How are we just at the mid-way point of this Blackhawks season? With everything happening away from the ice during the summer and into the regular season, the actual playing of the hockey was in the background of the story of the Blackhawks for a portion of the 2021-22 season. But here we are now, at 15-19-7, with an interim head coach, an interim GM, no Team President, and a team that we were told would be playoff contenders that is looking at the NHL Draft lottery…for which they do not control their own 2022 first-round pick.
Well, let’s look at how my dumb ass thought this team would do this season and revisit my 2021-22 preseason Blackhawks predictions.
Will the Blackhawks make the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
What I Said Then: “Right out of the gate, I’m going to dowse the fire: No, they won’t.
While the Blackhawks made a lot of positive additions to the roster and have Jonathan Toews coming back, I don’t think they have enough in the tank to get over the hump of the Central Division, which might end up sending five teams to the postseason in the Western Conference. The team will be much more watchable than last season, that is for sure. I think Chicago finishes in the 88-93 point total range for the season, and misses the Western Conference wild card just barely.”
What I Say Now: While I was very optimistic about the Blackhawks having success this season, I still didn’t see them getting into the postseason. At 15-19-7 and playing at a sub-80-point pace, I think I’m going to be right on this one when the season is all said and done.
Seth Jones will be better, but not “Norris-level” this season.
What I Said Then: “There is so much of the success or failure of the Blackhawks this season sitting on Seth Jones’ shoulders. He comes to the Blackhawks as the new No. 1 defenseman in the group, but hasn’t lived up to that kind of billing in his play over the past few seasons. He was a Norris Trophy-caliber player during the 2017-18 season, but has not replicated that kind of performance since. He comes to Chicago and has a hefty eight-year contract extension kicking-in after the season. I hope he lives up to it in the long-term. I think this season goes decently for Jones, but he is ultimately not considered as one of the top defensemen in the league again.”
What I Say Now: Feels like I’m two-for-two already. Jones has been great for the Blackhawks, leading all defensemen in ice-time and points. He had a slow start to the year, but who didn’t on this team? Jones has been good in a league-wide sense, ranking fourth in minutes-per-game (26:00) and inside the top-20 in points (26), but he’s getting no Norris-voting recognition.
Marc-André Fleury plays the entire season with the Blackhawks.
What I Said Then: “For better or for worse, I don’t see Fleury moving during the 2021-22 season. He had to make the decision to come with his family to Chicago after being traded by the Golden Knights in the summer. While he ultimately made the decision to come to the Blackhawks and play the final year of his current deal in Chicago, the last thing he wants to do is make his family move again. I believe Fleury will be with the Blackhawks all season, and I think it will be because they are in contention for a playoff spot at the trade deadline.”
What I Say Now: This could still happen. Fleury has said he is focusing on trying to pull the Blackhawks into the postseason and that he hasn’t had much thought about his future beyond this year, or even thought about the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline. But there seem to be too many teams that could use a goaltender like him to put them over the top as contenders for the Stanley Cup. He has a ten-team no-trade clause on his current deal, which gives him some control over the matter and I believe the Blackhawks want to do right by Fleury, but the incentive to keep him all season doesn’t out-weigh the benefits of trying to trade him.
Dylan Strome is getting traded.
What I Said Then: “Speaking of trades, Dylan Strome is already the subject of potential trade rumors and the season hasn’t even started yet. Unless he starts the season on a tear, I don’t see Strome finishing the year in a Blackhawks sweater.”
What I Say Now: The NHL Trade Deadline is 57 days away and I still think Strome gets dealt.
Alex Nylander is getting traded.
What I Said Then: “Alex Nylander is starting the season with the Rockford IceHogs after missing all of last season due to a knee injury and having surgery. If he plays his way back into the NHL lineup, all the better, but he has an uphill battle ahead of him to not only get his NHL legs back under him, but to also make his way to the front of the line of IceHogs forwards that the Blackhawks would want to bring up to the NHL if/when they need a call-up. I want Nylander to succeed, but I don’t see him getting that shot with Chicago and he ends up heading to another organization.”
What I Say Now: Told ya.
Patrick Kane will once again be the Team MVP for 2021-22.
What I Said Then: “He was a top-five scorer in the NHL last season, even with a “nagging” injury (which he is still dealing with) and having hit a goal-scoring wall mid-way through the year. He’ll be paired with Alex DeBrincat all season, likely, and that will help him once again be at the top of the league in scoring. He’s still the best player on the team and I think he will once again be the straw that stirs the drink in Chicago.”
What I Say Now: He’s leading the team in points, but that doesn’t always mean “MVP.” Alex DeBrincat is the Blackhawks’ representative at the upcoming NHL All-Star game, and while Kane should probably have also been a Central Division All-Star, I think DeBrincat has been the most valuable to the Blackhawks this season.
Brandon Hagel will take a step forward.
What I Said Then: “Last season, Brandon Hagel was a rookie breakout player that ended up as one of the major contributors to the postseason push Chicago experienced last season. After gaining that experience and playing with Team Canada at the World Championships, Hagel came into the preseason with lofty expectations. I think he’ll meet those expectations in his second season in the NHL. He has been compared to Andrew Shaw, but with more offensive skills. I believe we’ll see more of that comparison come to life for Hagel in 2021-22.”
