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Welcome to What Went Wrong, which is a series where we take a look at each team that failed to make the playoffs with an emphasis on why they fell short. We’ll also end each team’s outlook by highlighting some players in the organization to watch going forward, either because the team is looking for them to be key members in the future or because they have something to prove after a less than ideal year.
We have previously covered the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks , the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets, the Buffalo Sabres and Anaheim Ducks, the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks as well as the Ottawa Senators and Arizona Coyotes.
The Chicago Blackhawks failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the third time in four seasons, while finishing sixth in the Central Division with a record of 24-25-7. Chicago was on pace to miss the postseason in 2019-20 as well, but the NHL’s expanded playoff format allowed the team to get in and they managed to pull off an upset win against the Edmonton Oilers in the qualifying round.
The organization attempted to temper expectations prior to the start of the 2020-21 campaign by issuing a statement to the fans that said the team was “committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster.” The Blackhawks parted ways with goaltender Corey Crawford, while trading Brandon Saad and Olli Maatta to Colorado and Los Angeles, respectively.
Some injuries to key players hurt the team’s depth further. Jonathan Toews missed the entire season because of Chronic Immune Response Syndrome. He announced on Dec. 29, 2020 that he was taking a medical leave of absence from the team and he wasn’t able to return. The Blackhawks were dealt another blow to the team’s center depth when Kirby Dach missed most of the year because of a fractured wrist, which required surgery to repair. He was injured during a pre-tournament game for Canada ahead of the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Alex Nylander also sat out the whole season following surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee. Brent Seabrook wasn’t able to play either due to hip, shoulder and back injuries, which ultimately led to him calling it a career in March.
The Blackhawks were led offensively by a big season from Patrick Kane, who had 66 points and ranked third in the league with 51 assists. Alex DeBrincat bounced back from a disappointing year in 2019-20 with 56 points over 52 matches and he topped the team with 32 goals. Dominik Kubalik had a strong campaign as well, with 17 goals and 38 points, but there was a big drop off in production afterward. Rookies Pius Suter and Brandon Hagel were the only other skaters to surpass 20 points.
Chicago’s offense and defense were issues in 2020-21. The team tied Buffalo for the most shots against per game played (33.7) and tied Columbus for the seven-most goals against per game played (3.29). The Blackhawks finished 30th overall in shot attempts differential (-397) at 5-on-5 and had the worst unblocked shot attempts differential (-358) during 5-on-5 situations. Chicago also finished last in expected goals percentage (43.96%) and high-danger chances (42.60%) at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. The Blackhawks gave away some points despite holding leads thanks to the team’s leaky defense. Chicago ranked 26th in the league with a win percentage of .789 when leading after the second period.
Chicago also ranked 29th in the NHL with a faceoff win percentage of 46.3%. Not having the puck and giving up shots were common issues for the team. The Blackhawks also struggled with the power plays of the opposition, while placing 28th overall in penalty kill percentage (76.8%). Despite only being penalized 151 times, which was the eighth-fewest in the league, Chicago surrendered 35 power-play goals against.
The play of the team’s young players provides some hope for the future, but the Blackhawks need them to continue to develop to be useful depth contributors. Philipp Kurashev, Suter, Nylander, Henrik Borgstrom, Dylan Strome and perhaps Lukas Reichel could play up and down the lineup, while providing some much-needed secondary and tertiary scoring. The team will also benefit greatly from Toews’ presence should he return to form and getting Dach back to full health will help as well.
Kirby Dach - Dach was limited to just 18 games in 2020-21. He didn’t make his season debut until March 27 and missed the final four matches of the year because of a right wrist scar tissue aggravation. Dach was slated to occupy a big role with the Blackhawks and he averaged 18:34 of ice time per match when he was in the lineup. He is a top candidate to play alongside Kane next season and a healthy Dach could be an impact performer.
Jonathan Toews - Toews plans to play next season after missing the entire 2020-21 season. Hopefully, he can handle the stress of returning to action and if he can remain healthy then he will be a big addition to the Blackhawks. The 33-year-old center had 18 goals and 60 points across 70 contests in 2019-20 after he generated 81 points (35 goals, 46 assists) in 82 matches during a career year the season before. Toews probably won’t reach production levels like that, but he could operate in the 60-plus point range again.
Kevin Lankinen - Lankinen was a surprise success between the pipes, especially early in the year, but his play eventually faded as the season progressed. He went 13-8-4 out of the gate with a .921 save percentage and two shutouts. He had 785 saves on 852 shots during that span. Lankinen faced the third-most shots against per 60 minutes (33.2) among netminders with at least 20 games played. He helped address what was an area of concern going into the year and he will be counted on to do much of the same next campaign. Lankinen will look to be more consistent following a 4-6-1 finish to the year when he posted a save percentage of .881 and permitted 42 goals on 352 shots over a 12-game stretch. Chicago’s play in front of him will need to improve as well.
