Welcome to another edition of Blackhawks Bytes, a series featuring quotes and comments from players, coaches, management, journalists and fans alike concerning everything Chicago Blackhawks. The purpose of this ongoing column is to capture a slice of the existing outlook, attitudes and culture surrounding the team throughout the 2021-22 season. Please join me as we have some fun with the everyday, albeit fascinating aspect of human nature; the power of words. Training camp and preseason games are on the horizon! In the meantime, let’s hear from Blackhawks’ head coach Jeremy Colliton, along with some of the latest player news.
Colliton Pleased With Offseason Moves
Ben Pope of the Chicago Sun-Times recently sat down with the Blackhawks’ stoic bench boss for the first in-person interview since before the pandemic hit.
Colliton is a pretty straightforward guy, which is why it was refreshing to hear his overall satisfaction with the offseason moves.
I’m very happy with what we’ve been able to do. Obviously, I have input. That’s one thing that Stan (Bowman) does: He wants to hear what you think and wants us to look at players and have an opinion. And then, ultimately, he makes the calls. If you looked before the offseason at some areas we wanted to improve, he has hit all of them.From, ‘Jeremy Colliton ready to prove he can lead Blackhawks’ resurgence’, The Chicago Sun-Times – 8/28/21)
Come to think of it, this is surprisingly true. Let’s face it; how many of us thought Bowman could, and would, address essentially ALL of the Blackhawks’ weaknesses?!
- They desperately needed to improve on the back end. Bowman went out and acquired one of the biggest names available in Seth Jones as his new No. 1 defenseman. He also added another sturdy and reliable blueliner in Jake McCabe. Add the contract extension for veteran Connor Murphy, and the Blackhawks defensive corps suddenly looks strong for years to come.
- The Blackhawks wanted more depth at center. Enter two-time Stanley Cup winner Tyler Johnson. He’ll likely join a healthy Kirby Dach and Jonathan Toews for a potent 1-2-3 punch down the middle. Many other players can play both center and wing. It’s an excellent situation to be in.
- More size and grit was on the wish list for Chicago. Six-foot-four forward Jujhar Khaira was brought on for just that reason. We already mentioned Jones and McCabe, and defenseman Riley Stillman adds to the physicality as well. Hard-hitting prospect Mike Hardman will surely be waiting in the wings to contribute.
- Finally, the Blackhawks were young and unproven in net. But even after the blockbuster addition of Jones, Bowman made another huge splash by obtaining Vezina Trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury and vastly improving the goaltending situation.
All in all, the Blackhawks should be a much better team this season than last season. Colliton knows there are no excuses anymore; the expectation is the playoffs. He expressed confidence and excitement about the task at hand.
The Fleury Factor
Speaking of Fleury, he and Colliton are both 36 years old. They were rivals when Fleury played for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Colliton suited up for the New York Islanders. Plus, they were teammates in 2004 for the world junior championships. Colliton recalls Fleury’s competitive nature.
He’s a tremendous practice goalie. One thing I remember, even from way back then, is he never gave up on a puck. . . Even in warmups before a game, he’d just refuse to get scored on. And that kind of thing is contagious. One of the positives that we were thinking about when we acquired him is just his effect on the other goaltenders, [particularly] Kevin Lankinen.
Case in point as referenced below.
As Colliton astutely points out, Fleury will obviously add his elite talent in net. But he will also be a mentor and leader for Kevin Lankinen both on an off the ice. It’s an extremely advantageous situation for a young goaltender to take full advantage of.
Reichel Aims High
The Blackhawks’ 17th overall 2020 draft pick Lukas Reichel is in Chicago and participated in the recent event for the Blackhawks Foundation and A Better Chicago, who celebrated the first anniversary of One West Chicago to provide resources and funds to Chicago’s West Side organizations.
This was where The Athletic’s Scott Powers caught up with Reichel, who has been in Chicago and skating with other members of the Blackhawks at Fifth Third Arena. He discussed meeting and skating with his childhood idol, Patrick Kane. It would be easy to be star struck, but the 19-year-old prospect appears to be taking things in stride.
First, I was a little nervous, but I think it’s normal because when I grow up, he was my favorite player. It was awesome to be with him on the ice. I hope I can play with him on the team. I’ll work on that…it’s my goal (to make the team out of camp). If it (doesn’t) happen, it’s not the end of the world. I will work every day hard and try to make the team.(from ‘With sights set on making Blackhawks out of camp, Lukas Reichel getting acclimated on and off ice in Chicago’, The AthleticCHI – 8/29/21)
“I’ll work on that,” says Reichel on playing with Kane. He plays left wing, so lining up with Dach at center and Kane on the right isn’t out of the question. This is the spot that Alex DeBrincat had most of last season, and he and Kane developed some excellent chemistry together. It’s assumed they will start this season together as well.
But stranger things have happened. Coach Colliton, like his predecessor Joel Quenneville, is notorious for experimenting with the line combinations. He might want to see what Reichel and Kane can do together. Will Kaner be breaking in yet another young winger in his future? Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves; the 19-year-old has to make the team first. Reichel will certainly be someone to watch in training camp and the preseason.
On Aug. 31, the Blackhawks and defenseman Murphy agreed to a four-year contract extension with a $4.4 million cap hit. This deal will start after the final year of his current contract runs out at the end of this season. The organization did a solid by Murphy, signing him early and committing to him being an integral member of the defensive corps.
The 28-year-old blueliner was a temporary alternate captain last season, and emerged as a veteran leader on the team. After all, he’s been with the Blackhawks for four seasons. He and DeBrincat have the same tenure in Chicago, with only Kane and Toews having more seniority.
But one thing Murphy hasn’t done in his eight years in the league is make the playoffs. He plans to use that as a motivator.
Connor Murphy: "Haven't been happy with not being in the (Stanley Cup) Playoffs. That'll be our No. 1 goal and a lot of guys will be hungry to put that work in together really quickly in order to get that goal accomplished." #Blackhawks— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) September 1, 2021
There’s nothing quite like playoff hockey, and Murphy’s tired of being on the outside looking in. I expect him to lead the way this season, both on and off the ice, with the full expectation that the Blackhawks are bound for the postseason.
Toews Looks Ready
One final note from Murphy. During the press conference to commemorate his extension, he was asked about teammate Toews. These two and a handful of other players have been practicing together for some time now at Fifth Third Arena. It’s safe to say Murphy has somewhat of an inside track on Toews’ recovery from his battle with Chronic Immune Response Syndrome. But the Blackhawks’ blueliner seemed confident in the captain’s progression.
Connor Murphy on Jonathan Toews:— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) September 1, 2021
"He looks great. It's cool to see. Right when he came in, he had the same drive and excitement he's always had to train hard and work on his game… It's nice to see him finally get rewarded to be healthy, back on the ice and ready to go."
Now, THAT has got to be music to everyone’s ears. Here’s to Toews coming back with a vengeance! If anyone can do it, he can.
That’ll do it for this edition of Blackhawks Bytes. Training camp and preseason are right around the corner, and the anticipation is palpable. Stay tuned for more quotes and comments as we go. Is it October yet?!
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.