You can’t really talk about the Chicago Blackhawks anymore without talking about the championships, and when that era of greatness will end. Is it this year? Next year? Or has it already ended?
The assumption in that discussion has always been clear: Time is running out for the Blackhawks. They’re getting older and slower in a league that’s getting younger and faster. Their salary cap books are fattened up with expensive contracts for those same aging veterans. Eventually, the bottom will fall out, one way or another.
Maybe that’s true. No NHL team is destined to be a contender forever. Even the Red Wings have stumbled from their perch up high over the past few years. Success can often be cyclical, especially in a league with a hard salary cap. Guys get older, yet they rarely get cheaper, and that’s a conundrum that faces every team in the league.
So the idea that the Blackhawks’ contending window will inevitably end is more or less accurate. In 2022, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook will be five years older with the same cap hits. Odds are that, by then, having over $33 million committed to those players will be a bad deal. Worth it given what’s already happened, yes, but that will merely be a consolation if the team is being dragged down by those players in their late 30s.
The other reason for this assumption was the Blackhawks’ lack of young stars. The only way to make up for all that money committed to those veterans is to have fantastic players over-perform on their entry-level contracts. But over the past few years, Chicago hadn’t unearthed any of those kinds of players. The closest they came was Artemi Panarin, and he was old enough to hit free agency four years into his career, so the team traded him after two.
Alex DeBrincat could change that entire dynamic.
This is almost certainly hyperbole, and therefore you should take it with a grain of salt, but DeBrincat is the best reason the Hawks have given to be hopeful about their future in a while. He’s evidence that this team can uncover high-level players to supplement its experienced core without picking at the top of the draft. He’s the kind of player who will help prolong the Cup window.
The numbers speak volumes. Through 24 games, DeBrincat already has 10 goals and eight assists. He’s posted a strong 5-on-5 Corsi of 52 percent, and he’s sixth on the Blackhawks in Game Score behind Kane, Toews, Brandon Saad, Nick Schmaltz, and Richard Panik, per Corsica.
Joel Quenneville did, too. Here’s the Blackhawks’ coach after DeBrincat’s hat trick earlier this week: “He does all the things that scorers do,” Quenneville said. “How good of a scorer he’ll be? It’ll be fun to watch that play out because he has the making of being a special player.”
Special players are what the Blackhawks had not produced enough of over the past few years. Lots of good role players, yes, but nobody like that. The closest would arguably be Teuvo Teravainen, and the team traded him in order to shed a few million in cap space.
Now the Blackhawks might have one in DeBrincat. They might have another in Schmaltz. And with Dylan Sikura dominating college hockey and Henri Jokiharju tearing up the WHL, they might have another two there.
Suddenly, there are a lot more reasons to be excited about the Blackhawks’ future, even if the championship window does eventually close. Good players, maybe even special players, are coming through the pipeline. It’s a necessity that might be coming to fruition.