It’s obvious that the Chicago Blackhawks will not be participating in this year’s postseason. What’s not, however, is whether they’ll carry on in the right direction throughout the few games that remain in their 2020-21 schedule. Though a playoff spot is no longer on the line, they still have an opportunity to further their future along.
While they can’t script the actual outcome of any given game, there are a few things the Blackhawks can control that could make all the difference in elevating the end of this season’s story. Even if they go winless down the stretch, strategizing their approach can be a win in and of itself.
Let the Youth Lead
Sentences apart from announcing the start of their rebuild, the Blackhawks organization proclaimed its commitment to developing youth talent from within their prospect pool. As the season is coming to a close, it’s more than fair to say that they made good on that promise.
Although their rookie class may have shocked some with how productive they’ve already proven to be, what should come as no surprise is the level at which Chicago was infusing prospects into their lineup this year. Some stayed for longer, while others came and went on a game-by-game basis. There was no shortage of roster shuffling.
With that said, there’s still time to prove just what type of statement this franchise is willing to make when it comes to turning over a new leaf. If they’re truly ready to let their youth lead the way, they need to stop moving the kids in and out to ensure a veteran presence. Now’s not the time to worry about balance.
Let the rookies grow in every scenario, rewarding those who haven’t stopped knocking down that door all season long. I want to see players like Ian Mitchell, Philipp Kurashev, MacKenzie Entwistle, Nicolas Beaudin, Mike Hardman, and Alec Regula logging as many minutes as Jeremy Colliton can possibly throw their way.
These are the players they’ll be relying on moving forward, so let them have a taste of what’s that like. It’s a win-win, with nothing to lose and only everything to gain by doing so.
Keep Rotating the Netminders
Kevin Lankinen has clearly earned a home in the centre of Chicago’s crease for the foreseeable future. His hot start was truly remarkable, especially given what he was able to help this rebuilding roster achieve as a result. However, like that of the team around him, that out-of-this-world play eventually fell back down to Earth.
It was more than plausible that relying on Lankinen as their workhorse as much as Chicago has throughout their 2020-21 schedule could result in burnout for the newcomer. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly what we witnessed through his downturn in play.
It’s fair to say the Blackhawks overworked Lankinen right into a rut, which he’s now having a hard time climbing out of. The good news, however, is that he’s already illustrated how high his play can elevate. A reset into a new season should be all that’s needed, allowing him to reposition his mindset and efforts.
That all said, they’ve had capable netminders in the fold all season long. It made sense to ride the hot hand as it burned. However, they should have been resorting to Malcolm Subban more, while rotating Collin Delia back in much sooner than they chose to.
It would have helped keep all competitive, providing an opportunity for each to fine-tune and further develop. All the while, Lankinen would have benefited from a more effective rest schedule and therefore be kept fresher than he clearly has been.
Even with nothing left to gain but their pride, give each a chance to redeem some heading into the offseason. It’s been great to see Delia get back into NHL action and now it’s time for Subban to get one final shot. Then, I want to see Lankinen close out Chicago’s campaign, as he deserves the chance to cap things off with the right type of spotlight.
Always Play With Passion
Chicago’s season is all but wrapped up, knowing there aren’t any happy endings that await at its conclusion. But, that’s ok. The reality is that this was never supposed to be a year that came with much success for this franchise. All signs pointed to struggles, the whole way through. Familiar faces departed, key personnel were out with injury, and there was anything but cohesion among a group who had very little collective experience playing alongside one another.
Sure, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith have both combined for 30 seasons in this league, but newer stars like Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kubalik, and Adam Boqvist had five years of experience between them heading into 2020-21. When you factor in the host of rookies expected to make their debuts, it was anyone’s guess how all of that unfamiliarity would translate out on the ice.
Yet, they found a groove fairly quickly. Much faster than most, myself included, could have logically foreseen. This group, comprised of players mostly unfamiliar with each other, appeared as tight-knit as they come through the best stretches of their season. They need that same approach, as they look to close it out strong.
One of this franchise’s best features is the level of passion their personnel bring to everything attached to the organization. Regardless of whether the odds are stacked for or against them, the Blackhawks show up to compete. That’s been the case well before their dynasty decade of the 2010s and they were right back to that game plan as their new era began to evolve.
Beyond any fluctuations within their record, I simply want to see this team splatter that level of spirit all over every play that remains in their 2020-21 schedule. They know there is nothing left to win, yet that doesn’t mean there’s a lack of things to play for. Paving that type of path to end this year will help navigate a far better start to the next one.
Neither a few more wins nor a losing streak down the stretch will make or break what happens next for Chicago. What can, however, is how poised they are to compete moving forward. I want — rather, I expect — this team to head into every match like it’s theirs to take. It’s the only way they should ever play.
Lighting a match under each and every member of the Blackhawks organization at this point means a spark is already there heading into next season. Then, there’s no telling how quickly it might spread following that first puck drop of 2021-22. Ultimately, a hot start is always the more advantageous route to take.
Play with fire accordingly, Chicago.
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