Blackhawks Roundtable: Kane, Toews, Adjustments & Predictions

The rebuilding Chicago Blackhawks are plodding through their 2022-23 campaign, with the month of November being much more disappointing, albeit more realistic, than their unexpected October start. So, what will December bring? Our crew at The Hockey Writers sat down to ponder just that. Today Brooke LoFurno, Shaun Filippelli, Connor Smith and Gail Kauchak discuss the state of the Blackhawks to date, and give some predictions moving forward.

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In the month of November, head coach Luke Richardson challenged the Blackhawks to improve their record from a surprising 4-3-2 start. They didn’t. Instead, they went a meager 2-9-2. The coaching staff is struggling to find ways to provide a spark. One adjustment is reuniting Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the same line. While putting your two best players together could be advantageous, it might also cause a problem with balance throughout the rest of the lineup.

That said, do you agree with this move? Why or why not?

Kane & Toews Reunited

Shaun

The reality is, attempting to balance this lineup will likely be a struggle all season long. It’s simply not all that competitive or deep. As evidenced by the sporadic results experienced through the few shuffles that have already occurred in 2022-23. So, why not move pieces around at will, to at least give everyone an open opportunity to gain meaningful experience and potential cohesion among each other?

Patrick Kane Jonathan Toews Blackhawks
Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews have recently been reunited on a line together, just like back in their early playing days. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As for pairing Toews and Kane specifically, there’s just no reason not to at this point. At the very least, it will help elevate the potential entertainment value for those still watching. While, best case scenario, the reunion helps spark a level of output that wouldn’t have otherwise been achieved.

Brooke

Yes, I agree with putting Kane and Toews together. I recently wrote about it being a good decision simply because nothing else is working. When you are on a seven-game (now eight-game) losing streak, you have to try something, and fortunately that pairing has had success in the past.

Related – Blackhawks Are Smart to Reunite Kane & Toews on a Line

The lack of depth throughout the lineup explains why a move like this wasn’t done sooner, no doubt, but it doesn’t hurt to try it. After all, the team has nothing to lose at this point being second-worst in the NHL.

Connor

For now, this seems like the right move. The Blackhawks’ scoring depth is limited, but they need to find a spark offensively. While pairing together two of your top three forwards isn’t always a great idea, the team isn’t under any pressure to compete, so I don’t see much to lose from Richardson’s perspective.

The only real downside I could see here is the fact Toews is now separated from Taylor Raddysh and Philipp Kurashev, two young forwards who need mentorship, but Max Domi can still provide just that. The previous top line of Andreas Athanasiou, Domi and Kane just wasn’t clicking too consistently, so I’m intrigued by how this decision plays out.


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Gail

I understand that Richardson is trying to “rock the boat” a little bit to get things going. And maybe having Kane and Toews together for a few games will do that. But I just don’t see that being a long-term solution. Adjusting the combinations is a challenge right now with both Tyler Johnson and Sam Lafferty out with injuries. But having Kane and Toews together just makes the lineup too top-heavy.

Jonathan Toews Chicago Blackhawks
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

I would be more of a fan of leaving Kane and Toews in there normal spots and moving Raddysh or Kurashev around on the wings and see how that goes. Or even infusing Jujhar Khaira or Jason Dickinson into the top-six. I assume we’ll see some more tweaks and changes throughout December and beyond.

Suggested Adjustments for Blackhawks’ Success

I challenge you to put on your coaching shoes for a minute. Besides reuniting Kane and Toews, what’s one thing you would do to help the Blackhawks find more success moving forward?

Shaun

It’s hard to gauge whether this decision would offer immediate results for the club, but I can’t help but think of the potential benefit being ignored by not allowing players like Ian Mitchell the chance to just own their role this season. Having such a highly touted prospect move back and forth from Chicago to Rockford as frequently as Mitchell has in recent seasons isn’t good for anyone involved.

