Apologies in advance, because starting off a Friday with this level of pessimism isn’t something I enjoy doing. But I also come to this site to sometimes share opinions with like-minded folks regarding our favorite professional hockey team and this is, regrettably, what I have to offer at the moment.
I’m having a hard time distinguishing the 2021 Blackhawks from the ‘18-19 and ‘19-20 versions of the team.
Take the “rebuilding” label away for a moment, because we’re going to revisit it. But analyzing the teams as a whole from each of the last three seasons yields an eerily similar result: a team with forward talent somewhere between “decent” and “good” that scored enough to overcome inconsistent, shoddy defensive play that was also routinely bailed out by stellar goaltending. The ‘18-19 and ‘21 teams also share a common thread of being bolstered by power-play units that converted at unsustainable rates for a brief period of time.
Yes, this season’s Blackhawks are in a rebuild/reload/whatever and are utilizing significantly more young talent than they did in the two seasons prior. And that’s a good thing! They needed to do that! But a team that was littered with question marks back in January has had several of them answered in an affirmative way. Here’s a sample of things that have changed since January:
- It cannot be said enough that Alex DeBrincat is playing at a level worthy of the “star” label
- Dominik Kubalik proved he wasn’t a one-year wonder
- Pius Suter, Brandon Hagel and Philipp Kurashev have all been worthy of NHL minutes
- Adam Boqvist has taken another step forward in his game
- Ian Mitchell had his stint in Rockford but also had moments where he looked the part of a future NHL-level defenseman
And those are just some of the skaters. The biggest question mark entering this season was in net, where Chicago fans had no idea what to expect from the trio of Collin Delia, Malcolm Subban and Kevin Lankinen. But the latter of that group is now the clear-cut No. 1 of the present and should get a chance to prove his long-term worth next season. But having rock-solid goaltending is nothing new in Chicago.
In fact, let’s do a quick statistical exercise:
- Goalie A: 14-18-5 record, .908 save percentage, 2.93 goals-against average, minus-2.0 goals saved above average
- Goalie B: 16-20-3, .917, 2.77, 9.0
- Goalie C: 16-10-5, .918, 3.01, 10.2
- Goalie D: 16-11-4, .915, 2.79, 7.2
Goalie A is Corey Crawford in ‘18-19, B is Crawford in ‘19-20, C is Robin Lehner in ‘19-20, D is Lankinen this season. Not a huge discrepancy there, eh?
So help me understand all of this, folks.
In the ‘18-19 and ‘19-20 seasons, the Blackhawks briefly flirted with playoff positions before ultimately falling short. There’s no pandemic-induced playoff expansion coming this season. Chicago is getting roughly similar goaltending numbers as it did in the two prior seasons. Chicago had some stellar moments on the power play but have also had several worthy of the most profane-laden tirades imaginable. Chicago has a more youthful roster of skaters but is once again struggling in virtually all areas of 5-on-5 play.
Why should I expect this team to end up any different than the last two Blackhawks teams did at the end of the regular season?
That would mark three seasons in a row that felt like overall lateral movement from a TEAM perspective. Yes, there are numerous individual players who’ve taken massive steps forward this season and that’s worth mentioning.
But slapping the “rebuilding” label on the team for a season hasn’t resulted in a change from whatever they were doing in the two seasons prior, at least from a TEAM perspective. In ‘18-19, they were 29th in the league with a 45.80 share of the expected goals during 5-on-5 play. In ‘19-20, that xGF% number moved up to 46.93, good for 27th. This season, Chicago is down to 30th at 45.70.
So, if at the start of the next season, the Blackhawks decide to slap the “let’s win now” label on their team ...
Why should I believe that’s actually going to happen?