Back in mid-May, 16 teams embarked upon the 2020-21 NHL postseason with high hopes for a deep playoff run. Alas, by the beginning of June eight more teams had been eliminated. Now that number has been cut in half once again. Four final teams will compete in the semifinal round. Representing the North, the Montreal Canadiens face the Vegas Golden Knights of the West, while the Central’s Tampa Bay Lightning match up against the New York Islanders from the East. In the end, two of these teams will have the privilege of competing in the Stanley Cup Final, and only one will eventually hoist the Cup.
The Chicago Blackhawks weren’t even part of the original 16 playoff teams this season, nor were they expected to be. They’re a far cry from the glory days of winning three championships in a six-year span back in 2010, 2013 and 2015. While they work on rebuilding for more success in the future, unfortunately all we can do is console ourselves with articles about former Blackhawks in the playoffs.
Related – Chicago Blackhawks 2020-21 Player Grades
But seriously folks; it’s easy to get attached to players as they go to war for your favorite team. When they move on, it’s only natural to follow their progression. So without further ado, here are seven former Blackhawks to watch from the remaining four teams as this season’s semifinals unfolds.
Let’s face it, nobody expected the Canadiens to be the team to represent the Scotia North division. The Toronto Maple Leafs were the heavy favorites in the first round, and they were leading three games to one before imploding and eventually losing the series to the Habs in seven contests. Then, those scrappy Canadiens proceeded to sweep the Winnipeg Jets in four games. Who woulda thunk it! But here we are, and three former Blackhawks are contributing to the effort.
Apparently Gustafsson is doing the same thing in Montreal that he did in Chicago. Our Blackhawks Banter producer Melissa Boyd is also a writer for the Canadiens. As soon as Gusty’s name (my exclusive nickname for him) was brought up as a former Blackhawk now on her team, she laughed and brought up his numerous liabilities on the blue line.
Yep, Gustafsson also drove Blackhawks fans nuts with his defensive deficiencies, and then brought them out of their seats with his offensive upside. In the 2018-19 season, he registered a career-high 60 points (17 goals, 43 assists) in his first full NHL season, good for sixth in the league. He was especially fun to watch on the power play, where he manned the point and developed some great chemistry with superstar Patrick Kane.
But eventually the magic wore off. His defensive deficiencies eventually trumped his offensive prowess. Rather than let him walk as a free agent at the end of the season, Gustafsson was dealt to the Calgary Flames at the 2020 trade deadline for a 2020 third round draft pick. He was signed by the Philadelphia Flyers for the 2020-21 season, but they also traded him at the deadline, this time to the Habs.
Where he’s set to compete in the semifinals along with his teammates as the ultimate underdog team. Gustafsson got the call after an injury to defenseman Jon Merrill and the team’s three straight losses to the Leafs. He’s played a limited role on the third defensive pairing, but he’s also contributed two assists and one goal in seven playoff contests.
His lone tally was a pretty important one too, as it got the Canadiens on the board and gave them a 1-0 lead in Game 4 against the Jets. It certainly was a momentum shift, putting the Jets on the immediate defensive in an elimination game. And wouldn’t you know it; it was a power play shot from the point!
It should be fun to see what kind of contributions Gusty can make as the Habs fight for their lives against the Golden Knights.
Ah, you remember this terrible trade? Danault was a promising young center prospect for the Blackhawks in the 2015-16 season. The 2011 first-round draft pick played in 30 games for the Hawks, recording a goal and four assists. Many were impressed with his defensive responsibility, and were looking forward to his continued development with the team.
But in an effort to make another Stanley Cup run, general manager Stan Bowman wanted to obtain some veteran wingers at the trade deadline. So he acquired Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann from the Canadiens in exchange for Danault and a second-round pick in the 2018 draft.
We all know how that turned out. Neither Weise nor Fleischmann made any kind of substantial impact, and the Blackhawks lost to the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs. Danault, on the other hand, went on to become a top center and star player for the Canadiens.
How far can Danault and company go against the Golden Knights? We shall see. Oh, and Danault is a free agent this offseason. The Blackhawks sure would benefit from some added center depth. A girl can dream.
Frolik and Marcus Kruger were the shutdown pair that stabilized the fourth line and were the penalty kill kings during the Blackhawks 2012-13 regular season and consequent Cup championship. Heck, they were on the ice for the second of the famous 17 seconds goal that won the Cup against the Boston Bruins.
But the Czech forward was traded for draft picks and to clear cap space after the Blackhawks successful run, and has since bounced around the league. He ended up with the Canadiens this season, but has pretty much just been a veteran insurance policy. He suited up for eight games, mostly just at the end of the season to give the regular players a breather before the playoffs. Barring further injuries, Frolik might not see any postseason games.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The next team to punch their ticket to the semifinals was Tampa Bay. The Lightning’s path involved eliminating the Florida Panthers in six games, and then bypassing the Carolina Hurricanes in five games. The Canes were supposed to give the Bolts more of a run for their money, but they were simply too much to handle. The defending Stanley Cup champs are certainly favorites this season as well.
This 30-year-old defenseman has played with the Lightning for the last two and a half seasons, winning the Cup with them in 2020. But he started his NHL career with the Blackhawks, signing as an undrafted free agent in June of 2017 after playing many seasons in his native Czech Republic.
