The Blackhawks are almost halfway through the 56-game season. Through 23 games, the Blackhawks are fourth in the Central by pure points. They are seven points clear of the Blue Jackets, also through 23 games, and 11 points clear of the Red Wings who played 24. The Stars are going nowhere, Columbus keeps losing, and the Blackhawks may always be stuck behind the Lightning, Panthers and Hurricanes, the three best teams in the division so far.
But in a bad division — likely the worst in hockey this season, which says something as the West also exists — the Blackhawks look like a playoff team(?!) so far. What’s driving that — besides the obvious goaltending, as Kevin Lankinen has 10 goals above replacement and Malcolm Subban has 2.5, which rank third and 34th in the league — or, more precisely, who? And who’s not helping as they should?
Patrick Kane has the second-most points in the NHL with 34 after 23 games. The only person with more is Connor McDavid, who has 40. By traditional definitions, Kane is likely in the Hart Trophy conversation right now, especially if the Blackhawks make the playoffs. He is a driving force behind this team, especially at 5-on-5, where he is second behind Mitch Marner with 19 points.
But the three other players on this list are arguably even better this season. His overall expected goals above replacement (xGAR) mark (4.5) is 60th league wide, behind each of the following Blackhawks. Away from xGAR, Kane has allowed the ninth-most expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) with 2.44 at 5-on-5. The following players fit a more well-rounded definition of best.
Alex DeBrincat, as one of the Blackhawks’ leader in goals (his 11 have come in 19 games to Kane’s 23 for the same count) is not likely a surprise as one of their best players this season. DeBrincat is second on the team with 3.87 points per 60 (P/60). He leads the team with 1.08 expected goals per 60 (ixG/60) as well.
(The RAPM chart above details how many standard deviations DeBrincat is better (blue) or worse (red) than the NHL average in each statistical category, expressed at a rate of per 60 minutes).
What is a surprise is that DeBrincat’s 6.8 xGAR puts him 11th league wide, partially the result of better defensive ability this season. So far, DeBrincat has a 0.8 defensive xGAR at 5-on-5. It’s a better mark than all but two players ahead of him this season (McDavid and Joel Eriksson Ek).
DeBrincat’s 52.23 shot percentage (SF%) at 5-on-5 is also third-best on the team. He has become a much more well-rounded player this season which has made him perhaps a more valuable asset for the future than anyone else on the team. DeBrincat is having arguably his best season with Kane but he’s also aiding Kane to greater heights.
Kubalik is the second of the Blackhawks’ best goal scorers to make the list. Anyone who took a look at Dominik Kubalik’s stats last season isn’t surprised he’s at it again, but Kubalik has become the Blackhawks’ most valuable power-play asset with a 1.6 xGAR on the power play and 3.1 real GAR on the man advantage.
Kubalik is second in goals per 60 (G/60) this season with 1.38 among Blackhawks — behind DeBrincat — and is third with 3.11 P/60. He also has the same defensive xGAR at 5-on-5 as McDavid (1.2) and has a 4.5 xGAR mark this season.
Kubalik has the best quality control of any Blackhawk this season. His expected goal percentage (xGF%) (52.14) is second to Ryan Carpenter and he has the best high-danger chance percentage (54.64) on the team. Kubalik continues to find ways to improve the Blackhawks when on the ice.
Connor Murphy has been the most reliable defenseman for the Blackhawks not just this season but last year and likely will be for a few coming years. With 6.0 xGAR this season, fourth-best among defensemen in the NHL, Murphy is also one of the most dependable defensemen league-wide.
Taking luck out of it — Murphy’s goals for percentage (GF%) is 12th on the team with 46.67 — Murphy is also one of the best performers in terms of possession. At 5-on-5 play, his team rankings are:
- sixth in shot attempt percentage (CF%) (50.42);
- fifth in SF% (50.6); and
- fourth in xGF% (51.59)
Murphy is also first on the team with a 0.7 xGAR on the penalty kill. Murphy’s greatest strength is his defense, but he continues to pitch in offensively so far and is fourth on the team’s blue line with 0.93 points per 60 (none of the three ahead of him — Bowey, Adam Boqvist or Nicolas Beaudin — play on the penalty kill).
Strome has the third-worst CF% on the team (42.44). He is below 50 percent in every possession category. Strome has scored in just seven of his 19 games so far this season and hasn’t scored in his last six games, going without a goal for his last eight.
The best thing you can say about Strome this season is that the line of him, Kubalik and Philipp Kurashev still the 20th-best line in hockey (although they haven’t played much recently) with a 62.7 xGF% according to MoneyPuck. That may say more about the other two forwards than Strome.
Strome has the third-lowest xGAR on the team (-1.1) and has been good on the power play (.5 xGAR) and nowhere else. Strome has collected six of his eight points on the man advantage. But Strome has been horrible at 5-on-5 this season, especially away from Kubalik and Kurashev.
Janmark’s best feat this season is proving capable of playing some time with Kane. It’s a hard feat to keep up with elite offensive stars, as Sidney Crosby’s turnstile of linemates proves, and Janmark is making an admirable, Chris Kunitz-like (or lite) effort.
But he’s statistically poor, especially defensively. He has the same xGAR at even-strength defense and the penalty kill (-1.4). Janmark has allowed the most xGA/60 on the penalty kill (8.05) of any Blackhawk. His 5-on-5 numbers are not much better, with 2.39 per 60 (generating just 1.59, the third-worst mark with 40.05 percent).
Janmark was brought in originally as a defensive player. He has not lived up to that reputation and likely should also be off the penalty kill. If Jeremy Colliton could stop playing him more than better players like Kurashev that’d be great, too.