General manager Stan Bowman has embraced the Chicago Blackhawks rebuild; reshaping the once-dominant franchise. The fans, as well as he, recognizes that it’s going to take a lot of change in order to return to their old selves. Even though the team still has plenty of core pieces from their cup-winning teams, the haven’t been able to make any significant noise in the playoffs since their last Stanley Cup win. It only took a pandemic for the team to make the postseason. A postseason which they didn’t preform like a playoff team at any point in their run.
The disappointing performance in the playoffs was a nail in the already six-feet-deep coffin that is the current state of the Blackhawks franchise. It was a sign that it was time for a long overdue change in direction for the aging franchise. With that being said, however, is the team really entering a true rebuilding phase?
The Chicago Blackhawks Rebuild Isn’t as Dramatic as it Seems
Too Good to Tank
Typically, the first step in a team’s rebuild would be to have an awful season, or tank, in order to receive better odds at having a higher pick in the draft. There have been countless seasons where teams underperform or anticipate a poor season in order to reap the benefits in the future. The Detroit Red Wings are a great example of this. They were on a downwards spiral for a few seasons. Steve Yzerman steps in as the general manager, has a league-worst overall record, and gets a pretty great draft pick in Lucas Raymond to add to their budding prospect pool.
Let’s compare the 2019-20 Red Wings to the 2020-21 Blackhawks. The Red Wings had only one true superstar in Dylan Larkin. The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have three players on the NHL’s 100 list in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith. All three of them are still highly productive. The Red Wings had little to no support for Larkin aside from Tyler Bertuzzi. This season’s Blackhawks have plenty of NHL ready supporting characters for their superstars to play around. Alex DeBrincat is looking for a bounce back year, Kirby Dach is amped up for a great sophomore campaign, Dominik Kubalik is looking to prove he’s worth more than his contract, and possibly surpass 30 goals, and Dylan Strome is looking to have a third season with a 50-plus point pace. Consider the Hawks’ new offseason acquisitions, and they’re not the same kind of team that Detroit still is.
The team has too many skilled, valuable pieces to be a bottom-three team, making tanking an unlikely option.
Rebuilding teams typically have to wait a season or two for their younger prospects to get to a playing ability that matches the NHL’s skill. The Blackhawks, however, have plenty of NHL ready prospects that they’ve been cooking in their development system for a few seasons already. University of Denver defenceman, Ian Mitchell, is gearing up to make his NHL debut. If he doesn’t last long on the NHL roster, the team has at least three guys ready to fill his spot. Nicolas Beaudin and Lucas Carlsson have already seen a few games at the NHL level, and have proven they’re ready for the jump. Chad Krys played a full season of professional hockey in the AHL last season, and could fill in if necessary as well.
Up to the front of the lineup, the team has plenty of young, NHL ready forwards as well. Pius Suter was the Czech league’s top scorer last season, and could add meaningful scoring depth on their NHL roster. Brandon Hagel‘s development has been moving along well too, and after one season at the AHL level could be a useful call up if needed. alongside them, Philipp Kurashev, John Quenneville, and Brandon Pirri have been in NHL development system for long enough time to be used at the NHL level if they’re ever needed.
So, what to call it?
It seems like the team has been doing this since their first round sweep to the Nashville Predators in 2017, but they’re in a major re-tooling phase than a major rebuilding one. Had the team not have as many prospects that are on the cusp of being ready to play at the NHL, or have their superstar talent not be playing at their best still, they would likely have to tear it all down. But, because they have the current pieces, plenty of ready prospects, and time for their systems to fully work themselves out, a full rebuild is never what the team needs at all. A season, maybe two of being in this loop where they figure out which young players work best. After this, however, they should be right back to dominating the Western Conference like they did during the 2010’s.