Well, it’s about that time of year: the winter break is here, people are heading home for the holidays and kids are submitting their Christmas wish lists to Santa Claus.
No matter how old you get, it’s still an exciting time of year. And, as a matter of fact, I have a Christmas list of my own.
Here it is: my Top 10 Christmas wish list for the Chicago Blackhawks.
10. An Offense
Since Derek King took over in early November, the Blackhawks defense has done a complete 180. It’s really spectacular how a coaching change can result in such a drastic improvement in such a short period of time. The only issue is that the Hawks offense has not been all that stellar. The Blackhawks currently rank 29th in goals per game (2.30) and 30th in expected goals share (45.4 percent) ... that’s pretty dreadful. My wish is for the team to take the proper steps needed to get this offense headed in the right direction: they need clean zone entries so they can set up on offense and cycle the puck, with crisp passing and fluid movement to create shooting lanes — all of which would lead to high-quality scoring chances. Relying on the rush and a transition offense just isn’t cutting it.
9. Better Lines and Cohesive Line mates
Part of the reason the Blackhawks have struggled offensively is that the line combinations have been about as consistent as the lead role in a ‘90’s Batman film. Creating cohesive lines that work well together and giving them time to jell is important. Lines can change by the period or even shift — Hawks fans all know this — but generally there is purpose behind line combinations. Recently, it seems like the Hawks have been drawing names out of a hat, throwing them at a wall and seeing which ones stick. And although the personnel isn’t all that bad, lineup cards have been ... questionable. If the Hawks can find a rhythm and create some balance with three scoring lines and a solid checking line, I think they’ll be is business as far as 5-on-5 offense is concerned.
8. A Home for Strome
Speaking of questionable lineups... Coach King has penciled Dylan Strome in and out of the lineup as if the southpaw forward is renting property on the trade block. We know by now that No. 17 in red isn’t a top-line, all-star center but he’s also proven himself to be a more than useful player in all three zones. It wasn’t until he was moved from center to wing that his production started to suffer. When King was asked about Strome’s absence in the lineup, he inferred that Strome couldn’t be trusted defensively or to take defensive zone draws in late-game scenarios. Both the numbers and the eye test say quite the opposite. Strome has been excellent in those situations. If the Hawks want to improve on their shortcomings — particularly on the score sheet — Strome needs a regular home in the Chicago lineup.
7. Special Teams to be Special
I know, I know, but hear me out! You’re probably reading this and thinking, “Mil, all you guys do is harp on how relying on the power play is unsustainable.”
While that’s absolutely true, it’s not really where I’m going with this one. Sure, it would be nice to see the Blackhawks power play scoring at an above average rate as they are currently 17th in the league (18.8 percent). But it’s the penalty kill that’s killing them. The Hawks penalty kill is currently 26th (76.7%). When King took over on Nov. 6, it was fifth in the league at 87.5. With the Blackhawks’ lack of offense, this brutal PK is being exposed. In their last two games — both overtime losses — the Hawks could’ve skated off the ice in with regulation wins if the PK had been better. Splitting points with division opponents in the Predators and Stars is really no help in the standings. If the Hawks can find a way to translate their defensive results to the penalty kill, they could truly start trending upwards. Also ... stop taking so many freaking penalties!
6. Bring Back the Barber Pole Jersey
This wish is purely aesthetic and has nothing to do with on-ice results. Over the past decade there’s been numerous special event uniforms for outdoor games and such. And while the Hawks are widely regarded as having one of the best uniform sets in sports, nothing quite compares to the throwbacks they wore for the league’s 75th anniversary way back in the 1991-92 campaign. The only time these duds have seen the ice since was for one game in ‘94 against the Red Wings.
Now is the perfect time to bring them back.
A rendition of the sweaters the Blackhawks wore when they won their second Stanley Cup in 1938 (the one where they didn’t bring the Cup because they expected Toronto to win) these shirts scream, “Original Six”. And unlike their normal home and away set, this one works really well with the Adidas template. No Pilgrim collars here!
5. The Development of Kevin Lankinen
The 2021 season provided glimpses of what Kevin Lankinen could be. However, his rookie season was handicapped by a suspect defense and quite a bit of overuse. Hawks fans were offered flashes of a true starting goalie throughout Lankinen’s first 37 NHL games, when he finished 17-14-5 record and .909 save percentage. There’s a long list of differences between last season and this one, but maybe the most important for Lankinen is that he’s playing back-up to future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury. Why is this so important for Lankinen, you ask? Because it gives the younger Lankinen an opportunity to learn from a veteran netminder who’s in the goalie caliber that Fleury is. Many Blackhawks goalies of the past have credited part of their success to learning from Corey Crawford. Hopefully, Lankinen will take strides while backing up Fleury and pick up as much as he can. Eventually, it could be what helps him turn into a true number one goalie for the Hawks.
4. Reichel to be the Truth
I’m going to keep this one short and sweet. Blackhawks prospect Lucas Reichel has been extremely hyped up since drafted 17th overall in 2020. Before being sidelined by a concussion late last month, Reichel was wreaking havoc on AHL opponents, tallying 14 points (8 G, 6 A) in 18 games for the Icehogs. Most importantly, I hope he is okay. Secondly, let’s be real, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane won’t be around forever. Is it asking too much for this kid to turn into an all-star winger for Chicago?
3. A New Goal Song
I may get a lot of heat for this one, but it’s time for the Blackhawks to change their goal song. Toews and Kane are the only players left from the Cup teams. The “One Goal” slogan is no more. Pat Foley is retiring at the end of the season. Change is necessary and while the memories that come along with Chelsea Dagger are fond ones, it’s time to usher in a new era with a new soundtrack. There are so many great artists from Chicago. From The Smashing Pumpkins, Rise Against, Alkaline Trio, Chance the Rapper and many more, this list could go on longer than anyone wants to read. Or, if the Hawks want to go for a tune from outside of the city, I can think of one that resonates with the Windy City...
2. The Right GM and Head Coach
The Blackhawks finally cleaned house. But they did it at an awkward time during the season. So while Head Coach Derek King and General Manager Kyle Davidson are both wearing the “interim” tag, the future is wide open and possibly bright, if the Hawks can find the right people for the job. I don’t want to speculate on who this could be. Who knows what names will be available in the offseason? I just hope that the Blackhawks will set themselves up for long-term success.
1. A Healthy, COVID-Free Season
It’s been stressful for everybody over the last 20 months. Sports are something that unite people and are an escape from the burdens of everyday life. My number one wish on this list is that going forward, we can enjoy an NHL season full of healthy players on the ice and fans in the stands. Our love for this game is the reason we’re all a part of the Second City Hockey community. I hope that we can get back to some sort of “normalcy” soon.
Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a healthy and safe New Year!