As the Christmas season approaches and the end of 2021 draws near, the Chicago Blackhawks can hang their hats on a much-improved on-ice product than the beginning of their 2021-22 campaign. After an ugly 1-9-2 start, they’ve posted a respectable 10-6-2 record since interim head coach Derek King took over. This 54-year-old former NHL player has breathed new life into the team, although they still have a long way to go and quite the uphill battle if they have any hopes for the postseason.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Baby steps, after all. So in the spirit of the season, our THW crew of Greg Boysen, Brooke LoFurno, Shaun Filippelli and Gail Kauchak put our heads together to brainstorm four things the Blackhawks might be asking for from Santa this holiday season.
Greg: A Direction for the Franchise
My Christmas wish this year is for the Blackhawks to finally have a direction. It is time to pick a lane and stay in it. Prior to the 2020-21 season, former general manager Stan Bowman released a letter to the fanbase that the team was rebuilding, but didn’t make many moves that an organization looking towards the future would make. Of course, this past summer Bowman reversed course and acted as if he was going for a Stanley Cup run acquiring such players like Seth Jones and Marc-Andre Fleury. In hindsight, we can see why he veered off the path of rebuilding and tried to put a patchwork contender together in one summer.
Bowman is now gone. Former coach Jeremy Colliton was out the door shortly after him. It is time to get a new set of eyes on this organization and start from scratch. The Wirtz family needs to bring in a new president and general manager from outside the organization. I’m sure interim general manager Kyle Davidson is a great guy, but there are two reasons they need to bring in someone else with some experience.
First, the last time this organization tried to think outside the box and hire a fresh young candidate, it was Colliton, which was a complete failure. Second, Davidson has been with the organization since 2012. He learned a lot under Bowman. If you truly want to change the direction of this franchise, you need someone that has no ties or loyalties to it to come in and make the tough decisions.
As I’ve mentioned before on Blackhawks Banter, Kevin Weekes is my ideal hire for the general manager position. He’s so in tune with today’s league and the type of players needed to win. He can provide well-informed guidance for a team that lacks direction right now. It is time to put a rudder on this boat.
Brooke: Reichel & Nylander Call-Ups!
I think Lukas Reichel and/or Alex Nylander should be called up soon. Reichel just came back from a concussion and the Blackhawks didn’t seem like they wanted to rush him to the show just yet, but I think they should. Especially if the team continues to be out of a playoff spot. The Blackhawks need to know what they have and what they are working with.
I don’t think the bottom-six, or top-six for that matter, will see much improvement in the goal-scoring department going forward. Nylander and Reichel are both leaders for the Rockford Icehogs in scoring. Nylander already has NHL experience and Reichel is the top-prospect in the organization.
I think they deserve to get another look soon, to see if they can add any flare to the team!
Gail: A Consistent Power Play
In the Blackhawks’ first 10 games of the season, they converted 10-of-38 power plays for a success rate of 26%. That would currently be good for fourth in the league. But in their next 10 contests, they were a horrific 1-for-28 on the man advantage (a lowly 4%).
In the most recent ten games, the Blackhawks have scored seven times in 34 tries. This works out to a 21% success rate, which is about middle of league standards. But this is also a bit misleading, since three of those PP goals were all scored during the recent victory against the Washington Capitals.
Clearly, the Blackhawks are struggling in this area. They’ve sorely missed Tyler Johnson, who was a right-handed shot and made a huge impact in the bumper role of the top power play unit. Since Johnson left with a neck injury (and has since undergone successful artificial disc replacement surgery), the Blackhawks have experimented with different options. They’ve tried moving Alex DeBrincat and Seth Jones to the second unit for more balance. They’ve utilized Brandon Hagel, Ryan Carpenter, and even the newly recalled Brett Connolly in the bumper role. Dylan Strome has bounced around between the first and second units.
So far, nothing has really done the trick. But if the Blackhawks could somehow find a way to be more consistent on the power play, it would go a long way towards racking up more wins. I’m sure the team would love for Santa to drop a magic power play potion down the chimney at the United Center!
Shaun: To Perform Past .500 the Rest of the Way
We’ve exhausted the topic of Chicago’s terrible start, while trying to extract as much enjoyment out of their resurgence since King stepped in. The reality is, though, that although they’ve been noticeably better since that coaching change took place, the Blackhawks are still nowhere near the type of team that they were being constructed to be this past offseason.
You don’t infuse that type of experience and success throughout every facet of a roster without expecting the results to align. They added a future Hall-of-Famer in net, one of the most sought-after defensemen in the league, and proven veterans throughout the lineup. Yet, the combination hasn’t materialized into what the initial plan entailed.
Sure, they’re doing much better as the season progresses than they were when it began. But elevated production from such a bare minimum shouldn’t overshadow that there is still so much more work to do. For this team’s offseason activity to have any return on investment whatsoever, the playoffs are a must. And in order to expect a ticket in, playing above a .500 level record is a core requirement.
The Blackhawks have to hope they can find a more sustainable way to succeed. It’s nice that they’re winning more than they were, but that needs to become a lot more constant and consistent than it’s been to really matter at all. Chicago needs to wish for the ability to streak in all the right ways the rest of the way throughout 2021-22.
Please join us this Tuesday for our weekly Blackhawks Banter show, where we will discuss the Blackhawks wish list in person, as well as much more! Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube Channel, find us on your preferred podcast platform, and connect with Blackhawks Banter on Twitter, so you catch every new episode the moment they drop.
Gail Kauchak has covered the Chicago Blackhawks as a content writer since 2014. She previously wrote for Fansided’s Blackhawk Up, and has been part of The Hockey Writer’s team since 2017. It’s not always easy to balance life’s responsibility’s with one’s passion, but Gail’s doing her best to make it happen. Let’s put it this way; she’s probably reading and writing about hockey instead of cooking and cleaning. Shh, don’t tell her husband!
Follow Gail for her unique commentary about this storied franchise. And be sure to catch her and the rest of the Blackhawks’ crew on their weekly Blackhawks Banter show, as well as follow her on Twitter.