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This is a rebuild, after all. As such, prioritizing development has to be at the forefront. Ultimately, giving someone like Mitchell a more permanent place in the lineup will propel his progress which will, in turn, mean he’s offering a greater impact to the Blackhawks that much sooner. Simply stated, let the kids play a lot more than they have been.

Brooke

One of the changes I would make is putting Kurashev on the top line with Kane and Toews, instead of Athanasiou. Kurashev is one of the only forwards on the team that is truly familiar with both Toews and Kane’s game since he has previously played on both of their lines. Having the familiarity aspect may make for a more potent line and add another element of scoring on the line.

Connor

It’s tough to say because on most nights, this group still is giving its best effort. They’re just not very talented. However, I’m happy the team once again recalled Mitchell from the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Rockford IceHogs on Thursday. Mitchell has put up some great numbers in Rockford this year, with six points in five games and is a plus-six. Knowing we haven’t seen this success translate to the NHL just yet, I’d give Mitchell an extended look this time around and possibly give him some power-play minutes.

Ian Mitchell Chicago Blackhawks
Defenseman Ian Mitchell has recently been recalled by the Chicago Blackhawks. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

While I understand the Blackhawks want the IceHogs to be competitive, which is why we’re probably seeing Lukas Reichel and others stay down for now, Mitchell doesn’t have much left to prove at the AHL level. It’s hard to see him being a major factor when Blackhawks compete again, but keeping Mitchell around for now could benefit the team even if he’s able to translate some of his AHL success to the NHL.

Gail

This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but I would bring Reichel up from the IceHogs. Not for good, mind you! Connor already mentioned the organization wants the IceHogs to do well this season, while the general idea is for the Blackhawks to lose for a higher draft pick.

But it’s so hard to instill the right messages and maintain a positive mindset when the losses keep adding up. We keep on talking about how the Blackhawks just aren’t very talented right now, which is true. Why not add a talent like Reichel and give everyone a sneak peek into the future? Give the young man maybe five to seven games to play with Kane before the latter inevitably moves on to a different organization.

Lukas Reichel Chicago Blackhawks

Should Lukas Reichel spend some time with the Chicago Blackhawks this season? (Photo by Melissa Tamez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

I think it would be beneficial to Reichel and his development, and it would also provide a spark to the team as a whole to get them out of this slump.

Thoughts on More Losing in December

December is a brand-new month for the Blackhawks. It’s a good opportunity to turn the page and start with a clean slate. The team has 13 games this month, six at home and seven on the road. They will also match up against some stiff competition, including the first place New Jersey Devils and the fourth place Vegas Golden Knights. Only the Columbus Blue Jackets, whom the Blackhawks face twice, are right down there with them in the standings.

Considering this is a rebuilding season, are you ok with the Blackhawks losing more than winning this month?

Shaun

Whether we’re ok with it or not is irrelevant, because it’s going to happen. That said, when it comes to my individual fandom and perspective on this season, I’m at peace with what this team will — and won’t — be accomplishing. I came into it knowing they were going to be doing more losing than winning. That wasn’t how I was going to gauge the success of Chicago’s 2022-23 campaign, anyway.

Chicago Blackhawks Celebrate
Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates a goal with teammates Patrick Kane, Taylor Raddysh, Philipp Kurashev and Max Domi. (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)

What matters most to me this season is seeing a sustainable level of progress. Whether from veterans who are leading by example or prospects that are earning their keep. So, in my eyes, Chicago is free to lose every single game this month. As long as they play a competitive, passionate, and elevated game throughout the month.

Brooke

I think it has to be accepted at this point that they will continue to lose a lot of games. They’re not very good. Although they tend to have good stretches during games, they just can’t seem to sustain any momentum when they have it or take advantage of opportunities. So I am okay with losing because it seems to be the most realistic outcome at this point considering where the team is at.

Connor

This is probably a cop-out answer, but yes and no. Yes, because this is a rebuilding season. The Blackhawks are bad by design, and it seems safe to say their 4-2-0 start was a fluke, as exciting as it was for some fans. As much as it might suck to see the team lose night in and night out, they’re just not good. That said, there’s no pressure to contend, which is why I’m OK with accepting more losses than wins knowing this club’s makeup. Plus, you can’t deny having a high draft pick would be nice.

