ANALYSIS: Chicago Blackhawks year-end review

  

It has been two decades since Chicago Blackhawks fans have had to truly endure a season in the depths of deplorable. When the epitaph of the 2022–23 Blackhawks is written, it may seem more somber than it should be. General Manager Kyle Davidson accomplished exactly what he said he would by putting his team in a position to draft one of three of the best NHL prospects since Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid. This is something that fans should be embracing and supporting.

The opportunity to pull off a “rebuild-on-the-fly” flew the coop long ago, when former general manager Stan Bowman began his annual “kick-the-can-down-the-road” festival in, roughly, 2018. He then just fed fans lies and bloated, eventually unfulfilled, expectations. As a result, a vast majority of the fanbase was left unable to make heads or tails of something most of them have never seen.

In comes Davidson and his window of transparency, which has been a breath of fresh air. Unfortunately, the task at hand was to be purposely bad. As a result, the Blackhawks can finish no worse than with the fifth overall pick in June’s NHL Entry Draft. Let us assure you, this is the best thing for the organization. Davidson has set himself up with nine draft picks in June (including six in the first two rounds), nine in 2024 (including six in the first three rounds) and nine in 2025 (including five in the first three rounds).

There were still 82 games to play for the on-ice team and that was an adventure. For a team that, on paper, looked like it may not win a single game, they opened up 4–4–2 but rolled off the cliff pretty quickly. November and December made for a pretty dark 60 days with a 4–20–2 record, which basically cemented their basement finish. The 2023 pre-trade-deadline record was a flat “real” .500 with 13–12–1, and the last leg of the death march was 5–14–1.

The poor players came in knowing that they would be bad but had things to prove. Long-time Blackhawks vets Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews played out the final years of their matching eight-year, $10.5 million deals, and both showed to be at different points in their careers. Kane was traded to the New York Rangers just prior to the deadline and is currently playing a part in their playoff picture. It looks as though he will sign somewhere—not Chicago—in July. Toews had another illness-shortened season, which will force him to consider retirement once again.

This would be a really sad moment for all Blackhawks fans, as he was the leader and mouthpiece of the Cup era. Best wishes to him and his family.

Forwards

Just the facts
Free agent signee Max Domi was leading the team in scoring when he was traded to the Dallas Stars at the deadline with 18 goals, 31 assists and 49 points in 60 games. Kane was second with 16 goals, 29 assists and 45 points in 54 games. Another summer signee, Andreas Athanasiou, finished third with 20 goals, 20 assists and 40 points, just ahead of Taylor Raddysh’s 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists). Tyler Johnson came back from an injury to add in 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 56 games, which will make the remaining year of his $5 million contract much more palatable.

Rookies
There is no talking about rookies without mentioning Lukas Reichel. He has become one of the most polarizing players in the system. Some fans have proclaimed him the next Blackhawks superstar, while most rational observers have generally agreed that it appears he has the ability to become a very good two-way responsible second-tier wing. As long as he is allowed to develop and the Blackhawks shed that dirty Bowman habit of projecting unattainable expectations, there is much to look forward to.

Throughout the season, several rookies made appearances, but none made more than a minor splash. One of the most notable was 29-year-old Orland Park, Illinois, native David Gust. Gust bounced around the AHL for several years and was brought in with the Rockford IceHogs to be a veteran leader. He made his NHL debut four days after his 29th birthday, scoring his first NHL goal and played three additional games—a great story for a guy that worked his behind off to get there.

Retrospective
The bottom line is that the Blackhawks got more than they theoretically should have from this group of rag-tag forwards. Athanasiou and Domi were brought in to be flipped and ended up being two of the best players on the ice night in and night out. It was sad to see the last two remaining Cup players say their goodbyes, but this has been coming since they signed their deals in 2014.

Most of these players will either be elsewhere or not playing at all when the Blackhawks are a threat to compete again.

Defense

Just the facts
I know this will sound crazy but, like the forwards, the defensemen actually overperformed. That is a bold statement for a team that finished 30th and had a goal differential of -97 but, on paper, they could have legitimately had a double that result. Seth Jones certainly did not live up to his $9.5 million salary, but he did contribute 12 goals and 25 assists. Jake McCabe left the Blackhawks for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the deadline with a respectful 20 points and +7 rating. The little Jones brother (Caleb) played a lot and seemed to be picking the puck out of his own net a lot, but there were shades of talent and speed. Connor Murphy had an abysmal season, with only 13 points in 80 games. Nikita Zaitsev came over at the deadline as an Ottawa Senators salary dump and showed why he was jettisoned by his former squad. Veteran journeyman Jarred Tinordi was plucked off waivers from the Washington Capitals and was a pleasant surprise, which earned him a contract extension. If he can stay healthy, he will be a good veteran leader for the kids.

Rookies
Head Coach Luke Richardson shuffled quite a few different rookies and young players through the lineup, probably at the request of Davidson. Names like Wyatt Kaiser, Ian Mitchell, Isaak Phillips, Alec Regula, Filip Roos and Alex Vlasic all made appearances but had little production. Starting next season, we should see more of these players, but judging them on a quickly sinking boat is a little premature.

Retrospective
There is no surprise here and this was the plan. They succeeded. The results were probably better than expected, but it was still bad. There is no need to hash this out anymore.

Goaltending

Just the facts
The Blackhawks brought Petr Mrazek and Alex Stalock in as sacrificial lambs, and both guys did about all they could. Stalock came off missing significant time the previous seasons and had a respectable .908 save percentage and 3 goals saved above average in 27 games. Mrazek was unceremoniously dumped by Toronto last summer and played 39 games for the Blackhawks. He did not have particularly good results with an .894 save percentage and -12.5 goals saved above average.

Rookies
Richardson had some positive results from rookies Arvid Soderblom (.894 save percentage in 15 games) and Jaxson Stauber (.911 save percentage in six games), but neither lit the world on fire. With the recents signing of prospect Drew Commesso, this leaves the Blackhawks in a better position than last year.

Retrospective
Mrazek is still under contract and will be back next season, unless someone will take him in a trade. We could see more Soderblom, with Commesso and Stauber in Rockford. Other than that, we should thank these poor guys for their service.

Coaching and front office

Just the facts
Richardson and his staff squeezed about as much juice out of this team as was possible. They accomplished a tank season and made it fun at times. Davidson and his staff were transparent and focussed. Did they both make mistakes? Sure. But after years and years of lies and word games, this is a refreshing period.

Retrospective
Richardson knew the task and took it head-on. I hope he goes the path of Jared Bednar and is able to see this through. Davidson is willing to make hard decisions for the good of the future of this organization. You have to respect people who are frank and honest. This plan does not get any easier moving forward.

Special thanks: With the close of another season, I have to thank The Rink staff members Eric Andrews, Andrew Bard, Andy Campbell, Matt Csakai, Sean Fitzgerald and Ray Napientek for their hard work covering this long year. We are so lucky to have such a close and wonderful staff!

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    Jeff Osborn
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    It has been two decades since Chicago Blackhawks fans have had to truly endure a season in the depths of deplorable. When the epitaph of the 2022–23 B
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