Henrik Borgstrom - Borgstrom was acquired as the focal point of a five-player trade with Florida in April. He signed a two-year contract with Chicago in May and the 23-year-old forward is expected to be placed in situations to succeed in 2021-22. Borgstrom will be an interesting player to keep an eye on as he develops with the Blackhawks. He had a productive year with HIFK of Finland’s Liiga this past season, while accounting for 21 points (11 goals, 10 assists) in 30 contests. Borgstrom also added five points in eight postseason matches.
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The Calgary Flames missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in three seasons in 2020-21, while posting a mark of 26-27-3. The Flames finished four points behind Montreal for the final postseason spot in the North Division.
The Flames fired head coach Geoff Ward after just 24 games following an 11-11-2 start to the year. The team’s consistency issues didn’t change under Darryl Sutter and their offensive problems continued.
Calgary didn’t have any 20-goal scorers even though Johnny Gaudreau and Elias Lindholm came close with 19 markers apiece. Gaudreau also led the team with 49 points, while Lindholm was second with 47. Matthew Tkachuk was the team’s only other player to surpass 40 points. The Flames ranked 20th in the NHL in goals for per game played with 2.77. The team’s lack of offensive touch resulted in a win percentage of .381 in one-goal games, which ranked 24th in the league. Calgary tied Anaheim for the most losses (10) in one-goal contests. The team also tied Ottawa for the fifth-most losses when trailing after two periods (26).
Calgary’s goals against per game improved from a year ago from 3.06 to 2.86, but the team finished 16th overall in both of those seasons. It is fair to say that Jacob Markstrom didn’t provide the Flames with the type of goaltending the team expected after he was signed to a six-year, $36 million contract. He had an up and down first season with Calgary, while ending up with a 22-19-2 record, a 2.66 goals-against average and .904 save percentage.
The Flames were viewed as a postseason contender going into the year, but fell short of expectations. Still, there is room for optimism going into next season. Calgary is slated to move to what is shaping up to be a friendlier Pacific Division, which should help, and the team’s forward group has plenty of bounce-back potential. Additionally, the Flames had some very good possession and shot numbers. The team was seventh in CF% at 53.04 and sixth in xGF% at 53.81, while placing seventh in high-danger scoring chances percentage (53.86).
Jacob Markstrom - Markstrom got off to an 8-4-1 start with the Flames, while providing two shutouts and a .924 save percentage in 13 games played. He stopped 377 of 408 shots during that span. However, he went on a 4-10-1 slide afterward, while allowing 50 goals on 390 shots. Markstrom was better following that rough patch, while posting a mark of 10-5-0 to finish the year. He had another shutout and a .917 save percentage during that stretch. Markstrom ranked second in the league with 43 starts and sixth with 22 wins. He will have to more consistent, but there is reason to believe he will be better in his second year with Calgary.
Sean Monahan - A number of Calgary’s top offensive players took a step back in 2020-21, but Monahan’s slip was one of the more noticeable ones. The 26-year-old center had 22 goals and 48 points in 70 games during the 2019-20 campaign, which was a big drop from his career year in 2018-19, and his scoring rates declined further last season. Monahan supplied a mere 10 goals and 28 points over 50 appearances. Despite a lack of goals, he didn’t have a terrible start, while generating 13 assists and 18 points in 23 outings. Monahan accounted for just five markers and five assists in his next 27 contests. He is capable of bouncing back, though, especially if Gaudreau isn’t traded and the two of them rediscover their mojo. Monahan missed the final four games of the regular season because he needed hip surgery. He is expected to be ready for training camp.
Andrew Mangiapane - Mangiapane had a career year offensively in 2020-21 with 32 points in 56 games. He finished the previous season with 32 points over 68 contests. Mangiapane also set new personal bests in goals, with 18, and shots per game (1.63) this past campaign. He has had some consistency issues that he will need to clear up, but he has great scoring upside. Mangiapane concluded the season with five goals and one assist during a five-game point streak. He was also named the MVP of the 2021 IIHF Men’s World Championship after he co-led the tournament with seven goals and posted 11 points in seven games en route to a gold medal with Canada.
Dillon Dube - Dube displayed some potential in 2020-21 despite logging only 13:38 of ice time per game. He skated in a personal best 51 games, while reaching career-highs in goals (11), assists (11), points (22) and shots on goal (84). Dube could bring more to the table if his role with the team increases in 2021-22.