A 50-burger in shots allowed. An early 2-0 lead that didn’t stand up. Multiple goals against because of poor defensive coverage. Yeah, Monday’s 5-4 loss to the Stars in the Blackhawks’ season finale epitomized so many of the issues that plagued the Blackhawks this season.
Leads that didn’t last were pretty much the Story of the Year for the 2021 Blackhawks: whether those advantages belong to Chicago or its opponents. It’s impossible to count up all the one or two or three-goal leads this team failed to maintain but they were often just as adept at rallying from deficits.
But something’s still bothering me about this season, a thought I still can’t shake and its roots trace back about two months.
Here’s what the division standings looked like on March 6:
Chicago had an ELEVEN-point lead on Nashville with only one extra game played. Chicago ended with 55 points, while the Predators skyrocketed to 64. I know Juuse Saros has been playing out of his mind for a while and that’s largely why Nashville is heading to the playoffs, but I keep looking at that roster and comparing it to Chicago’s roster and I can’t fathom how an 11-point advantage in the standings is now a 9-point deficit at season’s end. And don’t talk to me about the schedule because every team in that picture above had the same one.
This is a long way of making this more succinct point: it still feels to me like the Blackhawks under-performed this season.
I know. I know! It was a rebuilding season, right? It was about development for the future not winning in the present right?
Don’t care. Still feels like they under-performed.
Plenty of good things happened, of course:
- Kevin Lankinen emerged as a potential long-term option in net, although he’ll still need to prove he’s in it for the long haul by being just as good — if not better — next season.
- Malcolm Subban and Collin Delia also had moments to warrant consideration in the future plans of the franchise.
- Patrick Kane is still Patrick Kane.
- Alex DeBrincat rebounded from a terrible ‘19-20 season and morphed into a freaking star.
- Adam Boqvist made significant strides after returning from a brief COVID absence.
- Brandon Hagel already feels like a cult hero.
- Pius Suter proved his NHL worth.
- Dominik Kubalik avoided the label of one-year wonder.
- Philipp Kurashev and Wyatt Kalynuk and Ian Mitchell and several others earned consideration beyond this season.
- Chicago also flipped several veterans for picks and prospects at the deadline.
- Vinnie Hinostroza may have revitalized his career in a return to the Blackhawks.
Again, plenty of good things happened with the 2021 Blackhawks. But it felt like more was attainable. More development could’ve happened as a result of the team winning more games and hanging in the playoff chase longer, if not earning a Stanley Cup Playoff qualification for the first time since 2017. Some opportunities were capitalized upon but more were squandered, and that seems to be what’s triggering this feeling of dissatisfaction as we wrap up the 2021 version of our Chicago Blackhawks.
Even if those feelings persist, though, there are a lot of reasons to be more optimistic about the ‘21-22 Blackhawks than any of the last five versions of the team, largely because of all the young players referenced above. So many of the players who debuted this season looked — at least — the part of NHL-level talent. If nothing else, the team has a stated direction now and appears to be building something positive. What that something is and how good it’s going to be is something we’ll be dissecting for the next months. But there’s potential there. And, for now, that potential will have to sustain us until next season arrives.
And, now, if you’ll indulge me for a brief moment:
I dove into the records and found that I joined this website on April 29, 2009, which means my membership here is now old enough to be in middle school. I don’t think I ever could’ve fathomed that I’d be writing for it — let alone be its manager. The last four months have been hectic but they’ve also been a lot of fun, and everyone involved here has contributed. To those with me on the SCH staff, to those who frequent the comment sections below and to those who lurk from their screens: a sincere thank you.
We’ll probably take a few days to gather our thoughts and then start diving into our season recap and beyond. And here’s hoping that, when we’re talking about the Blackhawks around this time in 2022, it’s after an 82-game season with a packed UC every night because the team has taken flight again.