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Going into the 2020-21 season, the Blackhawks sent a letter to their fanbase about the direction of the organization after parting ways with franchise goaltender Corey Crawford and two-time Stanley Cup champion Brandon Saad.
The shortened version? A new era is coming."We're committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster," the letter stated. "We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit again and stay there — an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players. The influx of youth and their progression will provide roster flexibility and depth throughout our lineup."
With the season officially coming to a close on Monday, the Blackhawks finished with a 24-25-7 record and failed to qualify for the playoffs for the third time in four years. But, in the bigger picture, it's difficult to characterize the season as a failure, considering the preseason goals and expectations.
"I think 'satisfied' is the wrong word — but 'encouraged,'" head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We have a lot of positives. Ultimately, we’re not in the playoffs. I understand we’ve said as an organization what the goal was to give young players opportunity and see what they do with it. I think we’ve done that, but you should always expect more, want more. There shouldn’t be satisfaction, there should be hunger and drive to do more."
Let’s highlight some of those positives:
• 10 rookies made their NHL debuts, eight of whom scored their first career goals
• Kevin Lankinen emerged as a potential starting goaltender for the future
• Brandon Hagel has solidified himself as a key piece to the puzzle
• Patrick Kane finished among the league leaders in points, despite having a career-low shooting percentage (7.9)
• Alex DeBrincat has arrived as a legit star after finishing on a 50-plus-goal pace across an 82-game season
• Pius Suter finished No. 4 on the team with 14 goals and 25 points
• Wyatt Kalynuk was tied for the team lead among defensemen in goals (four), and did so while playing in only 21 games
The list goes on and on.
And yes, there are certainly areas for improvement moving forward, most notably on the defensive side of things. The Blackhawks, again, were near the bottom of the league in scoring chances and high-danger chances allowed at even strength.
But the Blackhawks are hoping that, as time goes on and the rookies get more comfortable at the NHL level, the progress as a team will start to show.
"A lot of guys stepped up," DeBrincat said. "Going into the year, there could’ve been a few guys who maybe were on the borderline of even making the team and they stepped up and became big players for us. It's awesome to see that. It obviously makes the team better when that stuff happens. Hopefully they can keep going. I think we’re really building something good here and hopefully next year is better."
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