Evaluating the Blackhawks’ Middle Frame of the 2021-22 Season

The Chicago Blackhawks are set to embark on a new era with the official hiring of Kyle Davidson as general manager on Tuesday. This week also marks the two-thirds point of the team’s 2021-22 season. The 4-0 throttling by the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27 was the 54th game of this year’s campaign. The team currently sits with a 19-27-8 record, good for only 46 points and seventh place in the Central Division. At the one-third mark just 27 games in, there was still a sliver of hope for a playoff push (see link below). Those hopes are now gone. At this point, it seems a perfect time to embrace this new era and look at the remaining 28 games as a fresh start. The new GM is in place, the trade deadline will bring big changes, and the future is the new focus.

Related – Blackhawks Season So Far: Basement Dwellers to Possible Postseason

But before we move on, let’s look at where the Blackhawks stand at this middle frame and to this point in their season. What can we take from it, and what can we learn moving forward?

Blackhawks Mid-Season Woes

The Blackhawks continued their inconsistent play in this middle stretch of the season. In the first 27 games, they started out with a horrific 1-9-2 record under former head coach Jeremy Colliton. When interim head coach Derek King came into the picture, they went a respectable 9-6-0 for a total of 10-15-2.

Derek King Rockford Icehogs
The Chicago Blackhawks fared well when Derek King first took over as head coach. But the team has since come back down to earth. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

In this most recent stretch, the Blackhawks have a record of 9-12-6. I guess we can credit the team for keeping things close and taking more games to overtime. But they didn’t do a very good job of winning said overtime contests. Of eight games taken to extra time, they only managed to win two of them.

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Looking at this strictly from a wins and losses point of view, the Blackhawks really haven’t improved a whole lot since the beginning of the season. Is this still the case when one delves a little deeper? I analyze this in more detail below.

Blackhawks’ Goals For & Against

I found this next information rather interesting. In the first 27 games, the Blackhawks scored 62 goals. In the second 27 games, they scored 72 goals. 10 more goals is something for the Blackhawks to hang their hats on. This is a team that’s touted for having trouble scoring, so I see this stat as a win.

Related – 3 Players Blackhawks’ Fans Have Fallen in Love With in 2021-22

How about the Blackhawks’ goals against? In the first 27 games, the team allowed 86 goals. In the second 27 games, they allowed 99 goals against. Ouch! This is NOT a win. However, the Blackhawks have been dealing with a lot of injuries on the blue line. They’ve been without Riley Stillman, Calvin de Haan and Jake McCabe recently. They’ve also been giving looks to AHL defensemen Wyatt Kalynuk, Ian Mitchell, Jakub Galvas, Alex Regula and Isaak Phillips. This revolving door on defense isn’t doing the Blackhawks many favors. But it could be giving some up-and-coming defenseman a taste of the NHL. From a rebuilding point of view, this is a good thing.

Mid-Season Production Leaders

Goals

In the first segment of the season Alex DeBrincat led in the goals department (14 goals), with Brandon Hagel (8G) and Patrick Kane (7G) coming in second and third, respectively.

In the second segment, DeBrincat didn’t let up. He tallied 15 more goals, for a total of 29 goals to date. No one else on the team comes even close to this.

Alex DeBrincat, Chicago Blackhawks
Alex DeBrincat currently leads the Chicago Blackhawks with 29 goals. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Hagel and Kane both notched nine goals in the second frame of the season. Accordingly, Hagel leads overall with 17 goals to Kane’s 16 tallies. This is an ongoing competition, and something that should be fun to watch as the season winds down.

Assists

Kane had 15 assists in the first stretch. He now sits at 37, so he’s tallied 22 helpers in the middle segment. That’s not too shabby. While his goal-scoring production is obviously down, he’s still driving the motor as a playmaker.

Defenseman Seth Jones notched 20 helpers and he’s now at 31, so he’s added 11 assists in the second stretch. Seeing as he’s only accumulated 3 goals this season, all of which were in the first 27 games, this is not exactly the production the Blackhawks were looking for from Jones.

