-way point of the season and eventually saw his spot in the lineup lost until very late in the year, once Chicago was out of contention. On the flip-side, Adam Boqvist made great strides forward in his defensive development this season, even battling through injuries and COVID. Heading into 2021-22, a healthy Boqvist will likely be on the top-pair for the Blackhawks defensively.
Malcolm Subban will start the season opener, but Collin Delia will play the most games in net.
What I said first: “Subban has the most NHL experience of the three goalies on the roster for the Blackhawks heading into the season. But Delia appears to have more favor within the organization. I mean, Subban played less time for the Blackhawks last season after being acquired from the Golden Knights than it takes to cook a Pop-Tart. The hope, the low-bar hope, is that the Blackhawks can have one or both goaltenders be at least league-average. I believe Delia can get there.”
Final Verdict: So Very Wrong. Kevin Lankinen was the man for the Blackhawks this season in net. Collin Delia was exiled until the final week of the year.
Carl Söderberg is totally getting traded.
What I said first: “He’s 35-years-old and is only clogging the roster if the team is truly trying to go through a youth-driven rebuild. If he can play anywhere near his career average, the Blackhawks should be able to flip him at the trade deadline for draft capital.”
Final Verdict: Correct. Söderberg played his role with the Blackhawks just as he needed to and Chicago flipped him at the trade deadline for a handful of “maybe.” It was exactly what he needed and what the Blackhawks needed. Now he has a shot at a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche.
Mattias Janmark is totally getting traded.
What I said first: “Again, much like Söderberg, there’s not much for Janmark to do with the Blackhawks beyond this season. He’s 28-years-old, so not really “old” in the sense that Söderberg is “old” (my apologies to anyone who is 35+) but unless he’s the reincarnation of Marian Hossa (he’s not), I don’t see much space for him in the rebuilding process. Get what you can from him in the season, flip at the trade deadline for draft capital.”
Final Verdict: Correct Again. Much like Söderberg, Janmark did just what he needed to do with the Blackhawks and then get moved at the trade deadline to a contender. Now Janmark has a shot at the Stanley Cup with the Vegas Golden Knights and will possibly face Söderberg and the Avalanche along the way.
Brent Seabrook is totally not getting traded.
What I said first: “As much as many Blackhawks fans want Seabrook booted from town years ago, he’s anchored by his contract. In a league that is facing financial hardships due to COVID, I can’t imagine there’s a team out there that would accept Seabrook and his contract without also getting much more than it’s worth to the Blackhawks in return. Chicago is stuck with him for the foreseeable future.”
Final Verdict: Technically Correct. Seabrook ended his playing career at the beginning of March and will go down as a true Blackhawks legend. His contract comes off the Blackhawks books a the end of the 2023-24 season, but he can be placed on LTIR every year until then.
Nikita Zadorov is totally getting a contract extension.
What I said first: “One of the offseason additions to the Blackhawks that will likely not be flipped at the trade deadline will end up being defenseman Nikita Zadorov. Acquired in the Brandon Saad trade, Zadorov is the kind of player the Blackhawks can benefit from having in the lineup on a nightly basis. Big, physical, opponents hate playing against him. As long as he’s not a dumpster fire defensively, I see Chicago investing in Zadorov beyond 2021.”
Final Verdict: Not Right or Wrong yet, but Probably Wrong. Zadorov likely has no future with the Blackhawks after a sub-par 2021 season and expecting a raise in the offseason from his $3.2M salary. With the contract extension handed to Riley Stillman a few weeks ago, Zadorov likely will see the door to free agency this summer.
Pius Suter will be good, just not “2019-20 Dominik Kubalík” good.
What I said first: “So far, all indications through training camp point to the Blackhawks investing plenty of time into the 24-year-old Swiss prospect. Comparisons to Kubalík are going to be rampant this season since both of them come from the same European league, in consecutive offseasons, and both won the league’s MVP award in consecutive years. They have similar skill-sets, but Kubalík emerged as a dangerous goal-scorer last season and Suter likely tracks out to be a player who will setup more goals than he scores. If Suter can be close to what Kubalík meant to the Blackhawks last season, it’ll be a win for Chicago.”
