This has been one of the most difficult years covering the Chicago Blackhawks that I have endured. For a lot of fans, this has been the most troubling year of cheering for the Blackhawks, with many deciding they could no longer do it. Off the ice, 2021 was a seismic year for the Blackhawks. On it, a cavalcade of mediocrity and trying to find the positives persists. It’s been mostly bad, but there has been a few bright spots over the past 365 days for the Chicago hockey scene. So here, in no particular order, are some of the biggest headlines from the calendar 2021 year for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sexual Assault Investigation Rocks Hockey World
What more can be said?
In May and June, while the rest of the hockey world was focusing on the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Final, the first reports of a potential sexual assault cover-up involving the Chicago Blackhawks began to surface. Over the next few months, through tireless reporting, researching, and digging by a number of journalists, the story of Brad Aldrich’s sexual assaults of former Blackhawk Kyle Beach and a Michigan high school student, came to light. We learned of Aldrich’s past and history of assaults wherever he worked and we learned of the Blackhawks turning a blind-eye to his actions against Kyle Beach, who bravely came forward as the person behind “John Doe 1” in the lawsuits. The Jenner and Block investigation findings led to the firing of a number of front office members of the Blackhawks past and present, as well as the firing of Joel Quenneville in Florida.
It’s a story that will not be forgotten in the hockey world, and a stain on the Blackhawks franchise that will take a very long time to overcome in the public eye. With both lawsuits now dismissed and both likely reaching settlements (Beach did, “John Doe 2” was unconfirmed but it is assumed), I sincerely hope that Beach and “JD2” can move forward in their lives and continue the healing process from these awful events.
Stan Bowman Fired
Part of the fallout from the lawsuits and investigations against the Blackhawks was the firing of Stan Bowman as General Manager and President of Hockey Operations with the Blackhawks. His involvement and inaction surrounding the cover-up of Aldrich’s assault against Kyle Beach led to Bowman being ousted from Chicago after being at the helm for more than a decade and for three Stanley Cup championships.
Jeremy Colliton Fired
Not long after the firing of Stan Bowman for reasons off the ice, the man he replaced Joel Quenneville with in 2018, Jeremy Colliton, was fired for reasons on the ice. After a 1-9-2 start to the season, the man who replaced Stan Bowman in the interim, Kyle Davidson, made the decision that enough was enough and Colliton was out of Chicago. Three years to the day that he took the job, Colliton lost it. In parts of four seasons as Chicago’s head coach, Colliton held an 87-92-26 record in 205 NHL games. The man who replaced Colliton in Rockford in 2018, replaced him again in 2021 as Derek King was appointed Blackhawks head coach in the interim, and has a 10-6-2 record this season.
Jonathan Toews Misses Entire 2020-21 Season
Remember back all the way a year ago. The Blackhawks were getting ready for January training camp for the 2020-21 season. Then came the news that Jonathan Toews would not be with the team for the beginning of training camp. The reasons were unknown and the rumors went rampant. Toews was nowhere to be seen around the team. As time went on, we learned very little and the cloud of secrecy around Toews grew darker. Then we learned, he would be out the entire season. The Blackhawks missed him on and off the ice, and if Toews had been healthy and able to be the Jonathan Toews everyone was expecting him to be for the 2020-21 season, Chicago may have had a shot at the postseason. (Who knows?)
But this past summer we learned why Toews was gone. Chronic Immune Response Syndrome is what they call it. Toews worked hard to get back to health and get back on the ice for the Blackhawks. He’s back this season, yes, but he is still not the Jonathan Toews many had hoped he could be. But nonetheless, having him back is better than not having him at all.
Modern-Era Blackhawks Legends Retire
Speaking of which, this year we saw a major chunk of the modern-era dynasty Blackhawks players hang up the skates for good. Starting in training camp prior to last season, we saw Corey Crawford, Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson all put an end to their playing careers in 2021. The players you watched growing up having their playing careers end will never not be somewhat depressing. Here’s to all of them finding life outside of hockey as fulfilling as it may have been inside of it.
Duncan Keith Traded to Edmonton
Seeing those modern-era dynasty players ending their careers was tough. But at least they ended their careers, besides Hjalmarsson, having played the majority of their time in their career with the Blackhawks and ending it with the Blackhawks. One of the most important players in the “One Goal” era of Blackhawks hockey will be ending his career elsewhere, whenever he does call it quits.
In the offseason, following 16 years in Chicago, the Blackhawks traded Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers per his request to be closer to his family. For 16 seasons, no one played more minutes for the Blackhawks than Keith and no one left more on the ice, literally, than him. He will one day go into the Hockey Hall of Fame and his No. 2 will never be worn again for the Blackhawks, but it is still weird to see him in the Oilers orange and blue.
Blackhawks Acquire Marc-André Fleury (For Free!)
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Blackhawks this year. In the offseason, there was a ton of optimism for Chicago to be one of the teams to make some noise in the NHL this season. One of the major reasons that everyone believed that Chicago could be an under-the-radar contender is because of the acquisition of 2021 Vezina Winner Marc-André Fleury.
The Blackhawks traded for Fleury from the Vegas Golden Knights, sending minor-leaguer Mikael Hakkarainen to Vegas. And that was it. Later, Vegas would waive Hakkarainen and terminate his contract. So the Blackhawks acquired future Hall of Famer and the reigning best goaltender in the NHL, for free. After a rocky start to the season for Fleury, and the Blackhawks, he’s back on track and back looking like one of the top net-minders in the NHL. Whether or not his stay in Chicago lasts just one season, or maybe not even a full season, the Blackhawks went for it this summer with the addition of the Flower.
