82 games, 16 teams, and sports’ greatest trophy, the Stanley Cup. The Chicago Blackhawks have been there and done that six times since their existence in the NHL, most notably three Cup wins in five seasons during the 2010s. The glory days of the modern Blackhawks era might be behind the organization, but an active free agency and off-season has fans split on their playoff chances this season. Will the addition of Vezina-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury and young defenceman Seth Jones be enough to play in the postseason? Or will the rebuild that’s looming over the organization cast a shadow on this year’s season? Today we’ll walk you through a playoff roadmap for exactly how the Chicago Blackhawks 2021-22 season can continue into the playoffs.
Chicago Blackhawks Playoff Roadmap
Winning Divisional Matchups
If last season was any indication of this, winning divisional games is key to making the playoffs. In the middle of the season when the Blackhawks had their hot streak they were beating the teams they were supposed to, the teams at the bottom of the Central. When the games got tougher, like playing Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, they couldn’t pick up those games when they needed them. Even though the team won’t face either of those sides more than twice, the goal remains the same. If the Blackhawks are able to out-power the Arizona Coyotes but not the St. Louis Blues or Minnesota Wild, then the playoffs are out of reach for this season. However if the team can pick up a few of those tougher games, the postseason becomes more realistic.
Returning to Past Form
Team captain Jonathan Toews has rested a full season to get back to game form for opening night against the Avalanche. Reports out of training camp say that the 33-year-old centre looks stronger, faster, and ready to play. He’s actually a huge factor in the team’s playoff calculations. The 2019-20 season saw Toews scored at a 70 point pace, won over 850 face-offs, and was one of the best centres in the Central division that year. In the bubble that summer he played some of the best playoff hockey of his career, scoring at a point-per-game pace. If Toews can capture that same level of play he had in 2019, the season outlook will be good.
Similarly, the team and the whole organization have to find a way to capture the energy and level of competition that they had during their dynasty run in the 2010s. If that means the graphics team has to create some new graphics for home games, then they do. If it means that the team learns a different system to bring more energy to their overall game, then that’s what they do. The thing with the dynasty Blackhawks that separates them from the two-cup Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins was the way that the team played and meshed with each other. Chicago has the personnel to achieve the success that they once had, it’s just a matter of capturing that same essence of success that they had during their cup wins.
Defence, Defence, Defence!
If there’s one part of the Blackhawks game that’s been inconsistent over the last few seasons, it has been their defensive play. Brent Seabrook‘s injuries and slow play, as well as Duncan Keith‘s old age catching up to him, caused the rest of the defence to follow suit. Sure, there have been individual defencemen over the last few years who played well on their own. Adam Boqvist comes to mind in that regard, as does Calvin de Haan in his short time in Chicago.
This year’s defence core is completely new to fans and the organization, however. The Jones brothers, Jake McCabe, and the cast of young defencemen the team tried out last year are in the mix this year. Connor Murphy is an established leader on and off the ice. Murphy’s ability to lead the group at the blue line this season will be crucial if a playoff appearance is the end goal.
Probability of the Playoffs
Hockey is one of the most unpredictable sports in the world. Any number of things can happen for the Blackhawks to make, or miss, the playoffs this season. If the season goes like this, a deep playoff run is in store for the young team. If they stray the path too much and return to their bad habits of the last few years, it’ll be another long season for the fans and organization alike.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images