What I Say Now: Hagel is second on the team in goals (10), third on the team in even-strength points (17), and fourth on the team in points (20). He plays in a top-six role and is on the powerplay and penalty-kill. He should be invested-in as part of the Blackhawks’ future plans.
Impact Blackhawk that no one is talking about: Jujhar Khaira.
What I Said Then: “One thing the Blackhawks will need this season is a physical presence without Nikita Zadorov in the lineup. Jujhar Khaira is coming from the Edmonton Oilers and will likely start the season on the fourth-line for the Blackhawks. I like his ability to not only be physical and lay a hit every once-in-a-while, but also contribute offensively. Functional physicality is the way to go now-a-days in the NHL and Khaira has the ability to be physical and versatile for Chicago.”
What I Say Now: Khaira has been playing his role this season, but it hasn’t had the impact that he or many fans had hoped it would. Plus, injuries have slowed his season. One player having a impact that I think most of us didn’t expect, now that we are mid-way through the season: Philipp Kurashev.
Impact Blackhawk that will fall short of expectations: Kirby Dach.
What I Said Then: “This is a bit tongue-in-cheek since I said Kirby Dach was going to be my NHL breakout player when I made my NHL season predictions. But, I think the expectations on Dach are a bit too high from some Blackhawks fans for this season. While I think he will have a breakout year and show that he was worthy of that third-overall pick in 2019, I don’t think he is going to end up being the No. 1 center for the Blackhawks by seasons-end. I don’t expect him to score more than 70-80 points and I don’t expect him to be winning a Selke Award anytime soon. If I’m being realistic for Dach this season, pencil him in for 18+goals and 65 points.”
What I Say Now: I’m right that Dach has been disappointing this season. I was way, way, way wrong about his point-production. Holy Sheeeeet.
IceHog to watch this season: Michal Teply.
What I Said Then: “Keep an eye on forward Michal Teply in the Blackhawks farm system this year. While I don’t expect him to break into the NHL this season, the 20-year-old former fourth-round pick looked solid through the preseason and could end up being a major goal-scoring threat at the AHL level this season.”
What I Say Now: Prior to this week, I would have looked pretty dumb on this one. But with five points over his last three games, Teply has turned a bit of a corner in his second professional season with the IceHogs. He has recorded all nine of his points this season in his last ten games, skating in 25 total games for Rockford.
Lukas Reichel will be with the Blackhawks by Christmas AND stick with the club for the rest of the season.
What I Said Then: “Speaking of the IceHogs, sorry Rockford fans but I wouldn’t get too comfortable with Lukas Reichel in the AHL. The 2020 first-round pick looked decent in his preseason action with the Blackhawks, but with the depth of the forwards group in Chicago, Reichel ended up going to the AHL to begin his North American professional career. Maybe I’m being too bold, but I feel like Reichel will not be forced into the NHL, he will play his way into the NHL.”
What I Say Now: If not for COVID and injuries, I think I would have been right on both accounts here. But, with the Blackhawks not contending and injuries to Reichel delaying his first NHL call-up, I’m wrong on both predictions. He looked decent in his first two NHL games this year and I fully expect him to come back and play a few more games for Chicago later this season. He just won’t play more than nine NHL games, to avoid burning the first year of his rookie contract and allowing it to slide to next season. That’s where I think he’ll become an NHL regular.
Jonathan Toews will play the full season AND score 20+ goals and 60+ points.
What I Said Then: “Arguably the biggest storyline for the Blackhawks this season is the return of their Captain Jonathan Toews. How will his health hold up? How effective will he be? This is where I let my optimistic side run wild. Not only will Toews come back and be able to play a full season, I think he will be back to the effectiveness he has shown in recent seasons for the Blackhawks. He won’t need to be the top-line center for the club, so his 5v5 time will be less than it has been in the past, but his use on the powerplay and penalty-kill will allow us to see the “old Toews” every now and then. His presence in the locker room has already made a big impact on the team, and I think his play through the preseason has given me enough confidence that he can be the player he was before leaving the ice last year.”
What I Say Now: I’m on track to be right on half of this. Toews has not missed a game yet this season (knock on wood), but he has been far from his usual self. My 20-goal and 65-point prediction was waaaaay off. He’s on pace for career-lows in goals and points this season, although he is winning faceoffs at a career-best pace. He’s not the $10.5M player he used to be, but he’s still been useful to the Blackhawks, since they basically have no one else to play as a top-six centerman.
Chicago is on-pace this season for 74 points in the standings and with their current .451 points-percentage, they would be looking at the eighth-best odds to land the top-overall draft pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. The only way they hold onto their 2022 first-round pick is by landing the first or second pick in this year’s NHL Draft Lottery. The eighth-best odds likely won’t cut it. So, either they have to go on an ungodly winning-streak, or they sell, sell, sell at the NHL Trade Deadline and try to tank their way into the top overall pick competition with the Arizona Coyotes, Seattle Kraken, and Montreal Canadiens. They are in NHL Purgatory, which may as well be the same as NHL Hell.