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On the other hand, this is still hockey. You’re paid to win, and you play to win. As awful as the Blackhawks have been, they need some good vibes. They’ve lost 14 of their last 16, and even the two wins last month against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks were a little fluky. It’s hard to say when the Blackhawks break their slump with such a tough set of games approaching, as their next nine games are all against opponents who are either in a playoff spot right now and/or were in one last season, but it sure would be nice to see a few upset wins for the team’s morale.

Gail

No, I’m not ok with all this losing. There, I said it.

I understand this is what we want in the long run. Be bad for Bedard, blah, blah, blah. But there’s a team out there right now that needs some wins and needs to build the right culture. Gosh bless Richardson and the coaching staff for what they’re doing to keep things upbeat, and the veterans for doing their part as well.

Luke Richardson Montreal Canadiens
Luke Richardson, now head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, is tasked with keeping his team motivated despite their losing record. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Perhaps Richardson can challenge them to do better in December than in November. That’s not a very high bar, I know. But at least it would be a starting point and a progression in the right direction. The good news is the players are still competing and playing hard every night. The puck luck has got to go their way at some point.

Blackhawks’ Pick to Click

Let’s end with something fun and relatively random. Hockey is such a fickle sport; the beauty of which is you never know what’s going to transpire from game to game. But we can try our hand at some predictions anyway. Who do you see as stepping up in the coming month? In other words, who’s your Blackhawk’s pick to click in December?

Shaun – Petr Mrazek

Whether bias or otherwise, it’s hard for me to look past Chicago’s goaltending for a question like this. Specifically Mrázek. Since returning from injury, he’s been less than effective on most occasions. Frankly, he’s just not been good enough. Of course, nor has the team in front of him.

Petr Mrazek Chicago Blackhawks
Petr Mrazek, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

That said, given the rough stint Mrázek is currently battling through, it’s difficult to assume it can get much worse for him. So it sort of seems like a no-brainer to assume that we’ll see a better version of the veteran netminder throughout December. He is a capable goalie, as we’ve seen throughout his decade-long career, so let’s hope he brings his best to a Blackhawks team that definitely needs that type of reliance between their pipes.

Brooke – Taylor Raddysh

My pick to click is Raddysh. He started heating up a bit with two goals in three games. If he can build off of that, that would be fun to watch for his development, and it would make for a very interesting December!

Connor – Patrick Kane

I’ll keep it plain and simple here and go with Kane. He didn’t exactly have the best November for his standards, but he’s stepped up nicely with four points (one goal, three assists) in the Blackhawks’ last five games. Even throughout Chicago’s woes dating back to last season, he’s mainly kept a positive attitude, and it’s just so hard to see him staying this quiet for this long.

Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane is looking to improve his numbers in December. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There are legitimate reasons behind Kane’s slump. Sure, it’s possible constant trade rumors are getting the best of him. Kane has such a high hockey IQ, however, and playing with Toews might be what he needs right now. I’m excited to keep an eye on Kane this month, and while I don’t expect him to put up out-of-this-world, Art Ross-type numbers, I genuinely think he’ll pick it up a bit more.

Gail – Max Domi

Whether he’s playing with Kane or not, I believe Domi is finding his groove with Chicago and settling in for a solid season. He’s currently second on the team with seven goals (Toews has eight) and leads with five power play goals. His 16 points is second on the team, just one shy of Kane.

Domi is receiving ample opportunities and playing time as, quite frankly, he’s being showcased for a trade at the deadline. I see the 27-year-old continuing to thrive in December.

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Will Kane and Toews stay together long-term? Will any more adjustments be made in the name of more wins in December? Who is your pick to click? We provided our thoughts, but we’d love to hear yours! These are just a few of the things to watch for and to keep us engaged as the Blackhawks’ rebuilding season continues to unfold.