NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Chicago Blackhawks officially are in a rebuild.
A letter to fans on their website Oct. 20 announced the plans to give some of their young players more opportunities.
The announcement came after goalie Corey Crawford, a member of their 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup championship teams, become an unrestricted free agent and agreed to a two-year contract with the New Jersey Devils on Oct. 9. Forward Brandon Saad, also part of the 2013 and 2015 championship teams, was traded to the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 10 for defensemen Nikita Zadorov and Anton Lindholm.
The success the Blackhawks find this season could depend on how quickly some of their younger players adapt.
“If they do improve quickly then I think it’s going to help push our team up the standings quicker,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “So that’s part of the thing. We’re going to rely on young guys, whether it’s in goal or also skaters. A lot of things that have to come together for the team to continue to push ahead, and then we certainly need our veterans to maintain their levels. It’s hard to predict how that’s going to play out when you add it all up. Invariably you’re going to hit on some things and other things will take time to work out.”
Their core veterans — forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook — will be counted on to help with that development.
“We’re trying to give as many guys opportunities as possible because it’s not all going to work out,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “Not every one of them is going to turn into NHL regulars or turn into NHL difference-makers. But the more we invest in and spend time with and have a plan for them and just work with them daily, the better our chances that they’re going to turn into contributors. We’re going to have more depth, we’re going to have more difference-makers, and that’s going to allow us to have a better team quicker.”
Malcolm Subban, Collin Delia and Kevin Lankinen will compete for the starting and backup goalie jobs. They have a combined 84 games of NHL experience; Crawford played 488 games.
“You put the work in to get the opportunity and obviously it’s three great goaltenders with [Delia and Lankinen],” Subban said. “It’s good competition. We got to know each other in the [Stanley Cup Playoff] bubble there, and they’re great guys. Our one goal is, whatever opportunity we get, to help the team win and that’s the most important thing. I’m excited for the opportunity, for sure.”
The Blackhawks want forward Dominik Kubalik to build off a rookie season when he scored 30 goals in 68 games and finished third in voting for the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year, behind Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Quinn Hughes.
Chicago also will need more from forwards Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome. DeBrincat scored 18 goals last season after he scored 41 in 2018-19. Strome scored 38 points (12 goals, 26 assists) in 58 games after he scored 51 points in the same number of games the season before. Strome is a restricted free agent.
Chicago signed unrestricted free agent forwards Mattias Janmark (Dallas Stars) and Lucas Wallmark (Carolina Hurricanes). Janmark scored eight points (one goal, seven assists) in 26 postseason games to help the Stars reach the Stanley Cup Final.
The rebuilding effort will be tough in a Central Division that had all seven teams among the 12 from the Western Conference to take part in the NHL Return to Play Plan.
“I think that can help accelerate the progress when you know you’ve got to be at your best,” Bowman said. “Looking back at the last 10 years, the division’s been highly competitive throughout. It’s no different this year.
“These guys all have a skill level, they all have a special talent in some way, and finding your role in the NHL is important. Understanding how you can help the team — it may be different than the role you played on your college team — finding your niche and then understanding what coaches want out of that role and trying to deliver it on a consistent basis.”