Saturday night’s loss to the Seattle Kraken was the Blackhawks’ 41st result of the 2022-23 regular season, meaning they’re half-way through the year.
Unfortunately, the effort and result against the Kraken stands in contrast to most of what we’ve seen from this team this season. Not because they lost; they’ve done plenty of that (11-26-4). But because a lot of the players looked disinterested from the opening puck drop and they never found it.
I’ve said this about a hundred times this season, but it’s worth repeating: this roster might lack the skill to win many games, but they compete almost every night. The thorough whoopings, like Saturday, have been few and far between. And that’s made this team easier to cheer for despite the worst record in the NHL.
Let’s hand out some mid-season grades, starting with the front office and coaching staff.
Front Office & Coaches
GM Kyle Davidson — A
Head Coach Luke Richardson — A
Yes, I’m giving them both an A for the first half of the season despite the team having the worst record in the league. Davidson told us last summer, before he started dismantling the team at the draft and allowing others to walk away without a qualifying offer, that he was going to embark on a tough rebuild project that built the Blackhawks into a team that had organizational depth to return to the top of the NHL and stay there. So we knew — or should have anticipated — that this season was going to get ugly.
But “ugly” isn’t a word I would necessarily use. Richardson and his staff were hired knowing what they were getting themselves into this season in Chicago. And they have had the perfect perspective for the roster they were given and the results achieved. Richardson is almost always positive; Saturday night’s post-game was one of few times that he appeared to be genuinely perturbed by the performance of the team. He’s always coaching and teaching in an effort to build the culture in the organization that the front office has talked about being the first building block of the rebuild effort.
The goal of this season is to have the best chance possible at drafted a franchise-altering player: Connor Bedard. And if you believe what scouts say and the eye test, there are 3-4 players at the top of the coming draft who could be immediate, significant impact players at the NHL level (Matvei Michkov would be in three years when he can possibly leave the KHL). So being near/at the bottom of the standings is the “One Goal” this season. And, with the worst point percentage in the league at the half-way mark, that mission has been accomplished.
Jonathan Toews — A
Max Domi — A
Jason Dickinson — B
Sam Lafferty — B
We’ll break this section up and start with handing out grades for the centers. The biggest reason these four guys land with solid grades is because the Blackhawks lead the NHL in team faceoff percentage (56.4) entering Monday. The only guy on this list that’s under 50 percent at the dot is Dickinson, who’s at 49.9 and is taking a lot of faceoffs against top-line centers. Toews leads the league individually at 63.9 percent and is tied for second on the team with 12 goals. The team leader in goals: Domi (13), who is having his best career season in the faceoff circle (55.9). Down the middle, the Blackhawks have been solid this season — much better than many expected.
Patrick Kane — B-
Taylor Raddysh — A-
Philipp Kurashev — C
Andreas Athanasiou — C+
Tyler Johnson — B-
MacKenzie Entwistle — C
Reese Johnson — C
Colin Blackwell — F
Boris Katchouk — F
Jujhar Khaira — Inc.
Lukas Reichel — A
We’ll start at the top of the list with Kaner, who’s been battling some physical issues this season and recently missed games because of injury for the first time in almost a full decade. He’s a player who sees the game at a different level than most other players in the league, so having players who don’t necessarily keep up or see it the same way makes it hard. He’s played hard this year, but the injury has hindered his production. Here’s hoping the time off over the past week helps refresh his wheels for a good push in the coming weeks.
Then we’ll drop to the bottom of the list and celebrate the arrival of Reichel, who I gave an A despite only appearing in four games. Some people questioned if he had the motor to be a top-line player in the NHL. I think his last three-game stint in the league answered some of those concerns well. The Blackhawks are going to spend time intentionally nurturing his development in Rockford with hopes that, when he gets the permanent call-up, we see that level of production and effort every night.
Raddysh also gets an A- because he’s exceeded expectations this season. His 12 goals are tied with Toews for second on the team and his five on the power play demonstrate that he’s been able to make an impact on special teams. He’s taken advantage of the opportunity he’s been provided in Chicago.
The rest of the forwards struggled to get better than a C because the Blackhawks’ offense has struggled to put the puck in the net all year. Khaira gets an incomplete because of his injuries; Katchouk gets a seat in the press box until injuries/trades open a spot or he gets moved to Rockford elsewhere, but he has provided zero value.
Defense & Goalies
Seth Jones — F+
Jake McCabe — B+
Jack Johnson — C-
Connor Murphy — C+
Caleb Jones — D+
Jarred Tinordi — A-
Ian Mitchell — C+
Isaak Phillips — B-
Petr Mrazek — C-
Alex Stalock — A
There’s a lot to discuss here, so I’ll start with the two guys who landed an A (or A-) in my grades. Stalock is the No. 1 goaltender on the roster and, despite missing time because of illness and a concussion, has exceeded any expectations anyone had for him this season. He’s been terrific and fun to watch. Tinordi was claimed off waivers during training camp and came in with zero expectations, but played himself into a regular role who did well. He’s also missed time because of injuries but has been way better than many had hoped when he was somewhat-surprisingly claimed.
Seth Jones gets an F+ with the plus coming from ending the team’s and his personal power play goal drought. As a $9.5 million player who has been given a leadership role on the team, he hasn’t been good enough often enough. His play improved dramatically when he was paired with McCabe, who has been the team’s best defenseman this year by a significant margin in my opinion. McCabe’s impact on Jones helped improve his grade; his leadership and toughness on the ice was the biggest factor in him being the highest grade for a player who’s been in the lineup most of the time.
I think most of the rest of the grade are pretty understandable, so I want to spend a little time discussing the use of Mitchell and Phillips. The Blackhawks are in a tricky situation with their blue line group because they have seven healthy defensemen, five of whom are veterans considered potential trade chips (read: everyone). If/when the Blackhawks are able to start trading, ice time could open up for Mitchell and/or Phillips to see more regular ice time.
I like a lot of what I’ve seen from both Mitchell and Phillips; frankly, I’d love to see them on the ice together — as they were for a lot of last year in Rockford — for an extended period if the roster space is available. But right now the rock-hard place scenario is trying to get both of the youngsters ice time while not scratching veterans you might want to trade to continue building their value (if possible). So they’ve been seemingly alternating 2-4 game stretches since Tinordi got hurt and Phillips was recalled. When Tinordi is able to return, I expect Phillips to head back to Rockford to get back to a top-pair role until there’s room for him regularly in the NHL again.