Seth Jones, Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks were hoping for more offensive production from Seth Jones this season. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Jonathan Toews was third place on the team in the first 27 games with nine assists. But we all know Toews suffered a concussion on Jan. 26 against the Detroit Red Wings. He hasn’t played since. While Toews hasn’t had the kind of production he’s accustomed to (4G, 15A, 19 points in 43 games), the Blackhawks have nonetheless missed his presence on the ice.

DeBrincat comes in third place on the team with 10 assists since Dec. 11. He only earned six helpers in the first stretch, so this is a nice uptick. DeBrincat mentioned earlier in the season he was looking to improve in this department. Kudos to him for sticking to his commitment.

Points

For simplicity’s sake, let’s not break down the Blackhawks’ point leaders into the first and second part of the season. It’s pretty obvious from a goals and assists standpoint that Kane, DeBrincat, Jones and Hagel are the driving force.

Patrick Kane Chicago Blackhawks
Patrick Kane leads the Chicago Blackhawks in points production. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Sure enough, Kane leads the way with 53 points through 54 games. DeBrincat is second with 45 points, Jones is third with 34 points, and Hagel is fourth with 30 points. Ladies and gentlemen, these four players are the men that make things hum for the Blackhawks. Well, besides goaltending. We’ll get to that in a second.

Blackhawks Who Need to Step Up

In my previous post at the 27-game mark, I mentioned Toews, Dominik Kubalik and Kirby Dach as players that needed to step up. Toews obviously gets a bye since he’s injured. It was reported the captain has cleared concussion protocol and should be ready to play soon. Hopefully we will have some more positive updates on Toews when I revisit this exercise at the season’s end. But Kubalik remains on this list, and Dach’s lack of success deserves some attention. Dylan Strome is an interesting case as well.

Dominik Kubalik

Kubalik accumulated five goals and four assists through Dec. 11. Since then, he’s added another five goals and five assists for 19 points overall. I used to be the first one to defend Kubalik and say he should be deployed among the top-six forwards instead of on the third line. But let’s face it; he hasn’t done a whole lot to deserve this.

Dominik Kubalik, Chicago Blackhawks
Dominik Kubalik is a player that needs to step up for the Chicago Blackhawks. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kubalik isn’t all that great on the defensive side of the puck, and he seems to be a one-and-done type of guy. He doesn’t chase the puck or forecheck or do the dirty work required to maintain possession and make things happen. He also seems to need to be paired with Toews to be effective.

That said, if Kubalik is traded at the deadline I would consider this a smart move. If he’s not, he certainly needs to step up his play with the Blackhawks.

Kirby Dach

Dach is certainly a conundrum. He’s young, and due to injuries, this is his first full season in the NHL. One could argue he was thrown to the wolves too soon, and he could have benefitted from further development. Which is why the hope is to at least see a steady progression from the first part of the season to the second.

That’s not exactly the case. Through Dec. 11, Dach tallied four goals and six assists. Since then, he sits as four goals and seven assists. That’s pretty much even; not the progression we were looking for. Now, I’m being slightly simplistic here by just assessing a player in terms of points. The 21-year-old does a lot of good things out there on the ice, and he does seem to be gaining more confidence as the season progresses.

Kirby Dach, Chicago Blackhawks
Kirby Dach hasn’t had the season many were expecting from him. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Dach will be someone to watch in this final stretch. His faceoff percentage hasn’t improved, but recently he hasn’t been tasked with taking as many draws. Maybe there’s a reason for that. Perhaps the coaching staff wants to focus on his strengths and build his confidence. I believe the Blackhawks want to keep Dach around, but they will need to invest in his development more than they have been doing in his short NHL tenure.

Dylan Strome

Strome wasn’t even on my radar at the beginning of the season. He was in the coaches’ doghouse and not much was expected of him. In fact, every day we were wondering when he would eventually be dealt to another team. In the first 27 games Strome played in only 17 of them, tallying just two goals and three assists.

But Strome was patient and a good teammate, and the coaching staff decided to give him another shot playing on the top line with Kane and Hagel. He responded by going on a tear that included seven goals and nine assists. He’s since cooled off a bit, but it’s obvious he can be a factor when deployed among the top forwards.

