With the return of the traditional divisions, in-person fans, and 82-game schedules, things will start to feel normal again this regular NHL season. Chicago will be back in the standard Central Division where they will face five teams they have not played against in over a year. When compared to last season, this will be an entirely different feel as the players transition from the series style of scheduling back into regular schedules, and this will be a big test for the many young and new players on the Hawks’ roster. This warrants the question: Can the 2021-22 Chicago Blackhawks actually make the postseason this year?
Will the 2021-22 Chicago Blackhawks Make the Playoffs?
The Central Division will be gaining a team as the Pacific makes room for the Seattle Kraken: the Arizona Coyotes. While Arizona did make many favourable transactions this offseason, setting themselves up with two first-round and five second-round picks in next year’s draft, they are not currently competitive enough to be a contender. Although Arizona might not be a major threat, the Central is by no means a “weak” division. In fact, some may argue that the Central is the toughest division in the league. With the likes of Colorado, Minnesota, St. Louis, Dallas, and Winnipeg, the Hawks will have to fight tirelessly to secure a postseason ticket.
Experience in the Crease
Marc-Andre Fleury being traded to Chicago, one of the biggest surprises of the offseason, will have a major impact on the Blackhawks’ playoff chances. The three-time Stanley Cup champion and reigning Vezina winner will bring a needed veteran presence into the locker room while he attempts to prove that he can still play at an elite level for his age. On top of this, he will provide the mentorship qualities that were lacking from Kevin Lankinen’s rookie season.
While it is impossible to foresee how the 36-year old will fare in net this season, one thing is clear: the defence in front of Fleury is going to be considerably worse than in Vegas. Kevin Lankinen got a taste for this as he made the big leap into the National League last year. Only two other goaltenders faced more shots than him last season: Connor Hellebuyck and Andrei Vasilevskiy. It is also worth noting that the goalie who faced the next-most shots, Jordan Binnington, managed to face four fewer shots while having played five more games than Lankinen.
Based on statistics alone, the Hawks have one of the worst defences in the entire league. After the Hawks finished dead last in shots against per game last season, it may be hard for Fleury to top his career-best season he posted with Vegas last year. Similarly, the Hawks finished 28th overall in the league for penalty kill percentage; another flaw in their defensive system that cost them countless games. However, with the arrival of Seth Jones, Caleb Jones, and Jake McCabe and the continued development of Wyatt Kalynuk, Ian Mitchell, and Nicolas Beaudin, the Hawks’ defensive group should improve.
Return of Toews
Although the exact return of the Chicago captain still remains a mystery, it is a safe bet that Jonathan Toews will play with the Hawks at some point this season. After missing the entirety of the last regular season, it is clear that Toews’ presence was dearly missed. The Hawks collectively finished 29th overall in faceoff win percentage at a lacklustre 46.3%. The guy they heavily relied upon to take faceoffs in Toews’ absence, David Kampf, just signed with Toronto this offseason. This only makes Toews’ arrival back to the 2021-22 Chicago Blackhawks roster even more highly sought after. Fortunately, the Hawks’ GM told the media that Toews personally reached out to Fleury to help persuade him to come to Chicago. This is a good look for someone who fans desperately want to return to play.
With the addition of Fleury’s elite goaltending, Seth Jones’ endurance, and Toews’ leadership skills, the Blackhawks look increasingly dangerous after a mediocre last season. At the very least, the Hawks should be in playoff contention: a small statement, yet, one that probably would not have been viable before the offseason. It will be tough to land one of the top three spots in the stacked Central Division, but it is very possible that they squeeze into a wild card position as the Pacific remains weak. A lot of people forget that the Hawks managed to stay in a playoff spot for a good portion of last season with a roster that at one point was skating ten rookies in a single game; quite the feat. With that said, the NHL is entirely unpredictable and quite literally any outcome is fathomable.
However, if they do make the playoffs, one outcome would be a treat to watch. Say the 2021-22 Chicago Blackhawks do make the playoffs by sneaking into the last wild card spot; it is possible that they would end up playing the Vegas Golden Knights: Fleury’s former team. A true battle between Robin Lehner and Fleury would have fans from all over the league on the edge of their seats.