The 2022-23 season has been trying for Chicago Blackhawks fans. It started at the NHL Entry Draft when general manager Kyle Davidson began the daunting chore of tearing down and rebuilding this storied franchise. Fans had to say goodbye to Kirby Dach and Alex DeBrincat. Dach was just three years removed from being drafted third-overall, but injuries and zero patience with his development caused him to be a major disappointment. DeBrincat was coming off his second 41-goal season and was even discussed on our airwaves as a future captain.
These draft-night trades were just the first two of many tough pills to swallow this past season. The team was built to get the best odds possible to land the number one overall pick in this June’s NHL Entry Draft and select generational talent, Connor Bedard. This led to many fans cheering for losses and getting upset after wins. These feelings are very unnatural for a fan base and can cause a ton of unnecessary stress and anxiety.
Even before the puck dropped on the season in Denver, the main storyline was whether or not Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews would be traded before the March 3 trade deadline, as both superstars were entering the final season of their contracts. We had to endure months of “Will he stay, or will he go?’ talk surrounding Kane. Ultimately, he was traded to the New York Rangers for what many considered an underwhelming return.
Toews was never traded as he missed eight weeks recovering from illness. He returned to the lineup on April 1, but we now know that tonight will be his final game as a member of the Blackhawks.
As we’ve alluded to all season on the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast, the organization is ready to move on from the Stanley Cup era. Kane and Toews were the last two holdouts from the glory days, and when the clock hits all zeros tonight, those days will be officially over.
The fanfare Toews will deservedly receive tonight will overshadow the season’s main objective; getting the best odds to land the number one overall pick this June. The Blackhawks cannot afford any points tonight or they could fall all the way to the fourth-worst point total, meaning they could draft as low as sixth.
Finishing with the fewest points and guaranteeing them a top-three pick is on the table, but they will need some help.
First, they must lose in regulation to the Philadelphia Flyers. They then need the Columbus Blue Jackets to earn two points over their final two games and the Anaheim Ducks to get at least one point in their regular-season finale. The Blue Jackets are playing the Pittsburgh Penguins and Buffalo Sabres, who were both recently eliminated from playoff contention and have nothing to play for but pride. The Ducks wrap up their season tonight against the Los Angeles Kings. Relying on these two bad teams to earn points is not a sound plan, but it is where we are.
As we’ve discussed in recent weeks, finishing with the worst record is the goal, but it won’t be the end of the world if the Blackhawks don’t nab Bedard in the draft. Yes, it would be disappointing, but no matter where they draft, whoever they select will be the franchise’s top prospect the second his name is called.
While there have been a ton of losses this season, both on the ice and off it, we expected this heading into year one of Davidson’s massive rebuild. Now that the dust has settled, we can see that plenty has been gained too. First and foremost, the Blackhawks have found their coach of the future in Luke Richardson. If he is getting this roster to play hard all the way through game 82, imagine what he can do with a roster full of young, dynamic talent.
We are also starting to see progression with some of the younger players in the system. Lukas Reichel silenced those who doubted he could be an effective NHL player. Philipp Kurashev took a huge step in his game, and it looks like he will be a part of this team’s future. Taylor Raddysh scored 20 goals for the first time in his career. Some of the young defensemen have taken significant steps, too, like Alex Vlasic, Isaak Phillips, Alec Regula, and Wyatt Kaiser.
The prospect pipeline is something to be very excited about. It jumped from 25th to fifth in The Athletic’s rankings after just one Davidson-led draft. The Blackhawks will have two first-round picks this June and six picks in the first two rounds, added to an already talented pool of players.
Everyone expected a lot of pain heading into the season, and we got plenty of that in the form of losses and having to say goodbye to a slew of popular players. But now that we have come out on the other end, you can say that Davidson accomplished quite a bit in one year and has this franchise on a path back to competing. The next step will be the further development of the young players as the front office continues to add pieces.