Rutta performed relatively well in his first season, recording six goals and 20 points in 57 games. But his second season didn’t turn out the same. He was deployed in a third pairing, shutdown role for the Blackhawks. But he just never really gained the trust of head coach Joel Quenneville, and then Jeremy Colliton, who took over the team in Nov. 2018. Rutta was assigned to the Rockford IceHogs in December after only registering two goals and four assists in 23 games. Then he was traded to the Lightning in Jan. 2019, as both parties obviously weren’t seeing eye to eye.
Related –Top 5 Lightning Through the First 10 Postseason Games
Well, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure! Things certainly have gone much better for Rutta in Tampa Bay. He’s fit the team’s expectations of a solid stay-at-home defensive presence, in the regular season and their playoff appearances. So much so, he’s currently on the top defensive pairing, complementing the more offensive-minded Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman. Rutta must be doing something right! Who’s knows, it could potentially lead to his second Stanley Cup in as many years.
New York Islanders
Like the Canadiens, the Islanders were the fourth seed in their division, and not expected by many to get to this point. But this scrappy, well-balanced team dispatched the Pittsburgh Penguins and then the Boston Bruins, both in six games. Can they do something similar with the highly favored Lighting? Here’s the former Blackhawk to watch for the Isles.
We’re sticking with the theme of defensemen as we move on to Leddy, who was drafted 16th overall in the 2009 NHL Draft by the Minnesota Wild. But his rights were traded to the Blackhawks in Feb. 2010, and he started his NHL career with them in the 2010-11 season.
For the next four seasons, he shored up the back end, mostly in a third pairing role. He also won the Stanley Cup with the team in 2013. But the Eden Prairie, Minnesota native will mostly be remembered for the 2014 playoffs, and not in a good way.
The Blackhawks and the LA Kings matched up in the Western Conference Final, and it was an epic battle between the two teams who had most recently won the Cup. Sure enough, it came down to overtime in Game 7. And that’s when Kings defenseman Alec Martinez’s shot deflected off Leddy and into the back of the net for the win. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time!
Leddy was traded to the Islanders in Oct. 2014 to help get the Blackhawks under the salary cap for the start of the 2014-15 season. He’s been a mainstay with the Isles ever since. In this most recent playoff run, Leddy has contributed five assists in 12 games. He’ll be looking to make more contributions against the Lightning as they fight for a trip to the Final.
Vegas Golden Knights
Yeah, it’s really no surprise to see the Golden Knights as part of the Final Four. Although it was their first-round opponent the Wild (seven game series) that arguably gave them more trouble than the first-seed Colorado Avalanche (six game series). Nevertheless, the Golden Knights are a formidable opponent, and they have two ex-Blackhawks in their midst.
In a surprise move in the summer of 2019, the Blackhawks signed goaltender Lehner to a $5 million, one-year deal. The Vezina Trophy finalist wasn’t expected to be available, but contract extension talks with the Islanders broke down. The Blackhawks now had an excellent goaltending tandem in Lehner and Corey Crawford.
Lehner was basically signed as an insurance policy because Crawford had struggled with concussion issues the previous two seasons. But Crawford was healthy in the 2019-20 season, and the two netminders essentially split their starts for most of the season. While they each performed extremely well, many thought Lehner edged out Crawford. With them both being free agents at the end of the season, the question was, who would be re-signed?
It turns out Lehner was looking for big money and a long-term contract. The Blackhawks decided it wasn’t worth it, and he was traded to the Golden Knights at the 2020 trade deadline.
I know, I know. We don’t have time to get into how Crawford wasn’t re-signed either. The point here is that Lehner was hoping for his big break and to finally prove himself a No. 1 goalie. Turns out veteran Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t quite ready to give up the reins just yet.
Related – 4 Takeaways From Golden Knights’ 6-3 Win Against Avalanche
Fleury has played the in 12 playoff games so far, posting a phenomenal .923 save percentage and a 1.91 goals against average. Lehner, on the other hand, suited up for only one game. It was Game 1 against the Avalanche, and he gave up seven goals on 37 shots in the 7-1 loss.
I’m sure Lehner was rusty after not playing for so long. Will he get another chance in this upcoming series against the Canadiens? Will he eventually raise the Stanley Cup, even if it is as the back up goalie? We shall see.
Janmark didn’t even play with the Blackhawks for a full season, but he immediately became a fan favorite. The team signed the former Dallas Star in Oct. 2020 to give some veteran depth in a lineup filled with lots of younger players. He did exactly what was asked of him, providing 10 goals and 19 points in 41 games. This was fifth and sixth on the team, respectively. He also played up and down the lineup, on the power play and the penalty kill. All in all, he was a very serviceable player.
So much so, he was an attractive pick-up at the trade deadline for a team looking to add depth in a long playoff run. Hence, the Golden Knights got their guy, and the Blackhawks received a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a third-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. It was a good business trade for both parties, even if the non-business side of the Blackhawks would have loved to have kept Janmark in the fold.
The Swedish forward is already getting to work with his new team, recording a hat trick in the all-important Game 7 win over the Minnesota Wild. He’s also provided four assists in 10 playoff games. Good luck to Janmark and his continued playoff success!
Who will win the semifinal round between the Habs and the Golden Knights, or the Isles and the Lightning? And from there, who will compete in the Stanley Cup Final for the ultimate prize in hockey? Either way, at least one ex-Blackhawk will hoist the Cup this season, if not more. Who will it be?
Ah, that’s the magic of the playoffs and why we tune in to watch. There’s three more epic best-of-seven series left in this 2020-21 season. Let’s enjoy the ride, and best of luck to all the former Blackhawks!