It’s been a less than ideal start to the year for Stan Bowman and his new-look Chicago Blackhawks. All of that movement in recent months, in an effort to better position this lineup to compete, seems like nothing more than wasted effort thus far. Although it’s not yet too late to turn things around, any such progress has to be put into motion immediately.
The reality is, a lot is going wrong in Chicago at the moment. Whether fixating on their collective failures, inept leadership, or goaltending struggles, the current problems seem endless. Matters that each need to be addressed by those most linked to any potential success the Blackhawks hope to achieve this season.
Simply stated, Chicago’s most important — players and personnel — have to be held accountable and looked to for answers. There is no more time to waste in holding them to such a standard.
Chicago’s Slow Start to 2021-22
Expectations were justifiably higher heading into 2021-22 than they were prior to last season’s first puck drop. Yet, the club has fallen into the same pattern they did at the start of last season, with their fourth straight loss to kick off the campaign. That’s simply not good enough and the blame needs to be placed accordingly.
With that said, reflecting on last season, the Blackhawks did end up turning things around as of their fifth contest. So much so that they ultimately found themselves in a battle for postseason positioning throughout the mid-way mark of the 2020-21 schedule. Ultimately, though, that version of the team couldn’t maintain the level of competition required to close out games.
Whereas this updated roster is supposed to be elevated beyond such struggles. A more proven veteran presence, enhanced experience throughout, and youthful skill that is poised to perform. None of which has been on display during the first four games of their season.
While they could further the repetition of last year’s pattern by finding more winning as of this point in their schedule and onward, they needed that to be the case from opening night. Nevertheless, their game plan can still shift to include a stronger push moving forward. Unlike last season, though, they’ll need that elevation to last throughout every respective contest from here on out.
Colliton Running Out of Time in Chicago
Greeted with a less than warm welcome from the crowd in Chicago prior to their home opener, the results of the game itself didn’t help Jeremy Colliton‘s case in regaining any level of sustainable confidence from this fanbase.
Entering his fourth year as head coach, there have been a plethora of excuses along the way for why he hasn’t been able to extract the best out of the lineups he’s had playing for him. Well, time appears to be running out in that respect, as patience is thinner than it ever has been with regards to his abilities behind their bench.
This is the most skilled group Colliton has had to work with throughout his current tenure in Chicago. Recent prospects have turned to regular pros, their leadership group is intact, and strategic acquisitions have rounded out the roster. Top to bottom, there is youth ready to reach a new tier aligned with veteran experience that has already done so.
Where it may have been justifiable to rationalize lacklustre results with a lesser lineup, that’s no longer the case. This franchise was re-constructed to compete in the present. An 0-3-1 start, which has them at the bottom of the Central Division, does not align.
At some point, the coach’s impact has to be put into question, as it’s ultimately on them to set their team up for success. Whether at full strength or on special teams, especially at the most influential times throughout any respective contest, a coach is there to implement strategies that extract the best results possible in every scenario.
With a star-studded lineup ready to be led, those in charge of this organization may be forced to recognize that Colliton is simply unable to help them achieve the type of return on investment they are anticipating. Management made their mandate clear when they moved away from referring to this as a rebuild and their actions have to support that direction.
Fleury Struggling as a Blackhawk
Acquiring the reigning Vezina Trophy winner generally aligns with an expectation that their award-winning level of play will follow. Unfortunately, the same can’t yet be said in relation to Marc-André Fleury‘s tenure as a Blackhawk. He’s started three of their four losses. One of which saw him pulled mid-way through the first, after allowing four goals on 10 shots against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With that said, it’s interesting to note that the last time Fleury began a season with three straight losses was 2015-16 with the Penguins. Following that less-than-ideal start to their season, Pittsburgh went on to finish fourth in the league and ultimately capture the 2016 Stanley Cup.
It’s not to suggest that this Blackhawks roster is built in the same manner as those Penguins teams, who then went on to win two straight Cups and are still in the midst of the longest active postseason appearances streak in the league.
Yet, it is an important reflection on the fact that it’s still so early in the year that there’s plenty of time to turn things around. Both for the players that have started less successfully than they would have liked and the organizations that need more out of them all year long.
Fleury needs to be better than his goals-against average (GAA) of 5.63, save percentage (SV%) of .840, and goals saved above expected (GSAx) of -6.6 would suggest he has been. As the competitor that he’s proven to be, there is no doubt that he’ll bounce back. That is, of course, if the Blackhawks collectively do their part to provide enough reason for him to reciprocate.
Hossa’s Legacy to Be Honoured
Speaking of success, it’s impossible not to include Marián Hossa when you reflect on the dynasty Blackhawks of the 2010s. Part of all three Stanley Cup runs, Hossa was the epitome of what it meant to be a playoff performer. As evidenced by his 73 points through eight postseasons with Chicago.
While it’s easy to look to stars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, or Corey Crawford as being the main characters in any of those championship stories, it’s impossible to neglect including Hossa within that conversation and his consistent ability to elevate when it mattered most is proof of that.
In alignment with Hossa’s Hall of Fame induction, he will be honoured by the Blackhawks before their Nov. 9 contest against the Penguins — another former team of his.
Hossa is one of four former Blackhawks who will be celebrated in such a manner throughout the 2021-22 season. Andrew Shaw, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson will also be honoured at various points throughout the year.
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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