Blackhawks Acquire Seth Jones in Major Trade
They also went for it with the blockbuster trade that landed Seth Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Not only did the Blackhawks send defenseman Adam Boqvist, two first-round picks, and a second round pick to Columbus, but they also signed Jones to a massive eight-year contract extension with a $9.5M AAV. It was a sign that the Blackhawks were not waiting around any longer for one of their promising young prospects to pan-out. They want to win now.
Jones came into Chicago with mixed reviews. Was he a one-time Norris Trophy contender? Yes, but that was already four years prior. Jones was going to be the No. 1 defenseman in Chicago, but was he actually a No. 1 defenseman in the NHL? So far this season, Jones has answered the call. He leads all Blackhawks defensemen, by a wide margin, in points and is among the NHL’s top point-producers for defensemen. He is also playing the fifth-most minutes per game of any player in the league. After losing do-it-all Duncan Keith, Jones has stepped in a filled the role of the top blue-liner on the Blackhawks very, very well.
Patrick Kane Scores 400th Goal
It may have happened last season, but we still have to honor it. Patrick Kane joined some elite company in the 2021 season, scoring his 400th career goal in the NHL.
OF COURSE PATRICK KANE'S 400TH IS NASTY pic.twitter.com/sozmaqqR6d
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) March 1, 2021
Against the Detroit Red Wings, no less.
Kane is one of four Blackhawks to score 400+ goals in their careers, joining Steve Larmer, Denis Savard, and Bobby Hull. He is also one of 102 NHL players all-time to reach the 400-goal mark and is one of (currently) 11 U.S.-born players to score 400 in their career and was the seventh to do it in under 1,000 games played.
Marc-André Fleury Wins 500th Game
Not to be outdone in the milestone-reaching category, this season we saw Marc-André Fleury reach the 500-win marker for his NHL career. He did so in dramatic fashion, winning over the Montreal Canadiens, his childhood favorite team, in a shutout.
— Bleacher Nation Blackhawks (@BN_Blackhawks) December 10, 2021
Fleury became one of just three goaltenders in NHL history to reach 500 career wins, joining fellow Québécois goalies Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur in the 500-win club. Fleury has been with the Blackhawks for just a short while, but his impact with Chicago on and off the ice has made him one of the most likable players on the team this season. But we already knew that about the one they call “Flower,” so it’s no surprise that his No. 29 Blackhawks sweater was the third-highest seller among all NHL sweaters this year.
Kirby Dach Breaks Wrist, Misses Most of 2021 Season
Besides losing Jonathan Toews at the beginning (and eventually for all of the 2021 season) of the year, the toughest loss last season for Chicago was not having Kirby Dach. Playing with Team Canada at the 2021 World Junior Championships, and being named Captain of the team, Dach was looking to have a breakout performance in the tournament and bring that confidence and momentum into the 2021 season for the Blackhawks.
Then he broke his wrist.
On a fluke collision in an pre-tournament game against Russia, Dach and future Blackhawks 2021 draft pick Ilya Safonov ran into each other and Dach broke his wrist. His tournament was over and his season was in jeopardy. After undergoing surgery to repair the wrist, he came back to the Blackhawks prior to the end of last season. But he was admittedly playing less-than perfectly healthy and it showed.
Since the injury a full year ago, Dach has yet to look the same on the ice. His confidence still isn’t what it was heading into the 2021 World Junior Championships and the pressure for him to perform up to the standards of being a third-overall pick are starting to weigh on him. Here’s to hoping his 2022 in much, much better than 2021.
Kane, DeBrincat, Jones, Fleury and Others Miss 2022 Olympic Games
The 2021-22 NHL season was off an running earlier this year with the hopes that we would be able to see the NHL again playing full 82-game schedules and the promise that the league would be returning to the Winter Olympics in 2022, sending players to Beijing to participate in the Games after missing the 2018 Olympics.
But the COVID pandemic doesn’t care about you or your plans.
After dealing with a league-wide outbreak in December of 2021, the NHL was forced to postpone close over 70 games, with the number continuing to rise, and had nearly 150 players, coaches, staff, and officials land in COVID protocols just in the month. With the league schedule spiraling out of control, the NHL and NHLPA pulled the plug on the 2022 Winter Olympics.
So ended the hopes of a number of Blackhawks to play in the 2022 Winter Olympics, including Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Seth Jones, Marc-André Fleury, Dominik Kubalík, and possibly even rookie Lukas Reichel. The two players it hurt the most to see miss the Olympics is Kane and Fleury. After falling to Canada in overtime in 2010 and failing to earn a Medal in 2014, Kane was likely going to be named Captain of Team USA as they looked to have one of their most talented teams in an Olympic year as ever. For Fleury, he had an opportunity to return to the Canadian Olympic team after playing the backup role in 2010 and being left off the roster in 2014. This was very likely both Kane and Fleury’s last opportunities to play for their countries at the Olympics.
We don’t know what is in-store for the future of international competitions like the Olympics when it comes to NHL participation, but for the 2022 Games, it’s a done deal.
That will do it for 2021. I want to thank you all for joining us at Bleacher Nation in our first year of covering the Chicago Blackhawks. It has not been an easy year, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else with my career. This 2021 calendar year was my first with Bleacher Nation and my first being able to cover the Blackhawks as a JOB, rather than a full-time hobby. I’m hopeful for a better and brighter 2022 for you all and for the Blackhawks.
Stay positive. Test negative. And we’ll see you in 2022.