What Went Wrong: Chicago Blackhawks

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Welcome to What Went Wrong where we’ll look at each team that failed to make the playoffs. We’ll also end each article by highlighting some players of particular interest on the squad. Those are players who either left something to be desired during the 2021-22 campaign, have significant untapped upside, or have some big underlining questions surrounding them going into the offseason.

We’ve already covered the Montreal Canadiens, Arizona Coyotes, Seattle Kraken, Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils. Today we examine the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Chicago Blackhawks have qualified for the postseason only once in the past five years. The team acquired Marc-Andre Fleury and Seth Jones in big offseason trades in an attempt to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Both players managed to perform admirably, but the Blackhawks finished worse than they did during the 2020-21 campaign’s 56-game schedule.

Chicago posted a mark of 28-42-12 to place 27th overall in the league standings. The team got off a slow start, with only one win in 12 games (1-9-2), and fired head coach Jeremy Colliton in early November. Derek King, who had been coaching in the AHL for Rockford, took over behind the bench and won his first four contests at the NHL level. Unfortunately, that momentum wasn’t maintained and the early hole prove to be difficult to dig out of in a deep Central Division that sent five teams to the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Blackhawks have struggled mightily defensively in recent years, but it was the offense that was much more of problematic in 2021-22. Chicago averaged just 2.60 goals for per game played, which tied them with Seattle and was better than just three other teams. Generating shots and scoring opportunities was a major problem. The Blackhawks placed 31st overall in shots for per game played (28.8), while ranking 31st in scoring chances and 32nd in high-danger scoring chances at 5-on-5. Chicago also ranked dead last in high-danger chances per 60 in all situations. Additionally, the Blackhawks tied for third in the NHL with 30 losses when outshot by their opponents.

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Patrick Kane led the team with 92 points in 78 outings, while piling up 66 assists. Alex DeBrincat was also a bright spot for the Blackhawks offensively, while topping the team with 41 goals and producing 78 points in 82 matches. Seth Jones provided 46 helpers and 51 points across 78 contests, while Dylan Strome had 22 goals and 48 points in 69 appearances.

Brandon Hagel had 21 goals and 37 points in 55 matches prior to being traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blackhawks acquired first-round picks in 2023 and 2024 in the deal, which are top-10 protected, along with Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk. Chicago also dealt Fleury to Minnesota in exchange for a 2022 second rounder. He was leaned on heavily before he was moved, while being started in 45 of 63 games. He faced 28.2 shots per game and managed to post a .908 save percentage, which was pretty good given the circumstances. Chicago had a save percentage of .890 when Fleury wasn’t between the pipes. The Blackhawks will need to sort out their goaltending situation this summer. Kevin Lankinen and Collin Delia are both pending unrestricted free agents and Arvid Soderblom had some rough showings during his first taste of NHL action.

Chicago gave up their first-round pick for the 2022 NHL Draft, which would have been sixth overall, to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Jones trade. The team will need more from young players like Lukas Reichel, Philipp Kurashev, Kirby Dach, Raddysh, Alex Vlasic, Caleb Jones and others next season to provide some much-needed secondary scoring. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if other trades or big-ticket signings were made to delay the start of a rebuild for at least one more season. It will be the final years of the Kane and Jonathan Toews contracts in 2022-23. DeBrincat will also become a restricted free agent next summer and he will have arbitration rights.

Chicago could miss the playoffs for a third straight year next season. It won’t be easy for the team to get back on track, as the Central Division offers plenty of competition.

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Players to Watch

Dylan Strome - Strome went from being rarely utilized in the lineup to the team’s top-line center between Kane and DeBrincat. He certainly benefited from the increased opportunity, while racking up 19 goals and 41 points in 47 games from Jan. 4 until the end of the season. Strome is a pending restricted free agent this summer and he will have arbitration rights. There has been some speculation about him not receiving a qualifying offer, which would make him an unrestricted free agent if that happened. However, his play in the second half of the 2021-22 season suggests that he could be part of the team’s core group moving forward. Chicago also currently lacks center depth and allowing Strome to walk for nothing would be a waste of a potential trade chip if he continues to produce at the start of the 2022-23 campaign. It will be interesting to see what the team decides to do because he would likely have plenty of suitors on the trade front or as a potential free agent.

Kirby Dach - Dach generated a mere nine goals and 26 points in 70 games during the 2021-22 season. He was also credited with 116 shots, 44 blocks and 49 hits. Coach Derek King talked about Dach’s “untapped” offensive upside late in the year. The 21-year-old forward has displayed flashes of promise during his first three NHL seasons, while seeing time as a top-six forward, but he ended up being pushed further down the depth chart in 2021-22 and never seemed to be able to find a rhythm offensively. Dach, who was the third overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, has plenty of potential and he needs to display much more progression in 2022-23. He is also a restricted free agent this summer, but he doesn’t have arbitration rights following his entry-level deal, and will probably get a “show-me” type contract from the Blackhawks.

Tyler Johnson - Johnson was acquired from Tampa Bay with the hope that an increased role would provide Chicago with some secondary scoring. Unfortunately, Johnson spent most of the season on the injury list and he was limited to just 26 appearances during the 2021-22 campaign. That included sitting out 46 games because of a neck injury that required surgery. Johnson also spent time on the sidelines due to a concussion and COVID-19 protocol. Johnson produced only three goals, seven points, 30 shots and 37 hits when he was in the lineup. It was a year he would probably like to forget. He should get a chance to bounce back in 2022-23 as a top-six forward for the Blackhawks.

Dominik Kubalik - Kubalik took a step backwards in 2021-22, while generating 15 goals and 32 points in 78 games. He had 17 markers and 38 points over 56 matches the previous campaign after he produced 30 goals and 46 points during his rookie year. The good news for Kubalik and the Blackhawks was that he started to heat up down the stretch. He had four goals, 11 points and 30 shots in his final 16 outings of the season. Kubalik picked up points in bunches before that. He is also set to become a restricted free agent this summer and he will have arbitration rights.