After being one of the worst defensive teams in the league throughout the regular season, they traded goals with the Edmonton Oilers to advance to the “first round.” There they were bounced by the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. Beating Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl was a good sign but this is still a team in a major rebuilding process.
Chicago made several changes this offseason, including letting their long-time goaltender Corey Crawford walk in free agency. Without Crawford, the Blackhawks turn to a young duo of Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia. If they don’t improve defensively–league-worst Scoring Chances Against/60 and High-Danger Chances Against/60–that goaltending duo will be hung-out to dry, and it could be a long season for this team.
Projected Forward Lines
The Blackhawks’ big trade of the offseason was sending Brandon Saad and Dennis Gilbert to the Colorado Avalanche for Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm. Trading Saad leaves a hole in their top-6.
There are plenty of different options available to the coaching staff. Alex DeBrincat, who spent most of last year with Dylan Strome and Patrick Kane, had more success in his limited time with Jonathan Toews. The veteran centre likely needs DeBrincat more than Kane does. While the left-wing is in question, Dominik Kubalik will undoubtedly be on Toews’ right side. After five years overseas, Kubalik came to North America last season and exploded for 30 goals and 16 assists (46 points) in 68 games. He built on that in the playoffs, ranking third on the team with eight points (4G / 4A) in eight games.
Kirby Dach was sensational in the postseason and projects to start 2021 in the top-6. Dach and Kane had a terrific 72.7 GoalsFor% in their nine playoff games and the development of their future No.1 centre appears to be on track. With DeBrincat moving to the Toews line, newcomer Pius Suter is a possibility to play with Kane. The 24-year-old will hope to follow in Kubalik’s footsteps. Kubalik led Switzerland’s top league in points in 2019 and Suter led the league with 53 points (30G / 23A) in 50 games in 2020. If Dach continues to make strides and Suter’s game translates in the NHL, the Blackhawks could have a very stout top-6.
With Dach in the top-6, that leaves Dylan Strome and the newly signed Lucas Wallmark to centre their third and fourth lines. That’s pretty impressive centre depth for a team that was devoid of quality centres a few seasons ago. They also brought in Mattias Janmark via free agency. The 27-year-old is capable of playing centre but spent most of 2020 on the wing in Dallas. Janmark has averaged 13 goals and 17 assists (30 points) per 82 games throughout his career, so he’ll chip in some points while also serving as a penalty killer for the Blackhawks.
The rest of their lineup is up for grabs. A combination of Alex Nylander, Zack Smith, Ryan Carpenter, Matthew Highmore, David Kampf, and Andrew Shaw will fill the final three spots. Shaw will almost certainly land one of those spots if he’s healthy. Shaw battled concussion issues last season, but he’s reportedly “progressing very well” and could be ready to start 2021.
Projected Defensive Pairings
The Blackhawks blueline will look very similar to last season, barring any setbacks health-wise. The top pair will almost certainly feature Duncan Keith and Adam Boqvist. The duo played together more than any Blackhawks’ pairing in 2020 and finished the season with a strong 58.8 GoalsFor% while ranking 10th among pairs with at least 350 TOI in Goals For/60 (3.14). These two will also be the quarterbacks of the power-play units, likely flip-flopping between units throughout the season.
Their second pairing will be Calvin de Haan and Brent Seabrook if both of them are healthy. de Haan missed most of last season after undergoing shoulder surgery but was back for their brief playoff run. Seabrook underwent multiple surgeries in the winter months, including operations on his right shoulder and both hips. He participated in the Return to Play training camp but wasn’t able to return for the playoffs. He said he felt better physically than he had in years and is expected to be ready for 2021.
In return for Saad, the Blackhawks acquired 6-foot-6, 235 lbs. defenseman Nikita Zadorov. The left-shot will likely skate with Connor Murphy, creating a massive, physical pairing that will handle a lot of defensive-zone face-offs. Neither has offensive-upside but were on-pace for a combined 407 hits per 82 games.
Salary Cap Figures via PuckPedia.com