In a little more than a week, the Chicago Blackhawks lost Alexander Nylander for the season, Kirby Dach most likely for the season with a broken wrist and in a dramatic and frightening turn of events, will be without center and legendary captain Jonathan Toews for an indefinite period. 2020 is not closing out well for the red and black.
The news on Toews is scary. It is, and from his statement on Tuesday, there is so much unknown as to his condition. This does not seem like your typical NHL “undisclosed” situation, either. The truth is not being hidden; neither Toews nor the organization know what is contributing to his ailment, and they are actively trying to figure it out. Many have been critical of Toews’ play in recent years, and that is fine, but this has been the Hawks’ best 200-foot player over the last 13 seasons, period. He is their leader, a three-time Stanley Cup Champion, Conn Smythe winner and his name and number will be stitched on a banner and hung from the rafters of the United Center. His contributions to what has been the best era in Chicago Blackhawks hockey are immeasurable, and whether you had high hopes for the Hawks this season or if you were hoping for failure and a rebuild, it is really hard to envision the team without Captain Serious. Let’s just hope that they can pinpoint his ailment and he can successfully recover.
As for the 2020–21 season; now what? Circumstances have changed, the team is weaker and picturing the Hawks jumping into the playoff mix come springtime is unrealistic. In fact, this could get ugly. The defensive unit is a weak spot, they are unproven between the pipes and without Nylander, Dach and Toews, the offense is significantly affected. General Manager Stan Bowman’s half-hearted “rebuild” has just been put into overdrive. Regardless of the message to fans or the organization’s intentions for the 2020–21 season, the Hawks will not be very good. There is a real possibility that without so many key ingredients, that they will finish towards the bottom of the barrel in the league and will have a lottery pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Whether or not Bowman and company elect to re-sign Dylan Strome will not change this team for the better, and if they can move him for futures or picks, they are wise to do so.
New/old acquisition Brandon Pirri will play more than many expected early on. Centers Carl Soderberg and Mattias Janmark, originally thought to be third- and fourth-line fixtures, may now be ticketed for first- and second-line duties. While the Hawks may not win many games with those two players in those roles, all fans should be rooting for them. On one-year deals, if either Soderberg, or the one-time 19-goal scorer, Janmark, are productive, come the April 12 trade deadline, either or both could see a decent return for the Hawks’ future. Newly acquired center Lucas Wallmark may also fall into that category.
Before the injuries, there are some fans that unwisely may have thought the Hawks’ were contenders heading into this season, while others were beating the “play the kids” drum as loudly as possible. Well, the latter is here. The kids will play. You will not see a complete youth movement, as the Hawks will mettle with their more experienced depth early on, but as the season chugs along, be ready to see a revolving door between Chicago and Rockford.
Some prospects may now be locks out of mini camp. Barring disappointment, it is possible or likely, that Pius Suter may be in a top-six role right away, and fans should be excited because of the tools he brings to the table. Winger Brandon Hagel had a decent 19-goal run in Rockford last season and at some point will see some NHL action. Hagel has been on loan to Thurgau in the second-tier Swiss League (SL) this season and has tallied 15 points in 14 games. Prospect MacKenzie Entwistle brings his 6-foot-3 size, speed and energy to the table. Entwistle is starting to figure out a professional game and with 26 points in Rockford in 2019–20, he is another to keep an eye on. Responsible center prospect Philipp Kurashev, fresh off a loan to Lugano in the Swiss-A league, could use more time in Rockford, but if the Hawks wisely shed some center depth at the trade deadline, he could get his first taste of the NHL in mid-April. Evan Barratt may have a longer road to being a true NHL impact player, but his skillset and hockey sense are there. He will most likely be in Rockford for the bulk of the season and rightly so, but injuries and/or trades could see him in Chicago for some games. Lastly, considering he is currently in North America playing in the World Junior Championship, inviting Czech prospect Michael Teply to camp should be something to consider.
The blue line, though not one to brag about, has a little more stability than it did a year ago—for now. It is expected that Ian Mitchell will get his shot, and it will be interesting to see if he is as good as advertised. Nikita Zadorov, acquired in the Brandon Saad trade, will be a regular, as will Calvin de Haan, Connor Murphy, Adam Boqvist, Duncan Keith and yes, Brent Seabrook; remember him? Will the Hawks be able to unload the hefty contracts of Seabrook, Keith, de Haan or Murphy come the trade deadline? Seabrook, never, and the others, probably not in this economic climate unless the Hawks eat a big chunk of salary and cap hit.
Considering how much this unit will be playing in their own end of the ice though, injuries will happen and the combination of that and what may be inconsistent play from some will result in call ups and some younger kids getting a crack in the lineup. Wyatt Kalynuk, Lucas Carlsson and Nicolas Beaudin could all factor into that. Alec Regula is an intriguing prospect with high upside, but he is likely to see the entire season in Rockford. Another rearguard worth noting is Anton Lindholm. The lesser name in the Saad trade has played NHL minutes in Colorado and has been coveted by Bowman for some time. At 26, Lindholm knows a pro game and, should younger prospects be better served with time in Rockford, Lindholm could provide support in the back.