With the type of roster revising that Stan Bowman has stickhandled on behalf of the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s created a justifiable buzz around their new-look lineup. From a lack of expectations heading into 2020-21, they’ve taken the opposite approach for 2021-22. This team has been re-constructed with the hope of contending, but will it translate into real-life results?
Chicago’s volume of offseason activity provides a lot to work with when it comes to analyzing their outlook. However, that doesn’t mean conclusions can be made just yet. What can, however, are predictions.
There are a plethora of questions that Chicago faces at the moment. Resulting in even more potential answers that await those willing to put forth their best guesses. Among them all, these are arguably the boldest claims one can make at the moment.
DeBrincat Scores 50 Goals
All should have expected to witness Alex DeBrincat bounce back, after what can easily be referred to as an unlucky 2019-20. Regardless of lesser results, he didn’t yet deserve to have his abilities questioned. Especially given what he’d already accomplished. Unfortunately, declining from 41 goals in 2018-19 to only 18 in 2019-20 was bound to cause skepticism.
Yet, what that version of the story doesn’t tell is the anomaly within his shooting percentage. His conversation rate of 18.6 plummeted to 8.7. But it wasn’t for a lack of effort, as DeBrincat’s 207 shots in 2019-20 were second only to Patrick Kane‘s 275 that season. Clearly, an exception was at play.
With an opportunity to erase the outlier through 2020-21, DeBrincat did just that. Converting 20.6 percent of the time translated into a 32-goal season, which led a team that included Kane. He also continued his gradual increase of total shot attempts per game, meaning he was creating even more opportunities to produce than ever before.
Safe to say, this is the trend the Blackhawks can now comfortably expect out of DeBrincat – more shots, more goals. Especially as the 23-year-old still works to reach his peak. As such, sticking to simple math would suggest that merely maintaining his pace of 0.62 goals per game from last season would bring DeBrincat’s scoring totals to a number not reached in Chicago since 1992-93. Yet, another elevation is due.
Sure, we need to account for the potential of a few missed contests through 2021-22, but that’s where an increased conversation rate will come into play. That, coupled with the fact that he has added star power surrounding him along with some of the most proven performers in the game, will result in his first 50-goal season.
Fleury Earns NHL Award Nod
Marc-André Fleury has made every team that he’s played on better as a result, which is exactly why the Blackhawks acquired him. Regardless of the fact that he’s 36, Fleury is still performing at his peak and appears far from finished.
As was on full display last season, when he picked up his first-ever Vezina Trophy. Collectively, a record of 26-10-0, save percentage of .928, and goals-against average of 1.98 was finally enough to earn him the respect he’s been due for decades. He added six shutouts, for good measure.
Somehow, the Golden Knights still found a way to remain preoccupied with prioritizing Lehner when they essentially gave Fleury to the Blackhawks for free this past offseason. A transaction that epitomized Chicago’s game plan, in terms of incorporating the right type of pieces to round out a more robust and competitive roster.
Where the Blackhawks thought they were simply adding a future Hall of Famer will turn into so much more when he becomes the reason they keep winning. Sure, they’ll have the highest level of overall talent flowing through their lineup that they’ve seen in years, but how it all blends together is a whole other narrative. A story that starts in net.
Fleury will be relied upon far more than most anticipate. Chicago will still struggle defensively, but he will make it seem like they’ve got it all figured out. Like a fine wine, an added year of experience will only heighten his efficacy, as he maintains the same momentum he set last season.
Through a greater sample size of games, Fleury will showcase his importance to the team that much more. He will be the main character in every one of their successful storylines. Beyond being judged among only the best goalies in the league, that type of value isn’t confined to a specific position.
Instead, Fleury’s ability to single-handedly influence his team in such a manner will be the reason they achieve. All the while, his impact will resonate throughout the roster, making him its most valuable contributor and a worthy finalist for the prestigious Hart Trophy.
Blackhawks Play More Playoff Hockey
Chicago has only made the playoffs once throughout their past four campaigns. What’s more, all three of their appearances following the 2015 Stanley Cup concluded in a First Round exit. Obviously, they had moved on from their title as team of the decade. Which was to be expected, given the heights they consistently reached in such a short span.
Well, it’s been six years and counting since they made any sort of postseason noise, and that’s far too long for a franchise that still includes names like Kane and Jonathan Toews. The window to keep winning with those two superstars around is closing rapidly, with both of their current contracts set to expire by the conclusion of 2022-23. A realization that likely acted as a motivating factor behind Bowman’s aggressive offseason.
As each enters his mid-30s, expectations have to align. It doesn’t mean they are incapable of performing as the stars that they are, but they shouldn’t be utilized as though they’re still in their mid-20s. So, it made sense to build up complementary talent around Toews and Kane in an effort to extract the best possible results as a collective.
Bowman infused strength, scoring, and structure. Combined accomplished veterans with those ready to embrace a fresh start. And furthered their goaltending tandem by bringing in an all-star to mentor last year’s most impressive Blackhawks rookie.
Among all the new faces, are those who remained through Chicago’s recent struggles. Each vying to further this franchise in any way they can. Mix it all together and you get a recipe destined for success. Confidence is climbing in Chicago.
That said, it seems all too easy to simply proclaim a Blackhawks playoff berth. Based on what management should expect as a return on their investment from this past offseason’s activity, combined with the talent pool that still runs through their roster, a quick postseason visit isn’t enough. They need to stay awhile.
Chicago’s initial goal of a playoff appearance will be the bare minimum. As such, that won’t yet signal success. What will, is when the Blackhawks battle into the Second Round. For this team to experience that type of year-over-year improvement is an achievement worth celebrating.
With DeBrincat scoring at a milestone pace, Fleury elevating his value across the league, and cohesion forming throughout this roster, the types of preseason predictions that may seem bold at the moment could become far more plausible for the Blackhawks by year’s end.
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.