Related – 3 Reasons the Blackhawks Should Keep Dylan Strome  

It’s unclear whether the Blackhawks are simply trying to raise Strome’s trade value, or whether they’re seriously thinking he could be a part of the future in Chicago. With the trade deadline approaching, I guess we’ll know soon.

Blackhawks’ Special Teams

We all know special teams can be an important factor towards a team’s success. At the one-third point of their season, the Blackhawks’ power play had a 17.1% success rate, which ranked 23rd in the league. It started out hot, but then petered out as the season progressed. Has it got any better in the second frame?

In the second segment of the season, the Blackhawks’ power play improved to a 23.5% success rate. Their overall 20.4% success rate is currently good for 16th in the league. So what have they changed to improve in this area?

Adding Strome to the man-advantage has certainly helped. He’s third on the team behind DeBrincat and Kane with five power play goals. Four of those have been scored in January and February, not to mention his numerous assists. The top PP unit of DeBrincat, Kane, Strome, Hagel and Jones has done well. I’m sure they’d like to do even better, which is why the team has been experimenting in this department of late. Let’s see if they can bring their PP stats up by the end of the season.

Chicago Blackhawks celebrate
Dylan Strome has been an excellent addition to the Chicago Blackhawks’ top power play unit. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

The penalty kill, on the other hand, hasn’t fared so well. They were at 79.7% for 20th in the league at the one-third mark, and have just a 71.2% success rate through the middle part of the season. This gives the Blackhawks a current overall penalty kill percentage of 75.3, which is 28th in the league.

This is a tough assignment which the players take a lot of pride in, so I’m sure they’re not happy with this result. To keep up with superior teams, the Blackhawks are taking too many penalties again. Missing Toews could also be a factor. As I mentioned above, the usage of numerous defensemen on trial runs from the Rockford is an issue as well. The units aren’t as familiar with each other. It might not get any better in the last segment of the season. But I’m sure it’s a goal for the Blackhawks to find some more cohesiveness in this department.

Blackhawks’ Goaltending Progression

Let’s face it; there hasn’t been much goaltending progression this season. One Marc-Andre Fleury has stolen the show. It certainly is hard to resist giving him the nod; Flower allows the Blackhawks the best chance to win on any given night. His .911 save percentage and 2.83 goals against average in 39 games to date is no small feat when you consider the porous defense that plays in front of him. But I believe the Blackhawks have missed a development opportunity here.

Marc-Andre Fleury, Chicago Blackhawks
Marc-Andre Fleury has been a big reason for a lot of the Chicago Blackhawks’ success this season. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

To their credit, Kevin Lankinen missed time with a hand injury he sustained on Jan. 22 against the Minnesota Wild. He just recently returned and manned the net for the Blackhawks 8-5 win over the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 25.The Blackhawks likely would have utilized Lankinen more had he been healthy. They did give young Arvid Soderblom two periods as the replacement goalie, and then two starts of his own. Soderblom showed promise and probably learned a lot from the experience, but he’s not ready for any significant action just yet.

Related – 5 Blackhawks Who Would Thrive as Head Coaches

With the trade deadline approaching and Fleury being one of the Blackhawks biggest trade chips, we might just see more of Lankinen, Soderblom and even Collin Delia down the stretch. Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for. While all these netminders show promise, they’re no Fleury.  

What Does the Future Hold?

I hate to break it to you, folks. I believe the immediate future holds more losses than it does wins. The Blackhawks’ main focus should be building for the future. This means giving the younger players more ice time. It means letting them make mistakes and subsequently learn from them.

Dominik Kubalik Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks will likely be focusing on youth and development moving forward. (Photo by Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)

It also means the Blackhawks will be sellers at the Mar. 21 trade deadline. I already mentioned Fleury could be gone. Veterans Calvin de Haan and Ryan Carpenter might find themselves with new teams. Heck, fan favorites Strome and Kubalik might not be around either.

In other words, it could get even uglier in the name of progress down the road. Buckle up Blackhawks’ fans, and get ready for the long haul.