With the Chicago Blackhawks finding a way to push beyond their worst start in franchise history, most looked to Derek King as being a key to that turnaround. After all, it was their early-season coaching change that sparked enough of a reaction throughout their roster to secure their first victory of 2021-22. They’ve been doing more winning than losing ever since, too.
It’s not all thanks to King’s presence, though, as there was an elevation of play from those he’s there to lead that aligned. That combination is currently helping the Blackhawks work back towards being relevant. But, has it been enough to warrant a discussion that seemed beyond farfetched following their 0-9-2 start?
As a preview to our upcoming episode of Blackhawks Banter, wherein we’ll discuss all this and more, Shaun Filippelli, Gail Kauchak, Brooke LoForno, and Greg Boysen give their take on whether or not the postseason is even possible for the Blackhawks at this point.
Shaun: What more do the Blackhawks have to do, to become a playoff team?
The fact that we’ve started to finally see what this team is capable of, has been refreshing. To say the start of their season was disappointing would be putting it lightly. They had done far too much re-constructing this past offseason to fall as flat as they did throughout October. Then, November came around, King took over, and we’ve been witnessing a revitalized roster.
Whatever the reasoning may be for their turnaround, the fact remains that they’re finally playing more like the competitive team they were supposed to be this season. With that said, they’ll still need to reach another level if they expect to make any meaningful noise throughout the Central Division.
First and foremost, the teams ahead of them in the standings have been performing well all season long. Not only do the Blackhawks have to catch up, but they’ll also need to leapfrog those that stand in their way of a playoff spot. That’s a tough feat, given the parity in this league. Yet, Chicago has been doing a much better job of playing a style that suggests they could go on a few streaks that help them make up some ground.
However, in order to do so, they need their stars to align every single game. The work ethic we’ve seen on display throughout their success has to be the bare minimum extracted out of this lineup the rest of the way. Each athlete needs to do their part, every chance they get. There’s no time for a night off at this point.
For this team to make any sense of even thinking about the playoffs, it will take an elevation in what’s expected of them. Winning has to become the norm, not just a pleasant bonus.
Gail: What are the keys to seeing Chicago making the playoffs?
While I think the playoffs are a bit of a longshot for this team, as the ultimate optimist I’m not about to rule it out just one-third of the way through the season. Most importantly, the Blackhawks must continue to be consistent defensively. They have made huge strides in this department under King, but they can’t let their foot off the gas.
In tandem with that, they must pick up their offensive play. This might have been sacrificed a bit of late, but now it’s time to combine the improved defense with more offense. It’s no secret that Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik need to start scoring more goals.
These are all members of the Blackhawks’ top-six forwards (or at least they should be; I don’t want to talk about Kubalik’s deployment!). If these players don’t perform, the Blackhawks don’t have a playoff shot. Keep an eye on them moving forward.
Also, there should be consistency when it comes to effort in every game. It’s a tough 82-game grind, but the Blackhawks can’t afford to take a single shift off. They’re already behind from their disappointing start to the season. They need to find a way to bring it every night.
Finally, the Blackhawks have only faced their fellow divisional opponents six times in their first 27 games. They have 20 more games against division foes, not to mention 18 more contests against Western Conference opponents. Since a win against these teams represents a four-point swing in the standings, focusing on beating divisional and conference opponents is key.
Brooke: What type of trade scenario would improve the Blackhawks immediately?
A trade scenario that could happen right away is trading for Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk. He asked for a trade and is basically falling into the Blackhawks’ lap. He is a proven goal-scorer that averages 22 goals a season. It fills an immediate need for offense.
Giving a player like Dylan Strome a fresh start on a team like Boston that needs a center and offense, seems like a very realistic swap. Both DeBrusk and Strome are first-round picks with similar cap hits. If it was a one-for-one deal, the Blackhawks could accommodate DeBrusk’s contract because they also carry similar cap hits of over $3 million.
It looks like a very fair trade scenario that makes sense for both teams.
Greg: When is it time to recognize what this team is and isn’t capable of?
I think we already know this team is not a playoff team. If the Blackhawks let Jeremy Colliton go before the season started, then maybe I’d feel differently. However, they dug themselves into just too deep a hole and don’t have enough talent to recover from that. There was a nice bump when King took over with four straight wins. However, they have alternated wins and losses over their last 10 games since then. That’s what this team is; a .500 team.
When you look around the Central Division, the Minnesota Wild have won eight games in a row, and the Dallas Stars had a stretch of nine wins in 10 games. This Blackhawks squad doesn’t have a run like that in them.
While they are playing much better, the roster is now their worst enemy. They still can’t score at 5v5, and they need big performances out of their power play and goaltenders to win.
The front office, whoever that may be, needs to look at the big picture and try to do anything they can to improve the future of this team. This season was lost the moment the Blackhawks let Colliton back behind the bench.
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Freelance thinker, paying too much attention to digital aesthetic. Oxford comma enthusiast. Spider-Man supporter. Sports fan, with two favourite hockey teams. If the Blackhawks and Maple Leafs ever meet in the Stanley Cup Final, you can find me wherever they’re playing that night.
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