Chicago Blackhawks 2020-21 NHL season preview

Chicago Blackhawks 2020-21 NHL season preview
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The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we preview the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago Blackhawks 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 32-30-8 (72 points in 70 games played); seventh in the Central Division; 12th in the Western Conference. Lost to the Golden Knights in the First Round.

Leading scorer: Patrick Kane (33 goals, 84 points)

If last season would have ended normally, it would have been close to a total disaster for Chicago. Instead, the 24-team Qualifying Round playoff format gave the Blackhawks a chance to salvage their season, and they did. Sort of. By upsetting the Oilers to make it to the formal 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs (the NHL did not make it easier to describe these things), the Blackhawks could point to certain positives.

Of course, the Golden Knights absolutely outclassed the Blackhawks, with Chicago probably being lucky to grind out a single win. For all the silver linings that came from beating Edmonton, Vegas highlighted the sharp contrast between what the Blackhawks are, and what they need to be to return to the glory days.

To the credit of management, they largely absorbed the right lessons. Rather than exaggerating moral victories, the Blackhawks sent out a message about rebuilding, at least for now.

With recent injury news regarding forwards Jonathan Toews, Kirby Dach, and Alex Nylander, the Blackhawks are fortunate that they didn’t go all-in. The pain figures to continue, at least in the short term.

Additions

Nikita Zadorov (trade), Carl Soderberg (free agency), Lucas Wallmark (free agency), Mattias Janmark (free agency), Anton Lindholm (trade), Brandon Pirri (trade).

Subtractions

Corey Crawford (free agency), Brandon Saad (trade), Olli Maatta (trade), Drake Caggiula (free agency), Dylan Sikura (trade).

Blackhawks 2020-21 season preview Dylan Strome
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

3 Most Interesting Chicago Blackhawks

Dylan Strome

With Kirby Dach possibly out all season, and Jonathan Toews out indefinitely, the Blackhawks’ center position looks slim. You can see every one of the position’s ribs.

Really, that forward group doesn’t look so hot overall.

Being that the Blackhawks’ best bet boiled down to outscoring their problems/hoping their goalies save the day, this could get ugly.

Yet, such situations can also give players an opportunity to improve their perception around the league. Dylan Strome already figured to be interesting to watch, being that he’s currently an RFA in need of a new contract. But now, as possibly the 1C for some time? That should be interesting. Even if there’s the potential for some trainwreck-style rubbernecking.

Collin Delia/Malcolm Subban

Oof, Blackhawks starting goalie doesn’t look like an easy job in 2020-21.

OK, it wasn’t easy last season, either. Robin Lehner and Corey Crawford merely excelled at bailing the Blackhawks out of jams about as well as anyone could have expected.

So far in their careers, it’s a bit audacious to even expect league-average work from Delia and/or Subban. Delia’s largely unproven, while Subban’s struggled to really solidify himself even as a strong NHL backup. On paper, behind a terrible Blackhawks defense that got worse by shipping out Olli Maatta? Yeah, it could get really ugly.

But who knows? Goalies are an unpredictable lot. While Subban’s been disappointing, he does have first round pedigree. We’ve seen plenty of late bloomers at the position. (Travel back in time to, say, 2013, and tell someone that Jacob Markstrom would later sign a six-year, $36M contract. You might need to dry your face from the spit-take.)

Whether they’re floundering or astounding, the Blackhawks goalies should be fascinating to watch.

Stan Bowman

OK, so it’s very good that the Blackhawks are facing reality. Let’s face it, though; they could have expedited this process if they weren’t looking at everything through rose-colored glasses for far too long.

So … better late than never, but can Bowman make up for lost time? A big part of that answer might come down to Bowman’s sales skills. Would a rebuild prompt players like Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith to waive no-trade clauses? If so, would Bowman pull the trigger, and extract strong value? In which cases would that even make sense?

To the Blackhawks’ credit, they’ve unearthed some quality draft talent here and there. Sure, sometimes they’ve had to turn around and trade those hidden gems … but still. Gaining more draft picks — both quality ones in the first round, but also quantity in additional “dart throws” — could make a big difference. We’ll see how good a GM Bowman really is, being that he’s the front office member left standing after Joel Quenneville, John McDonough, and other prominent people haven’t made it through these leaner years.

Best-Case Scenario

You mean, assuming that COVID doesn’t jumble up a season so the Blackhawks can eat their cake (make it to the “Qualifying Round,,” enjoy mild success?) and have it too (still get a quality first-rounder)? This team needs to tank, and it also would benefit from stockpiling draft picks. Selling high on veterans at the trade deadline, seeing some positive steps from young players, and landing a blue-chipper or three in the 2021 NHL Draft stands as the best-case scenario for the Blackhawks in 2020-21 and into the offseason.

Worst-Case Scenario

Count the Blackhawks among those teams who could suffer if they are “too good” in 2020-21. Realistically, this roster won’t truly contend. They might be able to grind out enough wins to hover around the playoff bubble, though. If the Blackhawks hang in there, they might not sell at the trade deadline. They might mess up their draft lottery odds. If that happens, they’d largely be stuck in place, only with key players getting even older. Now that is a worst-case scenario.

Pointsbet – Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup odds

Blackhawks +5500 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

James O’Brien is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.