Blackhawks: 3 Storylines Entering Home Opener vs. Red Wings

After five days off, the Chicago Blackhawks (1-2-0) will return home tonight for their first regular-season home game in nearly six months. Beginning a four-game homestand, they will host the Detroit Red Wings (2-0-1) as the teams renew their Original Six rivalry.

Despite a surprising 5-2 comeback win against the San Jose Sharks last Saturday (Oct. 15), expectations remain low for Chicago. However, that doesn’t mean Blackhawks fans shouldn’t look forward to opening night, as head coach Luke Richardson and several new faces are set to make their regular-season home debut.

Related: Blackhawks Sensible to Send Lukas Reichel to AHL

Now, the Blackhawks and Red Wings are in two very different places. Chicago is beginning its rebuild and doesn’t have many if any, building blocks in place for its next competitive club. Detroit, on the other hand, appears to be at the tail end of theirs, with young stars such as Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider leading the way under first-year head coach Derek Lalonde.

Following the Blackhawks’ victory against a struggling Sharks squad, this game should be a solid measuring stick for them and what their identity might look like this season. Chicago is nowhere near where Detroit is in its rebuild, but as we’ve seen before, surprises have happened throughout this rivalry. Here are three Blackhawks’ storylines entering tonight’s game.

Possible Beginning of the End for Kane & Toews

Entering last month’s training camp, both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews said they haven’t thought much about trade rumors and are focused on success with this year’s Blackhawks’ club (from ‘Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews still committed to Blackhawks despite ‘disappointing’ moves,’ Chicago Sun-Times, 09/22/22). Moreover, Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic noted that while Blackhawks general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson and Kane’s agent, Pat Brisson, stay in regular contact, they don’t plan to meet until December or January to discuss Kane’s future in-depth (from ‘LeBrun rumblings: Potential timing on a Patrick Kane trade, plus could Bunting get 8 years?’, The Athletic, 10/17/22).

Kyle Davidson Chicago Blackhawks
Kyle Davidson Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images)

Now, anything’s possible, and both players could even see the year through as Blackhawks. Yet, you can’t help but wonder whether this could be Kane and/or Toews’ final home opener in Chicago. Both players’ contracts expire next summer, so a trade would make perfect sense. However, their no-movement clauses (NMCs) mean they would have to approve any possible deal presented by Davidson.

With only three games under their belt this season, it’s hard to say what Kane and Toews’ futures might look like with the team. Chicago fans, though, should take in Friday’s game knowing this very well could mark their last season in a Blackhawks’ uniform. While both players look committed to the Blackhawks, it wouldn’t be surprising to see either waive their NMC should things get rough in Chicago later in the season.

Will the Athanasiou, Domi & Kane Line Step Up?

One possible bright spot for the Blackhawks entering the season seemed to be their top line of Andreas Athanasiou, Max Domi, and Kane. The trio has struggled through three games so far, though. All three players have just one point, with each coming in last week’s season-opening 5-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

Granted, Athanasiou and Domi are far removed from their career years, both of which came in 2018-19 when they posted 50- and 70-plus points, respectively. Neither player is a part of the Blackhawks’ future, and Davidson almost certainly signed both to help gain assets come this year’s trade deadline. By playing with Kane, however, you’d think both veterans could be able to increase their production a bit, which neither has done early this season.

While the line hasn’t found too much success, this first homestand could be a good opportunity for Domi and Athanasiou to prove their worth with Chicago, as well as for Kane to begin gelling with his new linemates. Sure, Athanasiou and Domi aren’t Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome, Kane’s linemates for much of last season. That said, nearly a full week off could help the trio as they look to build chemistry.

Can Lafferty & Dickinson Maintain Momentum?

Two of the Blackhawks’ biggest surprises in the win against the Sharks were Sam Lafferty and Jason Dickinson, both of whom recorded three points apiece. Neither was brought to the Blackhawks for their offense but rather for their grit and versatility, so seeing them both step up was a positive, especially on the penalty kill.

It was especially impressive to see Dickinson break out in his Blackhawks debut. The 27-year-old forward and 2013 first-round pick struggled offensively last season, recording just 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 62 games with the Vancouver Canucks. He also missed the Blackhawks’ first two regular-season games due to visa issues.

Related: Meet the New Blackhawks: Jason Dickinson

It’s a long shot both players capitalize on their success from Saturday but they’ll still be worth watching. Lafferty proved himself as a worthwhile addition for Chicago last season and was able to develop chemistry no matter where he was playing in the lineup. Though Dickinson’s still new to the Blackhawks, he’s shown some good two-way abilities over his time with the Canucks and Dallas Stars.

You can’t judge much through three games — just one in Dickinson’s case. Having said that, an absolute best-case scenario is both players have close to or career years, which could raise their trade value come deadline day. Because of his competitiveness, Lafferty could be a solid bottom-six target for some teams with just one year left at $1.15 million before becoming an unrestricted free agent (UFA) in 2024. Dickinson might be tougher to move with a $2.65 million average annual value (AAV) before also hitting the open market that year, but a bounce-back season could have teams calling, especially if players such as Athanasiou and Domi continue struggling.

Blackhawks Should Remain Competitive Against Red Wings

No matter how good both teams are, the Red Wings are always one of the most anticipated opponents for the Blackhawks every year. The fact that tonight’s game is the home opener, too, makes the occasion even more special. With so much time to rest and prepare for the game, Chicago fans should expect a solid, competitive effort from the Blackhawks tonight.

Seth Jones Chicago Blackhawks
Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After tonight’s game, the Blackhawks will host the Seattle Kraken for a Sunday (Oct. 23) matinee, followed by the Florida Panthers and Edmonton Oilers next Tuesday (Oct. 25) and Thursday (Oct. 27), respectively. With two contenders in the Panthers and Oilers, along with a modestly improved Kraken team, this first homestand should be a good test for the Blackhawks. We’ll likely have a clearer picture of what they look like after these first four home games, but for now, the focus is on tonight’s matchup as the club returns home.

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