The St. Louis Blues will meet their Central Division rivals 26 times during the regular season, which includes four matchups against the Chicago Blackhawks. As the Blackhawks have begun their rebuilding efforts, the focus now turns to restocking their prospect pool to return to one of the premier franchises in the NHL.
2021-22 Record: 28-42-12 (68 points, missed the playoffs)
Notable Additions: Petr Mrazek, Alex Stalock, Colin Blackwell, Max Domi, Andreas Athanasiou, Jack Johnson, Dylan Sikura, Buddy Robinson
Notable Losses: Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, Kirby Dach, Alex Debrincat, Brett Connolly, Henrik Borgstrom, Kevin Lankinen, Cam Morrison, Wyatt Kalynuk
Blues 2021-22 Season Series Against Chicago: 3-0-1
Blackhawks Rebuild Begins
There is no easy way to accept the end of an era, especially one that bore so much fruit. The most recent era of Blackhawks hockey saw three Stanley Cup championships and several future Hall of Famers pour their blood, sweat, and tears out for their team and city to earn those championships. The time has come to turn the page, as the franchise has begun to sell off assets and begin developing the newest era of Blackhawks hockey.
The franchise’s rebuild efforts took its largest step forward when Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson made two separate trades sending forward Kirby Dach to the Montreal Canadiens for the 13th and 66th overall draft picks. He also sent franchise cornerstone Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators for the seventh and 39th overall draft pick in the 2022 NHL Entry draft and Ottawa’s third-round selection in 2024.
Heading into the draft, the Blackhawks had zero first-round draft picks to their name, and managed to walk away with selections at number seven, 13, and 25. The team drafted two defensemen during the first round in Kevin Korchinski and Sam Rinzel, adding to their deep defensive prospect pool. They also drafted forward Frank Nazar, along with an additional eight forwards from the second to the seventh rounds to backfill player exits. The consistent message from management was to be faster and more competitive – skills that all of their recent draft picks have in common.
The movement of both Dach and DeBrincat could be a taste of what is to come over the weeks and months leading up to the trade deadline as both longtime Blackhawks Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are entering the final season of their respective contracts. As both players have become forever associated with the franchise, they are slated to become unrestricted free agents and will have their choice of where to play entering the 2023-24 season. The two forwards have played their way among the top players in Blackhawks franchise history in games played, goals, assists, and total points.
Players such as Domi and Athanasiou have been signed to one-year contracts and will likely be moved at or before the trade deadline to continue to build the club’s prospect pool and youth movement. The 27-year-old, Domi, insisted on signing in Chicago due to some of the franchise’s moves:
“As soon as you guys hired Luke Richardson as your head coach, I called my agent and I said, ‘Hey, I want to go to Chicago.’ One of my favorite teams growing up – Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are two of my favorite guys growing up. So the chance to play with those two guys and wear that jersey, and play for Luke, was the biggest reason in chose Chicago.”Max Domi
The coming season for Chicago’s forwards should have very tempered expectations. While both Kane and Toews are listed among the team’s veterans, they will be surrounded by a number of individuals who have played little to no games together in the Windy City. Recently appointed head coach, Luke Richardson will have a tall task ahead of himself as he tries to balance many new faces to the franchise, the beginning of a rebuild, and putting his mark and brand on the Blackhawks organization for the future.
The team will have many returning defensemen this coming season with Jake McCabe, Connor Murphy, Riley Stillman, and Seth and Caleb Jones. However, they will see another veteran added to their pairings as the club has signed 35-year-old Jack Johnson to provide leadership and grit to the group. He will suit up for his 17th season after appearing in a combined 1,024 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New York Rangers. (from ‘Chicago Blackhawks sign defenseman Jack Johnson to a 1-year deal,’ Chicago Tribune, 8/17/22).
Related: Blue Jackets Clearly Winning the Jones Trade After Two Solid Drafts
With a lack of available talent, Chicago could continue to see struggles from their defensemen this season, most notably Seth Jones. Aside from Kane and Toews, he carries the highest cap hit at $9.5 million per season through the 2029-30 season with a full no-movement clause. The first year with his new franchise was one to forget after scoring 51 points in 78 games along with a minus-37 rating.
The Blackhawks should continue to see a physical and bruising defensive style of play once more from McCabe and Murphy. The two defensemen have both hovered around two hits and blocked shots per game over the last three seasons. While playoff contention should be out of the picture for the team, they will certainly want to keep a player like Murphy healthy and away from injury after playing only 107 games over the last two seasons.
The Blackhawks will see two new netminders this season as Alex Stalock and Petr Mrazek will contend for the starting role. Acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mrazek has appeared in 112 regular season games over the past four seasons during his time with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Maple Leafs. Over those four seasons, he has managed a 2.62 goals against average (GAA) along with a .907 save percentage (SV%).
The club’s second option in net, Stalock, played in only one NHL game last season. With the San Jose Sharks, he surrendered six goals on 28 shots against the Nashville Predators. The 35-year-old goaltender also suited up for 17 games in the American Hockey League during his time split between the Bakersfield Condors and the San Jose Barracuda.
Chicago has an additional option in Arvid Söderblom that could potentially see some time this coming season, should they need to call upon him. After 38 games in the AHL, he has a 2.76 GAA and a .919 SV%. He also made a great impression during five postseason games, where he registered a .925 SV% and a 2.99 GAA.
How Do the Blues Match Up?
The two franchises are headed in opposite directions. While the Blues will be pursuing their next Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks will need several years to regroup and adjust to become relevant once again. The 2021-22 season saw the Blues dominate the scoreboard, led by Brayden Schenn, Pavel Buchnevich, and David Perron all scoring four points in four games. With eyes toward the 2022-23 season, the Blues could see multiple players run the table against the Blackhawks.