Blackhawks Roundtable: 4 Positive Predictions for 2022-23

Safe to say, not much is expected out of the 2022-23 Chicago Blackhawks. They are in the midst of an aggressive rebuild and their results are sure to align. However, that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of good reasons to follow along anyway.

After navigating through an offseason full of hot takes and outlandish trade rumours, our Blackhawks crew at The Hockey Writers wanted to help settle some nerves by providing a more realistic set of expectations for fans to anticipate. Despite projecting lacklustre results in a general sense, not every part of the process has to be bleak.

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Here are the top storylines that Gail, Connor, Brooke, and Shaun have predicted in advance of Chicago’s campaign. Each with a positive spin, to boot.

Gail: Richardson Will Ruin the Tank Plan

I mentioned this in my latest Blackhawks Bytes column, but I’d like to expand on it here in the way of a prediction. Sure, management can set teams up to fail…on paper. We all know the organization got rid of most of the best players on the team from last season. A rebuild involves being bad for a period of time, all while gathering the necessary assets to become good again.

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But, coaches and players don’t know how to tank. It’s simply not in their DNA. Whether it’s for the long-term good or bad, I think new head coach Luke Richardson is going to get a lot more out of this team than most people expect. For some background, I share this quote from Richardson from the opening day of training camp.

Let’s face it; Richardson is a new head coach with something to prove. It’s his job to develop a culture of growth and development and accountability. He might not have the most talented team to work with, but he has a reputation for getting the best out of what he does have (from ‘Why Luke Richardson is the right coach for the Blackhawks’ rebuild’, The AthleticCHI – 6/27/22).

The players are already talking left and right about how they know exactly what their job is with Richardson. He spells it out in an easy and straightforward way. Just this past week, we’ve learned the new coach has a plan for a better defensive scheme and a more aggressive penalty kill. Not only that, but he has the players smiling again.

Luke Richardson, formerly of the Montreal Canadiens
Luke Richardson, formerly of the Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

So will the Blackhawks end up winning too much, and foiling the tanking plan? With Richardson at the helm, this is a definite possibility. It’s a conundrum we could be talking about all season long.

Connor: Vlasic Cracks Chicago’s Top Pair

The Blackhawks’ prospect pipeline has no shortage of defensive depth, and among the team’s most NHL-ready prospects is Alex Vlasic. At 6-foot-6, the Chicago area native brings size, tenacity, and could crack the opening night roster depending on how the rest of preseason goes.

Vlasic, 21, skated in 15 games with Chicago last year, so he does have a little taste of the NHL as the team signed him to his entry-level contract (ELC) in March. While he only recorded two points during his NHL action, he looked comfortable and versatile.

Alex Vlasic, Chicago Blackhawks
Alex Vlasic, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin/The Hockey Writers)

Now, as it currently stands, Chicago has a pretty weak left side. Although the Blackhawks aren’t designed to be good, Caleb Jones and Riley Stillman probably won’t be long-term pieces while new addition Jack Johnson could be a trade chip with a one-year deal. This is where Vlasic could come into the equation and get top-pairing minutes, especially toward the end of the year.

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Being in his early 20s, Vlasic does have plenty of room for growth. He may or may not have a role when the Blackhawks compete again, but for now, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in some high-pressure situations as the year goes on.

It’s also worth noting Chicago didn’t send Vlasic to the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Rockford IceHogs last year for their playoff run during the final weeks of the regular season. This could indicate that the team may want Vlasic to have a prominent role at the NHL level this season, even if he doesn’t immediately make the club out of preseason.

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Along with Lukas Reichel, Vlasic will be one to watch this year. He’s a solid, defensive-minded prospect. For now, it seems like a matter of when — not if — he’ll make the Blackhawks this season. As Chicago builds for the future, they have a few young faces they can begin building around this season, and Vlasic is one of them.

Brooke: Expect Veteran Leaders to Bounce Back

I think the veterans are due for a rebound year and I don’t believe that is too big of a stretch since last season was a career-worst for most players. Therefore, it can’t get worse.

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Seth Jones will improve from his minus-37 rating, which was second-worst in the NHL. Jonathan Toews will build off his late-season push and get more than 12 goals. Patrick Kane will tally more than 27, as he alluded to the fact that he can score more during training camp!

Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks
Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Chicago’s leaders will be doing a lot more of it this year.

