Three months ago, general manager Kyle Davidson signaled a shift in the franchise’s direction when he traded away star forward Alex DeBrincat and former No. 3 pick Kirby Dach in exchange for multiple draft picks. Those moves indicated that the present trajectory of the team wasn’t going anywhere promising, so Davidson elected to tear things down in hopes of rebuilding the organization into a team worthy of Cup contention again.
And the organization is really leaning into this rebuild, as indicated by the promo video it dropped about an hour ago:
There’s not too much intrigue with the present-day Blackhawks, as the majority of players who could be around for the long-term are skating in leagues on the minor, junior and college levels. Free-agent signings like Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou are likely gone by next year’s trade deadline while recent veteran acquisitions like Tyler Johnson and Jack Johnson are probably skating out the tail end of their careers at 1901 W. Madison.
A few potential long-term pieces do exist on the current roster, such as forwards Taylor Raddysh and Philipp Kurashev and blue-liners Alec Regula and Alex Vlasic. The first three of those names are in Wednesday’s lineup but Vlasic is sidelined after sustaining an injury during Tuesday’s practice that appears minor in nature. Petr Mrazek is set to make his Blackhawks debut after occupying the starter’s net during the morning skate.
The Avalanche have had some turnover from last season as well, although their changes were more tied to salary cap restraints which serve as the price of winning in this version of the NHL. Gone are postseason hero Nazem Kadri and Cup-winning goalie Darcy Kuemper, with Alexandar Georgiev now manning the Colorado net. But this team is still stocked with talent thanks to Nathan MacKinnon being back on the top line and a loaded blue line that features Cale Makar, Devon Toews, Sam Girard and Bowen Byram — aka the player Chicago could’ve had in the 2019 draft. But let’s not cry over that spilled milk anymore, eh?
Colorado will be playing without captain Gabriel Landeskog, who remains sidelined with a lower-body injury. Darren Helm (old) is also out of the lineup, so new faces like Lukas Sedlak and Anton Blidh will get a shot on the Avalanche’s fourth line. Given the firepower of the top two lines, though, that fourth line shouldn’t hold them back too much at the start of the season.
It’s banner night for the defending Cup champs and current Blackhawks blue-liner Jack Johnson gets to witness it after partaking in its capture last season, no doubt a special night for the veteran of 16 NHL seasons who finally became a Cup winner. During the Blackhawks’ heyday, they went 1-2 on nights when championship banners were raised to the UC rafters, if that means anything to you.
This almost certainly will not be an enjoyable season of Blackhawks hockey because this team has not been assembled to win games in the present — it’s been built with an eye towards the future. Still, we’ve got six months of hockey to watch with the hopes that the painfully low bar established during this winter is the bottoming out portion of the process before a rapid ascent back to the top.
Let’s go Hawks.
Tale of the tape (statistics from last season)
Blackhawks — Statistic — Avalanche
45.98% (30th) — Corsi For — 52.86% (7th)
45.48% (30th) — Expected goals for — 52.00% (11th)
2.60 (29th) — Goals per game — 3.76 (4th)
3.52 (26th) — Goals against per game — 2.83 (9th)
49.6% (16th) — Faceoffs — 47.3% (28th)
19.2% (21st) — Power play — 24.0% (7th)
76.2% (24th) — Penalty kill — 79.7% (15th)
Projected lineups (from Tuesday’s morning skates)
Athanasiou — Domi — Kane
T. Johnson — Toews — Raddysh
Kurashev — Lafferty — Entwistle
Blackwell — Khaira — Robinson
J. Johnson — S. Jones
Tinordi — Murphy
Roos — Regula
Lehkonen — MacKinnon — Rantanen
Rodrigues — Newhook — Nichuskin
Cogliano — Compher — O’Connor
Sedlak — Meyers — Blidh
Toews — Makar
Byram — Manson
Girard — Johnson
How to watch
When: 8:30 p.m. CT
Where: Ball Arena, Denver
Radio: WGN 720
Live stream: Sling TV