Alex DeBrincat was arguably the Blackhawks’ best player this season
“Freezing cold take. Ages like wine. The most common sense statement ever,” said the critics.
I am 100% willing to admit this may be the most freezing cold take I’ve ever uttered (besides ketchup on eggs being good — come at me Betsy — or everybody loving Giannis Antetokounmpo) but Alex DeBrincat was the best player for the Chicago Blackhawks this season — especially once Marc-Andre Fleury was traded at the deadline — and is the most important player going forward for the Blackhawks.
While the rebuild looms large, DeBrincat remains just 24. Even by the least optimistic projections, by the time the Blackhawks’ rebuild is complete and they are ready to compete in the playoffs, DeBrincat will still likely be in his 20s. The guy can’t even rent a car legally until December.
Several statistical analyses also reach the conclusion that DeBrincat was the Blackhawks’ best player last season. Start with Evolving Hockey’s goals above replacement (GAR) and wins above replacement (WAR) models, which attempt to calculate how many goals or wins an individual player contributed to their team when they were on the ice.
DeBrincat led all Blackhawks skaters in expected goals above replacement (23.7) and expected wins above replacement (4.2), largely due to his offensive play, both at even strength (11 xGAR) and on the power play (6.3 xGAR). However, DeBrincat was not bad defensively, with the eighth-best mark (2 xGAR) at even strength and the best penalty kill mark (1.3 xGAR) on the team.
The charts below also show DeBrincat on the positive side of the ledger in several key categories, from basic ones like the rate of goals Chicago scored while DeBrincat was on the ice (GF/60) to the rate of expected goals against (xGA/60):
DeBrincat was arguably a top 50 penalty kill player in the NHL and was just behind Brandon Saad — you know, a well-known two-way presence — in xGAR shorthanded. He had a better mark than likely Selke finalist Aleksander Barkov.
One thing about all those numbers, though, is that DeBrincat also led the team in real GAR with 20 and real WAR with 3.5, meaning that, if anything, that DeBrincat could have seen even better results.
Not bad for a guy who finished the season with 41 goals, tied for his career-high with the 2018-19 season as well as 78 points in 82 games, a career-best. DeBrincat had his second-best point per game and goals per game mark in 2021-22 after the shortened 2020-21 season where DeBrincat was better than a point per game.
DeBrincat had the third-best shot share at 5-on-5 (49.81%) for the Blackhawks this past season, among players who skated at least 200 minutes. The two ahead of him? His primary linemates: Dylan Strome (50.19%) and Patrick Kane (50%).
DeBrincat was the Blackhawks’ top forward in expected goal share at 5-on-5 (49.23%), trailing only defensemen Alex Vlasic (53.65%) and Alec Regula (50.61%). The future and official beer genre (I don’t drink) of the Blackhawks is Ale, apparently.
Guess who was near the top in high-danger chances as well (51.44%, second among Blackhawks with more than 20 games played)? That’s right.
By any (important) metric you measure, DeBrincat was near the top for the Blackhawks. DeBrincat had a team-best individual expected goals mark at 15.97 at 5-on-5 and was second in high-danger attempts (59) — after Strome — at full strength.
DeBrincat had the most rush attempts at 5-on-5 with 17 and also created 17 rebounds. DeBrincat took just four penalties at 5-on-5 while drawing 21 and had 54 takeaways to 37 giveaways.
There’s not much else to say about Alex DeBrincat’s performance this season. Not much else needs to be said, really. DeBrincat was excellent, and if anybody gets an A for effort this past season, it’s DeBrincat.
Cat should be the future of this team and likely the future captain as well. If there’s a piece that can be built around during this rebuild, it’s DeBrincat, and he showed up across all strengths and in every aspect of the game this season.
DeBrincat’s due for a raise soon, and he’s earned it. While the entire forward corps played low-event hockey, according to JFreshHockey — one of the best stat visualizers in the business — DeBrincat (along with Strome and Jonathan Toews) was closest to dominating the competition in terms of expected goals for and against at 5-on-5.
JFresh found DeBrincat to have a projected WAR in the 97th percentile, meaning DeBrincat was worth more wins to the Blackhawks than 97% of players were to their respective teams. That was largely due to DeBrincat’s finishing ability — better than 94% of the league — and his penalties, better than 98% of the NHL.
DeBrincat was also in the 89th percentile for even-strength offense and faced stiffer competition than 92% of the league. DeBrincat, in other words, is one of the best players in the league and may already be in superstar territory.
A full rebuild for the Blackhawks may encompass trading DeBrincat, but that would be nothing but a mistake. In a just world, DeBrincat is the piece the Blackhawks build their team around going forward, and with Toews’ remaining tenure in Chicago likely brief, DeBrincat is likely in line for the captaincy (it will likely boil down to DeBrincat and Connor Murphy).
DeBrincat was the MVP for the Blackhawks this season and will likely be, if he remains in Chicago, for years to come. Seeing DeBrincat get actual playoff experience would be one of the true payoffs of this rebuild.
I was nice to somebody other than Hangman Adam Page or Keith Lee for 800 words. Wow. DeBrincat must really have been good.