It is hard to find any positives for current state of the Chicago Blackhawks. Despite decent efforts from an inadequate roster, the Hawks have lost their last six games, culminating with a second straight loss to the Carolina Hurricanes following a 6–3 outcome on Tuesday night. With one point earned in its last six tilts, Chicago is officially eliminated from playoff contention.
In fairness, the red and black overachieved to a certain extent this season, but as the spring rolled around and they were still flirting with playoff placement, seeing the team fail to make the postseason for, gulp, the fourth year in a row (yes, they technically missed in 2020 and qualified through a modified play-in system) shows just how far the “once-proud franchise” has fallen.
The positives (kind of):
Some younger Blackhawks keep getting better. Brandon Hagel and Wyatt Kalynuk are two young players who began the season as question marks, yet now seem to be established NHL regulars. Hagel has been productive, and should continue to factor in Chicago’s plans, skating to the respectable tune of 22 points in 49 games. Kalynuk has shown offensive upside and his skating is at the NHL level. Nicolas Beaudin has been back and forth from Rockford, but could have a more permanent role with the club in 2021–22.
Alley Cat Strikes!
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) May 4, 2021
Alex DeBrincat is playing at an elite level. He is at his best form as a professional hockey player and is currently fourth in the NHL with 28 goals. What’s more is he is playing with an edge, is physical despite his size and has improved his defensive awareness. Though there were some that were skeptical of his lucrative contract extension in the fall of 2019, myself included, he is clearly worth the investment.
The negatives (CliffsNotes version):
To adequately dissect this club’s flaws would take an enormous amount of ink. There is a lot there, and as their recent play has shown, they are further away from contention than what some people thought in late February.
Team defense is the primary weak spot, and that spans from forwards to defensemen and ultimately to who is between the pipes. It is not one or the other. None of the arguments of “if they just had more center depth,” to “the goalies would be fine if they had better defense in front of them” stand alone.
At center, Chicago is weak. Kirby Dach and Pius Suter are probably better situated on the wing. Perhaps Dach could be a center of the future, and time will tell, but ultimately that may not be his game. Folks are hopeful that Jonathan Toews is on the way back and could immediately reset to elite status. And yet, in reality, we do not even know if Toews will be able to play at all. After a dismal season, the clock may hit midnight on the tenure of Dylan Strome in Chicago, and he may no longer be part of the organization after this summer. And after that, other than some fourth-line muckers, the cupboard is bare, and the answer to the Blackhawks’ woes at the pivot position are not coming from the Rockford IceHogs.
On the blueline, highly touted prospect Ian Mitchell was clearly not ready for full-time NHL duty this season. The Hawks’ brass were certain they had a future staple on the blueline, and there is a part of me that feels for Mitchell, having to live up to unfair expectations. He is still a work in progress, as is Adam Boqvist, who was playing quite well until his recent injury. That is scary in itself, as Boqvist has been dinged up quite a bit at this young stage in his career. Recently signed and extended, Riley Stillman has flaws in his defensive zone coverage, and while Nikita Zadorov has had some decent moments in games this season, when he does make errors, they are so glaring that it is hard to see his style as being reliable. Do not remind yourselves that Zadorov was the return in the Brandon Saad trade; it will give your stomach a grumble. Calvin de Haan may be lost to the expansion draft this summer, and that leaves the aging Duncan Keith and the reliable Connor Murphy as the two trustworthy defensemen heading into next season. Yes, hopefully there will be some upgrades in the offseason, but you never know.
In the pipes, does Chicago have its No. 1 goalie? Did that candidate emerge? If you asked me a few weeks ago, I would have said Kevin Lankinen, but he has returned to planet Earth, as has his save percentage and goals against average. Malcolm Subban is a competitor, but he is not a future starter in the NHL. And regardless of how you feel about the well-documented, yet overly analyzed and discussed Collin Delia “situation,” he is not the answer for this club either.
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) May 4, 2021
There are still games to play, and if you are going to “play the kids,” now is the time to do it. There may be a bright spot or two left, such as the first point for MacKenzie Entwistle, the first NHL goal for Mike Hardman and his possible future with the club and Adam Gaudette notching his first tally in Chicago as well. Enjoy those when they happen, but other than that, it certainly is time to close the book on yet another disappointing season from this once-proud franchise.