2022 was crazy for the Chicago Blackhawks. The club entered the year off an ugly 2021 due to their sexual assault scandal and a poor start to the 2021-22 season despite looking poised to contend. While a year later, the on-ice results are worse, the Blackhawks have finally committed to a direction after spending years stuck in mediocrity. From front-office changes to fan favorites leaving town, here are 10 moments that defined 2022 for the Blackhawks.
Feb. 2: Town Hall Turns Tense
In early February, Blackhawks’ management hosted a town hall meeting with fans and media to discuss the state of the franchise. It featured a wide range of topics; however, things got ugly when team owner Rocky Wirtz got frustrated in response to a question from Mark Lazerus of The Athletic, asking about new policies and changes the team would implement coming off their sexual assault scandal.
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Wirtz apologized for his remarks while his son and team CEO Danny Wirtz later discussed the team’s changes with Chicago sports media personality David Kaplan. The situation, however, garnered national attention and received backlash from fans worldwide. Even Wayne Gretzky discussed the incident during an intermission segment on TNT, as he said he wouldn’t necessarily feel comfortable if his son got drafted by the Blackhawks from a parent’s perspective.
Wirtz’s comments completely overshadowed what was an otherwise positive discussion. For a team that was already looking to regain trust, this was a major step back.
March 1: Davidson Becomes GM
After interviewing multiple candidates, the Blackhawks chose to stay in-house for their next general manager (GM). The team hired 33-year-old Kyle Davidson as their 10th GM all-time, who had been in the organization since 2010 as an intern. He had taken over as interim GM in Oct. 2021 and had already made a handful of moves, from firing Jeremy Colliton to acquiring Sam Lafferty.
During his introductory press conference, Davidson said he was aiming for a long-term rebuild as opposed to a short-term retool. That would later become evident by a handful of trades, some of which probably wouldn’t have happened under the previous regime. Davidson later hired Norm Maciver and Jeff Greenberg as associate GMs, helping revamp a front office that previously wasn’t finding much success.
March 18: Hagel Shipped to Lightning
Davidson’s first trade as GM was a blockbuster. Three days before the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, he dealt forward Brandon Hagel to the Tampa Bay Lightning, along with two fourth-round draft picks, in exchange for forwards Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, and conditional 2023 and 2024 first-round draft picks.
At the time, this move was very surprising. Hagel was only 23, so it would’ve made sense for Chicago to keep him around. However, it did signal the team’s new direction and foreshadowed some of their future trades in the offseason. Davidson then made a pair of deals on deadline day, shipping Marc-André Fleury to the Minnesota Wild and depth forward Ryan Carpenter to the Calgary Flames.
April 14: Foley Bids Farewell
For 39 seasons, Pat Foley’s voice had been synonymous with the Blackhawks, and his enthusiasm made him a fan favorite. Though his final season as a TV play-by-play announcer wasn’t a great one, the team sent him off in style. For his last game, the Blackhawks held a pre-game ceremony featuring video tributes from players and fellow sportscasters, and capped it off with a 5-4 shootout win over the San Jose Sharks, giving fans one last chance to hear “Hawks win,” Foley’s signature call after victories.
While the Blackhawks auditioned a number of play-by-play announcers throughout the 2021-22 season, the team ultimately announced Chris Vosters as Foley’s successor in early April. Foley isn’t done with broadcasting yet; he filled in on a Chicago Cubs game back in August and is set to have the national radio call of the 2023 Winter Classic. It remains to be seen whether he’ll fill in on a future Blackhawks game, but he ended his full-time career on a pretty high note.
June 27: Richardson Takes Over as Bench Boss
One of Davidson’s first priorities as GM was finding a new head coach. Rather than hiring an established veteran, though, he brought on former Montreal Canadiens assistant head coach Luke Richardson. An Ontario native, the job marked his first head coaching position at the NHL level after having assistant jobs with the Canadiens, New York Islanders, and Ottawa Senators.
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Looking back on it, this hire made sense for the Blackhawks. While introducing Richardson, Davidson said he hoped he could be a long-term solution and not just a stopgap for the rebuild. Being just his first season, it’s far too early to say how long Richardson will stay at the helm, but his hockey IQ and approachable personality have seemed to pay off so far.
July 7: DeBrincat Heads to Ottawa
For many teams, Alex DeBrincat’s exactly the type of player you’d love to build around. He’s in his mid-20s, is a proven 40-goal scorer, and was one of the few prospects the Blackhawks effectively developed under their previous management group. That said, much like Hagel, the team decided to move him after weeks of speculation, sending him to the Senators in another blockbuster trade.
