Greetings to all those diehard Chicago Blackhawks fans out there! Unfortunately, we’re a few weeks into the offseason, while 16 other fanbases are enjoying playoff hockey. But this doesn’t come as a big surprise, and the Blackhawks will have extra time to recuperate, plan and prepare for a more productive 2021-22 season. In the meantime, our crew here at The Hockey Writers will keep you apprised of all the latest news and updates while we wait for hockey to start up again in Chicago. Please join Brooke LoFurno, Greg Boysen, Shaun Filippelli and Gail Kauchak for our weekly Blackhawks Banter column. Here are three new topics of discussion, to be expanded upon and added to on Tuesday’s Blackhawks Banter show.
Blackhawks to Watch at the World Championship
It was announced Wednesday that eight Blackhawks’ players/prospects will compete in the 2021 IIHF World Championship set to take place in Riga, Latvia from May 21-June 6. Nicolas Beaudin, Brandon Hagel and Brandon Pirri will play for Canada, while Nikita Zadorov and Maxim Shalunov will represent Russia. Dominik Kubalik will play for the Czech Republic, Philipp Kurashev for Switzerland, and Lukas Reichel will represent Germany. Patrick Kane, who captained Team USA in this tournament in both 2018 and 2019, had decided to forego the competition this year in order to spend time with his six-month-old son.
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While most players would much rather be competing in the playoffs, this is a fun alternative for those who don’t get that opportunity. Of the attendees from the Blackhawks organization, who are most excited to watch, and why?
For me, it has to be Reichel for Germany. Couple that he’s Chicago’s most recent first-round pick with the fact that we’ve seen so little of him in comparison to the rest of those set to represent their countries, and it’s hard not to be excited by the thought of finally watching Reichel shine. He’s only 19 years old and is already proving to be an accomplished star, having recently won a title in Germany with Eisbären Berlin.
While that should be reason enough to expect big things out of his play, the fact that he wasn’t able to participate in the World Juniors makes me anticipate his impact this time around that much more.
I would say Reichel and Hagel. Hagel because he is entertaining to watch in general. And Reichel because the expectations for him are high and it will be fun to see his game unfolds. The World’s are usually a great place to evaluate player development. So I think we can gain a lot of insight on both players from this tournament.
The only player I really want to see is Reichel. I want to see how he handles himself against NHL veterans. These players are far from the best the league offers, but they still have a ton of experience at the highest level of the game. This tournament could give us an idea if Reichel is ready to play with the Blackhawks in the fall.
Also, I will check in on Maxim Shalunov just to make sure he is a real guy and not just some name made up by The Athletic’s Scott Powers!
It appears we’re all excited to see Reichel. As we were for the World Juniors, where he was unfortunately sidelined because of Covid. Now he has his chance on the bit stage before coming to the United States and pushing for a roster spot with the Blackhawks. And of course it’s a bonus to watch Team Canada because we get to see three Blackhawks players instead of just one.
But I’d also like to give some love to Kubalik on the Czech Republic team. In the opening day games on Friday, Kubalik scored a goal to tie things up 3-3 late in the game (they eventually lost), as well as providing the primary assist earlier to tie it 2-2. Apparently Kuby is working on his clutch performances.
Oh, and his goal was a power play rocket from the right circle. Maybe if Kubalik scores a bunch of goals in this tournament, the coaching staff will play him more!
Has Coach Colliton Improved?
Speaking of which, during the Blackhawks’ exit interviews on May 12, head coach Jeremy Colliton gave this self-evaluation: “I need to get better every year. I hope I’m a better coach in five years than I am now. I think I’m a better coach now than when I came.”
Do you agree that Colliton has improved? If so, in what way or ways in particular?
Yes, I do think Colliton has progressed year-over-year and continues to improve as a head coach. While we still saw blunders behind the bench and found reasons to be flustered by his style, you can’t ignore the fact that he found ways to extract good out of a team that wasn’t expected to expel much of it.
It appeared that Colliton was more comfortable coordinating his roster. Whether in the lead-up or throughout any given game. And although that sometimes seemed like an odd strategy, given the movement it enabled, there was a level of confidence in his decision making that he hadn’t display as readily in recent years.
I don’t really agree with this assessment. In my opinion, I don’t see much difference in the way Colliton has coached because the end result is still remaining the same with a losing season. The only way I would think there was improvement, is if the team actually advances. So next season will be a big indicator of where Colliton is at.
Overall, no. Colliton has had three seasons behind the bench, and the team still makes the same mistakes it did in season one. Their level of play is still too inconsistent. They either start games late or don’t finish them strong. And then, of course, there is “the system.” After three seasons, he still thinks a defensive system that worked in Sweden’s second-tier league can work in the NHL despite all the evidence that it doesn’t.
Part of being a successful coach is the willingness to listen to those around you and to adapt. It sure doesn’t feel like he has that willingness.
I’ve always been the first person to support Colliton when others haven’t. I believe there’s a learning curve when it comes to being an NHL coach. In the big scheme of things, Colliton is improving.
The Blackhawks head coach is good at developing his young players, and I believe he will continue to do good things in this department. But I’ve been disappointed with his acclimation to the NHL in general. One must adjust to every team, every situation, every matchup accordingly. And instead of doing that, Colliton has been a little stubborn about sticking to his system. His system isn’t always going to work, and that’s where you have to acclimate.
I also believe he has to get better at pushing the right buttons with his players. Figuring out how to utilize them correctly, and get the best out of them. But let’s face it, former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was a master at these things. He’s also been an NHL bench boss for 24 years, to Colliton’s limited three years. It’s a high bar, and Colliton has to live up to that every single day. Let’s cut him some slack and see how he progresses next season. Which, by the way, will be his first full season in the league.
Blackhawks Restricted Free Agent Priorities
The Blackhawks currently have six restricted free agents who will need to be re-signed in the offseason if they are to remain with the team. Zadorov is the only defenseman on this list, and we’ve all discussed previously that none of us will lose any sleep if he’s not extended.
So let’s look at the remaining forwards. They include: Pius Suter, David Kampf, Adam Gaudette, Hagel and Alex Nylander. I think we can all agree that as the fourth and fifth highest producers on the entire team, Suter and Hagel should be priorities.
That leaves Kampf, Gaudette and Nylander. If you could only pick one of these three to re-sign, who would it be? We can discuss why on our upcoming Blackhawks Banter show.
Shaun’s Pick: Nylander
Brooke’s Pick: Gaudette
Greg’s Pick: Gaudette
Gail’s Pick: Kampf
It’s a lot more fun when the Blackhawks are actually playing hockey, but the offseason is always a good time to evaluate the past and forecast the future. Keep it here at The Hockey Writers as we delve into numerous topics of discussion and analysis. And please join us on Tuesdays for our weekly Blackhawks Banter episode. You can find us on The Hockey Writers YouTube Channel or our Facebook Page, or follow us on Twitter. You can also now listen to our show in podcast form on your preferred platform. Our latest episode is featured below.