Final Verdict: Correct. Suter was really good for the first half of the season in Chicago, but tapered-off in the second half of the year. He wasn’t the dynamo rookie that Kubalík was in his first NHL season, but Suter played a versatile role for the Blackhawks across the lineup and scored at a 36-point pace over and 82-game schedule. Suter’s 23 points through 52 games this season leads all Chicago rookies in scoring and is fourth on the team overall. He was more Dominik Kahun, than Dominik Kubalík. Would like to see him return to the Blackhawks this offseason, being a restricted free agent in the summer.
Philipp Kurashev will be the biggest breakout rookie not named Ian Mitchell.
What I said first: “While he’s not in the starting lineup on night one, Kurashev showed he can hang with the NHL-caliber Blackhawks players. He likely would have made his NHL debut last season, had he not been sidelined with an injury while playing with the Rockford IceHogs. He can play center or wing and has the tools to be effective at both ends of the ice. I believe if he’s given the chance to play, he will make it hard for Colliton to take him out of the lineup.”
Final Verdict: Wrong (barely). Kevin Lankinen has the best case to be made as the Rookie of the Year for the Blackhawks, but Brandon Hagel and Pius Suter are also in that discussion. Ian Mitchell is not in that discussion and while Kurashev does have an argument for consideration, he’s not going to win it.
The Rockford IceHogs will make the AHL playoffs (if they have them).
What I said first: “The amount of young talent that the Blackhawks are sending to their AHL squad is salivating for a person like myself that has spent the past five years immersed in the Chicago farm system. We still don’t know exactly what the 2021 season will look like for the AHL, or what the playoffs will look like, or if there even will be playoffs.”
Final Verdict: Technically Wrong. There are no Calder Cup Playoffs for the second year in-a-row due to COVID restrictions in the AHL. But if there were going to be a postseason, the IceHogs wouldn’t be a part of it. At 11-15-1, the IceHogs are last in the Central Division with 23 points and a .426 points percentage.
The Blackhawks will not win a season series against any team, not even the Red Wings.
What I said first: “Here’s a harsh reality: The only team that I *had* confidence in the Blackhawks finishing ahead of in the Central Division was the Detroit Red Wings. AND THEN Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, and Alexander Nylander were ruled out of the lineup for the 2021 season. While the Red Wings are going to be awful, so are the Blackhawks. Maybe not a best-case scenario, but an “of course because
2020 2021″ scenario, Chicago and Detroit split their season series and no one gets bragging rights in the one-season rivalry revival.”
Final Verdict: Very Wrong. This season saw unexpected levels of success for the Blackhawks across a number of categories. They won the regular season series against the Detroit Red Wings (6-2-0) and against the Columbus Blue Jackets (6-2-0). They lead their regular season series against the Dallas Stars (4-2-0) with two games remaining to be played.
Jonathan Toews will return to the team before season’s end.
What I said first: “This is honestly just a hope and prayer that Toews’ health improves to a point where he is healthy enough to come back to the NHL.”
Final Verdict: Wrong. Toews did not return to the Blackhawks for the 2021 season. We haven’t heard what has been keeping him away from the team, and we may never know, but it appears things are headed in the right direction for the Blackhawks Captain. Earlier in April, Darren Dreger reported that Toews’ health is improving and if that keeps up, he will be expected to return to the Blackhawks for the 2021-22 season. That is good news.
The Blackhawks will have a top-five draft pick.
What I said first: “The only name that I want to see on the Blackhawks draft board: Owen Power.”
Final Verdict: TBD. The Blackhawks will not be in the postseason this year, so they will have a shot at a top-five pick in the draft lottery. But if the odds are any indication, it’s likely the Blackhawks will be drafting somewhere between 10th and 13th. They currently would have the 11th pick in the draft based on points percentage. Time to start thinking about those mid-lottery level prospects.
I would call myself right on six of these preseason predictions and wrong on seven of them, with one still to be determined. So much like the Blackhawks in 2021, I was more often bad than good, but I had my moments.
The 2021 season had glimmers of success for the Blackhawks and the most important thing we saw from the team this year was the progress and development of the young players. Heading into the 2021-22 season having a healthy Kirby Dach and likely having a healthy Jonathan Toews will make the team look way more put together up front. Many of the rookie forwards established themselves as NHL-ready this season and will slot into the lineup next season, looking to avoid sophomore slumps. Still questions remain in net and on the defensive end of things for the Blackhawks, but at least we know more about what Kevin Lankinen brings to the table and which defensemen are going to be relied on to eat heavy minutes next season.