Many had mixed reactions to this deal. Sure, the Blackhawks could have kept DeBrincat around, but he likely would’ve improved this year’s team, making them less likely to land a top draft pick. As part of the deal, Chicago landed the seventh and 39th overall picks in the 2022 NHL Draft, the former of which became top defensive prospect Kevin Korchinski, along with a 2023 third-round pick.
Later in the day, Davidson also traded Kirby Dach to the Canadiens. While that move was also significant, this one was even more drastic, as it signaled Chicago wasn’t just rebuilding but totally starting from scratch.
July 7: Korchinski & Nazar Highlight Davidson’s 1st Draft
The Blackhawks initially entered the draft with zero first-round picks. That’s not ideal for a team looking to rebuild, but Davidson changed that by trading DeBrincat and Dach and taking on Petr Mrázek’s cap hit. Chicago ended round one with three first-round picks, highlighted by Korchinski at seventh and forward Frank Nazar at 13th, selections that originally belonged to the Senators and Canadiens, respectively. The Blackhawks also took defenseman Sam Rinzel at 25th, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ original first-round selection, as a result of acquiring Mrázek.
It could be another few years before Korchinski and Nazar make their NHL debuts, but both have shown promise at their respective levels. It’s easy to see why the Blackhawks took Korchinski; though some may have considered him a reach, he brings great size and skill. Nazar has missed all of 2022-23 so far for the University of Michigan due to surgery, but that shouldn’t be a major reason to worry about his development.
It’ll be a while before we see what impact Korchinski and Nazar bring to the Blackhawks. However, they’ll always be remembered as Davidson’s first-ever draft picks.
July 18: Olczyk Departs the Broadcast Booth
Three months after Foley’s farewell, the Blackhawks’ broadcast booth took another loss. Former Blackhawk and Chicago native Eddie Olczyk stepped down from his role as TV color commentator after 16 seasons, most of which were alongside Foley. Fans were already going to have to adapt to one new face in the booth in Vosters, but with Olczyk leaving, there’d be a whole new team calling games come October.
Olczyk said it was his decision to leave the booth as neither he nor the team could agree on a contract. He eventually took a role with the Seattle Kraken broadcast team while keeping his national duties with TNT. Olczyk’s been back in the United Center a few times since his departure, most notably emceeing Marián Hossa’s jersey retirement ceremony. The club later announced Patrick Sharp and Troy Murray as his replacements.
Oct. 12: Ready to Work
The Blackhawks opened their 2022-23 regular season in the same barn they opened their 2021-22 campaign: Ball Arena in Denver. Oh, how different things were then. Chicago had acquired Fleury, Seth Jones, Tyler Johnson, and others during the previous offseason, which were win-now moves and not those you’d make during a rebuild. Many casual fans also wouldn’t have recognized Davidson and Richardson’s names.
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This time, however, there’d be no more unsuccessful attempts to contend but rather a commitment to development and growth. After watching the Colorado Avalanche raise their Stanley Cup banner, the Blackhawks began a new era. With a brand mantra of “Ready to Work,” they began the first full season of their rebuild, which wasn’t something they were looking to accomplish when they started the 2021-22 regular season.
Chicago lost 5-2 to the Avalanche, with Max Domi and Jonathan Toews scoring. After losing 1-0 to the Vegas Golden Knights the following night (Oct. 13), the team responded nicely, winning four in a row. However, that quickly became a fluke, as the Blackhawks have gone 4-20-4 since Oct. 27.
Nov. 20: Hossa’s Number Heads to the Rafters
When he signed a one-day contract in April to retire as a Blackhawk, the team announced it would retire Hossa’s No. 81. With more than 21,000 fans in attendance, the Blackhawks hosted nearly an hour-long ceremony to honor the three-time Stanley Cup champion. It was capped off by his number heading to the United Center rafters before the Blackhawks faced the Pittsburgh Penguins, a 5-3 loss for Chicago.
Despite the loss, it was a great night for Chicago fans. During his speech, Hossa said he wouldn’t be surprised if he attended a few more ceremonies in the near future, referring to players from Chicago’s “One Goal”-era dynasty days of the 2010s. The Blackhawks haven’t confirmed any future jersey retirements, but Hossa is probably correct in that his ceremony could mark the first of many over the next handful of years.
It was a roller coaster of a year for the Blackhawks and their fans. There were many ups and downs, but there are certainly things to look forward to in 2023. Despite a terrible on-ice product, Chicago has committed to a rebuild, and the focus is on the future. They’re no longer a pseudo-contender, and fans don’t have to worry about winning now, which was the case for years. Time will tell if 2023 becomes as eventful as 2022, but at least the team has a clear direction and vision, something they lacked a year ago.