by Mohammad Samra / Staff Reporter
The Chicago Blackhawks, like every Chicago professional sports team as of late, are impossible to figure out. They could secure a playoff spot or finish dead last in their conference and nobody would be surprised either way. It’s as if you could flip a coin to determine whether or not they will be playing hockey deep into April. The pieces are there, sure, but it’s up to the Hawks to earn a trip to the postseason for the first time since 2017.
Right winger Patrick Kane is expected to have another stellar season, and many have hopes that left winger Alex DeBrincat can score over 40 goals this year. Team captain and center Jonathan Toews, as well as Brandon Saad, can heat up at any given moment, and rookie left wingers Dominik Kubalik and Alexander Nylander could potentially have breakout seasons—giving the Hawks plenty of options offensively.
The success of the 2019-20 season rides on Chicago’s young defense. Assistant captains Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are the only Blackhawks defensemen in their 30s, but their experience and continued success can lead to a consistently strong defensive showing, especially on the penalty kill.
One important factor this season is the health of goaltender Corey Crawford. Crawford missed a large portion of last season due to multiple concussions, which prompted the Hawks to sign Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner. Crawford is now 34, and is only getting older. Chicago can’t rely on him staying healthy all season, especially with his lengthy injury history. The signing of Lehner adds stability to goalie position, but will having two netminders splitting playing time hurt the team’s chemistry?
Jeremy Colliton begins his first full season coaching the team. Colliton, who assumed the head coaching position from Joel Quenneville in November of 2018, begins his first full season coaching the team. He’ll be tasked with figuring out which line combinations work best for Chicago.
The Hawks youthful energy will add some much needed speed on the ice, and the Stanley Cup experience of several players will help develop these rookies at a much faster rate.
Chicago started off the decade winning their first Stanley Cup in 49 years after Kane snuck an overtime-winner past Michael Leighton of the Philadelphia Flyers in Game Six of the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. Nine years and two more titles later, the Hawks have seven players who were on at least one of the three Stanley Cup winning teams.
The Hawks’ performance in power-plays and penalty kills are important and their ability to block lanes and force turnovers are just as essential, but you can’t discredit the value of having seven players who have experienced playing when the pressure is at its highest.
Playoff experience was critical for one other Chicago club recently, as they also had a young team with championship aspirations. In 2015, the Cubs made the playoffs with a team mostly in their early to mid-20s that had little to no experience in the postseason. After being swept against the New York Mets in the National League Championship Series, they came back the next year to put together one of the most resilient playoff runs in Chicago history, eventually going on to win the 2016 World Series. If it worked for the Cubs, why can’t it work for the Blackhawks?
The 2019-20 season will be a grueling one for the Hawks to say the least. They play in the Central Division with the St. Louis Blues, who are the defending Stanley Cup champions. Also in that division are the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars—who all have expectations to make the postseason.
Although this year’s team is nowhere near qualified to be considered a Stanley Cup favorite, how they play against the league’s elite clubs will show whether they’re ready to return to the playoffs. If they can find their way in, history has repeatedly shown that anything can happen in the NHL.