The NHL season starts in less than a week, and it should be a very exciting one to watch. Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will look to dominate the score sheets. The Tampa Bay Lightning will defend the Stanley Cup again and the Colorado Avalanche will try to find a way to make it past the second round.
But, the biggest storyline belongs to the Chicago Blackhawks. With their talented forwards and newly acquired veterans, this team will make the playoffs. How did we get here? A year ago, Chicago told their fans they were rebuilding. The fact that the rebuild was this short was impressive, but it probably had to do with the talent they already had.
Future Hall of Famer Patrick Kane had another brilliant season in 2020 with 66 points on 51 assists while playing in all 56 games. Kane has been the cornerstone of the Blackhawks since his debut and will be one of the best of all-time when his career ends.
He has amazing help on the wings from Alex DeBrincat, who has a 40-goal season to his name and put up 56 points in 52 games last year. DeBrincat, a second-round pick in 2016, is going to pay dividends with another productive season at the left-wing position.
If those two were not enough, having left-winger Dominik Kubalik (38 points) gives the Blackhawks one of the best winger corps in the entire league. Brandon Hagel (24 points) and Philip Kurashev (16 points) are two underrated names to include because both guys have an incredible upside and are due for a breakout season soon.
The forward core will only get stronger as they have some critical pieces coming back from injury. Captain Jonathan Toews missed the entirety of last season due to chronic immune response syndrome, and his recent return to the ice is going to provide a big spark to this young and fiery lineup.
There’s also 2019 third overall pick Kirby Dach. He may have had limited action last season because he got hurt in the World Juniors, but a healthy season from him is going to be critical to the team’s success. With his talents, he can form one of the best young lines in the league with the talents of Kubalik and DeBrincat.
On defense, the cup-winning core of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook is officially gone now that Keith has been traded to the Edmonton Oilers. Chicago is retooling the defense though as Connor Murphy (15 points) and Calvin de Haan (10 points) are going to anchor down a strong first line.
Nothing against Toews and Kane, but with the pieces I just mentioned the Blackhawks look like a team that would make the playoffs based on pure luck. With the new additions however, the Blackhawks have some new players that can lead them back to their dominating days of the early to mid 2010s.
The biggest and most head-scratching acquisition was Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury is coming off his best season ever, having just won his first career Vezina trophy as the league’s best goalie. There are two confusing aspects to his acquisition. Firstly, he was acquired for literally one player, forward Mikael Hakkarainen, not a first-round pick or a big chunk of Chicago’s core to replace a franchise player in Vegas.
Secondly, Fleury nearly retired from playing after a series of events that included finding out on Twitter rather than Vegas’ front office, that he was being shipped. The rumors swirled for a while before Fleury decided to chase 500 career wins amongst many other milestones.
What about Kevin Lankinen? The stud rookie may be relegated to a backup role under Fleury’s winning ways, but this has the feel of the 2015-17 Pittsburgh Penguins, where Lankinen becomes another version of Matt Murray and creates one of the best tandems in the entire league.
While Fleury is going to be playing out of his mind behind the crease like he always does, the weight will not entirely be on his shoulders. In addition to de Haan and Murphy on defense, the Blackhawks acquired Seth Jones from the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets. Jones may have regressed in his overall performance last year, but those numbers did not faze Chicago from not only picking him up, but signing him to an eight-year, $76 million contract ($9.5 AAV) in the process.
That might be the worst thing Chicago did this offseason, but if he returns to his peak form, then there’s a good chance that the Blackhawks have one of the best defensive units in the league.
Those were the two biggest pickups by Chicago this offseason, but as you saw with the Montreal Canadiens during their cup final run last year, some minor acquisitions go a long way.
Jujhar Kahira was signed as a free agent and brings a lot of physical power. He has the potential to wring out damaging hits like Tom Wilson and can cause turnovers in the middle of the ice.
Tyler Johnson brings his winning ways over from the Lightning and can show this young team, in addition to Kane, Toews and Fleury, how to get it done when making a deep playoff run. The Blackhawks will utilize him as a fourth-line center while setting him up to succeed again.
Finally, there’s Jake McCabe, who escaped the Buffalo Sabres and will look to use his new opportunity to his full advantage. In limited action last year, McCabe didn’t produce as much as he wanted to. With Chicago, he will have another opportunity to show his talents while controlling the flow of the game.
Chicago’s in a very good division. In addition to the defending President’s Trophy Winning Avalanche, there’s the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets all primed to make a big push for the playoffs. Whether it is as a wild card team or as a top-3 team in the Central Division, the Blackhawks have the pieces necessary to not only make the playoffs but potentially go on a deep playoff run.