When a team like the Chicago Blackhawks is struggling, it can be hard to pinpoint the “good.” A constant stream of losses makes it easy to focus on the negatives. It’s warranted because the Blackhawks sit 13 points out of a playoff spot with a forgettable 18-25-8 record. Because of that, it has been hard to find things about the team that are likable. However, there are positives, and it comes from the players. Because this past week was Valentine’s Day, here are three players that fans have grown to love this season
Seth Jones is a player I am happy to add to this list.
He has faced enormous pressure after being acquired by the Blackhawks in July 2021. Because they gave him a mega eight-year, $76 million contract and parted with two first-round picks and a top defensive prospect in Adam Boqvist, fans wanted to see results. The results did not come right away. It took Jones 14 games to score his first goal with Chicago, but the production was still there in the form of 11 assists. That stream of production still stands during the second half of the season. His 0.7 points per game is fifth on the team. He is second on the team in assists with 38 and third in points with 31 points in 47 games. He is also third in shots with 125 and fourth in blocked shots with 102.
Jones’ plus/minus is minus-19, which has to be taken with a grain of salt because of the amount he plays. He leads the Blackhawks in TOI (Time on Ice), averaging 26:12 minutes a night. He has been durable and reliable. The Blackhawks signed him to be their number one defenseman, and he has lived up to that. Because of what it took to acquire him, some may have been hesitant about him, but I think he has grown on Blackhawks’ fans as the season goes on, myself included. He plays a solid, steady game where the production is consistent. He can also play in all situations. It’s hard to fault his game as of late.
Patrick Kane described Jones’ role well while speaking with Blackhawks’ insider Charlie Roumeliotis in December. He stated, “Seth is just an unbelievable player. I knew he was a good player, but he’s exceeded expectations as far as his all-around game and what he brings to the team when he’s on the ice.” Alas, he is already bringing a leadership role to a team that desperately needs it.
As of now, I believe Dylan Strome is playing the best hockey of his career.
Like Jones, Strome is a player that faced enormous pressure in his entire four-year tenure with the Blackhawks. As the third overall pick of the Arizona Coyotes in the 2015 NHL Draft, fans wanted to see offensive production. It didn’t work out with him in Arizona, and when he came to the Blackhawks in 2018, he was facing pressure to prove that he belonged in the NHL. He proved it by netting 51 points in 58 games in Chicago with a 44.9 FO% (Faceoff Percentage). After that, his tenure in the Windy City has come with highs and lows. During the 2019-20 season, he had 38 points in 58 games with a 47.7 FO%, which was good for him. Then came the lows during the 2020-21 season, where he dealt with concussion and production issues. He found himself healthy scratched seven times by former head coach Jeremy Colliton. He ended the season with 17 points in 40 games with a 47 FO%.
This season has been a whirlwind for Strome. He was healthy scratched for the Blackhawks’ first four games under Colliton. When current head coach Derek King took over, he made Strome a healthy scratch twice. That seemed to light a fire under Strome, as he has been unstoppable ever since. He went from being a fourth-line center to the first-line center alongside Kane. He went from not having a solid role with the Hawks to being relied on in crucial situations when they’re down to the wire and on the power play.
His new role on the first power-play unit has been dynamite. He is second on the team in power-play goals with five and fourth on the team in power-play assists with five. He improved from three points in his first 12 games to 14 points in his last 18 games. He is tied with Brandon Hagel for fourth on the team in points per game at 0.6, and he is having a career year in the faceoff dot. His 54 FO% currently leads the team with Jonathan Toews and Tyler Johnson on injured reserve. If some were uncertain about his play before, he certainly made them believers. He currently has 9 goals, 12 assists, and 21 points in 38 games. It has been a career-defining season for him. His future in Chicago is uncertain with the trade deadline coming up on March 21. Regardless, he’s proving that he can be an impact player, and fans have loved the turnaround.
Finally, I can’t make a list and not mention Marc-Andre Fleury. After being acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in July, fans knew what they were getting with him. He is a Hall of Fame goalie, three-time Stanley Cup champion, and two-time Vezina Trophy winner that is beloved around the league. However, the start of the season was a nightmare for him and the Blackhawks. Fleury and the entire team opened with a nine-game losing streak. During his first three games, he had a 5.63 goals against average (GAA) and a .840 save percentage (SV%). I don’t think many were worried that he would regain form eventually, but it was a matter of when. He wonderfully rebounded from a terrible October with these results.
- November: 2.12 GAA, .935 SV%
- December: 2.75 GAA, .909 SV%,
- January– 2.85 GAA, .905 SV%
Fleury has a .926 SV% so far this month. This season he has 16-17-4 with a 2.80 GAA and a .912 SV%. He has four shutouts in 37 games. His record is unfair because he has not been the reason why the team has struggled so much. Moreover, it’s unclear how many wins the Blackhawks would have this season if it weren’t for him. He has bailed them out too many times to count. He also hit a fun milestone in December with the Blackhawks this season by becoming the third NHL goalie in history to reach 500 wins.
The trade chatter surrounding Fleury is huge, as playoff-seeking teams will be wanting his services. Fleury has a 10 team no-trade clause in the final year of his contract, so if he gets traded at the trade deadline, it will be at his discretion. If it should come to that, it will be a hard goodbye for Blackhawks’ fans as they have come to admire him for all has meant to the team this season.
The Blackhawks may have a completely different look by the end of 2021-22, so this list is sure to grow. But for now, these three have brought excitement to a lost season.
Just a small town girl with Midwestern charm; combined with a love of dogs, writing, frappuccinos, Chicago-isms, sports, and a whole lot of Blackhawks hockey. Twitter: @brooke_lofo.