Shaun: Söderblom Becomes Surprise Starter

The Blackhawks have a different look between their pipes heading into 2022-23, with Marc-André Fleury, Kevin Lankinen, and Collin Delia now representing cities other than Chicago. That said, given their current status as a rebuild, they weren’t overly picky when searching for their next No. 1 and No. 2.

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First, Chicago chose to help the Toronto Maple Leafs unload the unwanted contract attached to Petr Mrázek. Then, they signed Alex Stalock following a season in which he only entered one NHL contest. Both are in their 30s, have a history of injury troubles, and are battling on the wrong side of their peak.

Meanwhile, at its core, a rebuild should be focused on developing from within and fostering the untapped potential that already exists among their prospect pool. Like that of the only goalie that remains of the four who suited up for Chicago last season, Arvid Söderblom.

Arvid Söderblom, Chicago Blackhawks
Arvid Söderblom, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)

Limited to three appearances in 2021-22, he set a save percentage (SV%) of .863 and a goals-against average (GAA) of 5.01. Yet, looking at what he’s accomplished across his resume with greater sample sizes, it’s clear that Söderblom has a lot more to offer and that added ice time will help his NHL numbers balance in the right direction.

Simply stated, it makes far more sense to give the 23-year-old the runway to work with, so Chicago’s roster can rebuild collectively in anticipation of those putting in the work becoming contenders together. What’s more, they’ll be forced to seek Söderblom’s support at some point anyway.

Far from wishing injury upon anyone, the reality is that Mrázek and Stalock have an elevated vulnerability to additional ailments. Plus, playing behind a lineup that’s sure to be outmatched on most nights, neither will be able to perform in a way that overcompensates for Chicago’s shortcomings. Their crease will very much be up for grabs.

Meanwhile, Söderblom is at the perfect point of his career to propel his progress forward in a way that sees him steal the starter’s role in the process.

Hopefully, the Blackhawks are then willing to provide this blossoming star more loyalty than they offered the last goalie who broke out against all odds just a few years ago. Either way, regardless of what follows for Söderblom when his contract expires at the end of the campaign, expect the rookie to compile far more experience than initially anticipated through 2022-23.

2022-23 Blackhawks Shootout Round Predictions

We felt it fitting to cap off this presumptive preview with some quick-hit predictions, inspired by the shootout round segment of Blackhawks Banter. With no further context beyond noting a name, metric, or both, here are the stats we anticipate seeing by season’s end in each of these respective categories.

Most Points

  • Gail: Patrick Kane (78)
  • Connor: Patrick Kane (86)
  • Brooke: Patrick Kane (98)
  • Shaun: Max Domi (77)

Most Goals

  • Gail: Patrick Kane (28)
  • Connor: Patrick Kane (32)
  • Brooke: Patrick Kane (30)
  • Shaun: Max Domi (26)

Most Wins

  • Gail: Petr Mrázek (20)
  • Connor: Petr Mrázek (11)
  • Brooke: Petr Mrázek (18)
  • Shaun: Arvid Söderblom (15)

Most Hits

  • Gail: Jake McCabe (160)
  • Connor: Connor Murphy (142)
  • Brooke: Connor Murphy (125)
  • Shaun: Riley Stillman (132)

Most Blocked Shots

  • Gail: Seth Jones (170)
  • Connor: Connor Murphy (165)
  • Brooke: Seth Jones (160)
  • Shaun: Seth Jones (158)

Team Record

  • Gail: 30-41-11
  • Connor: 24-49-9
  • Brooke: 25-48-9
  • Shaun: 24-43-15

Divisional Rank

  • Gail: 6th
  • Connor: 7th
  • Brooke: 7th
  • Shaun: 7th

Blackhawks Will Benefit From Progress

The parity in this league means that anything can happen, with surprise storylines being written all the time. Yet, it seems like a fairly safe bet to predict that the Blackhawks won’t be able to avoid disappointment this season when it comes to where they rank by the end of it.

However, what will matter most is Chicago’s ability to progress as a collective through 2022-23. Despite expecting their analytics to be anything but pretty, if the eye test shows us that the Blackhawks are becoming a more cohesive and developed unit then that’s a step in the right direction for the franchise.

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So, rather than fixating on the failures expected of the Blackhawks this season, sit back and enjoy the show instead. Success is sure to follow, sooner than later. Especially if the positive aspects of these predictions hold up.

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