There's always a high level of optimism at the beginning of NHL training camp because all 31 teams are starting the season with a clean slate. But the feeling in Chicago, specifically, is certainly different than it has been in years past after missing the playoffs for two straight years.
The Blackhawks missed the postseason by six points in 2018-19 despite everything that went on, which included an early-season firing of the second-winningest coach of all-time in Joel Quenneville and the hiring of 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton and two eight-game losing streaks. It was also a summer full of activity, whether it was trades, free-agent signings or securing the No. 3 overall pick and drafting Kirby Dach.
The roster looks different, and it's created some positive energy throughout the locker room.
"That's a good question," Patrick Kane said, "because I think the confidence is a lot higher than it's been the last couple years just in the roster we have and I think just having Jeremy at the helm now in light of what he did with us last year, the run we had at the end of the season, the way he wants us to play, the communication was great so I think we have a lot of positive things going for us right now. Just have to put it all together."
Jonathan Toews echoed those sentiments.
"Everyone's confident we can get started, moving in the right direction right at the start of the season here," he said. "Everyone's eager to prove themselves coming off another long offseason. Guys put in a lot of work and training camp, just looking at the way it was today, it's going to be tough. We're going to have to work to get ready but I think guys are excited to be back together."
While there is an optimistic feeling around the group, the Blackhawks know the season isn't played on paper. They have their work cut out for them. The Central Division is as deep as ever and most teams in the Western Conference got better, not worse.
"Every year you start out optimistic and this year is no different," Duncan Keith said. "Everyone is excited to be back, get the season going again, but we know the league, every team is good. The parity in the league now is probably as good as it's ever been. We look at other teams and they've improved too, so focusing on ourselves and what we can control, I think we feel we're in a good spot, a good position to have a good start. It's just a matter of playing hard, working hard right now, executing, getting on the same page as quick as we can and carrying that off into a good start into the season."
The Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups in six years from 2010-15 and haven't experienced that same level of success since. They've gone through a couple years of retooling and it resulted in long summers, but the Blackhawks are hoping the roster has been built back up to a point where playoff contention is the benchmark this season, at the very least.
"It seems like a restart for us," Kane said. "We had our little run there, had a couple down years. Now it's like hopefully we can pick it back up."