© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The 2021-22 season was one of the longest and most painful in memory. From off-ice scandals, on-ice struggles, fan favorites being traded, and a dreadful end to a dreadful season, we’re all ready to throw the final pile of dirt on the 2021-22 Blackhawks season. The CHGO Blackhawks crew got together to reflect on the season, and reveal the 22 things we learned about the Blackhawks, the organization, and what the long-overdue rebuild will look like in the months and years to come.
- Alex Vlasic has moved to number one on my defensive prospect depth chart. Yes, Ian Mitchell still is expected to have the highest ceiling of the Blackhawks’ young crop of defenseman, but I saw Vlasic move from the press box to the top pair in the course of a month, and a few rookie mistakes aside, he looked the part. Do I believe Vlasic is a top-pair defenseman on a good team? Absolutely not, but his ascent has been impressive in a short period of time, and I expect he’ll be in Chicago for all 82 games next season.
- Kyle Davidson is fully committed to this rebuild. He did not mince words during his myriad interviews last week. During his chat with The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers, he was asked if he had to “sell” the idea of a rebuild to Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Davidson said, “I don’t think I’m looking to sell them on it. I’m going to tell them what we’re looking to do, and why we’re looking to do it, and give them the information that I’m dealing with and my thought process. And then it’s up to players to determine if they want to be part of that, and if they want to play a role in that.” I was also impressed with his long-term view on the rebuild. He clearly has a plan that looks beyond next season … a welcome change from a Blackhawks GM.
- Colby Cohen is part of the Blackhawks’ long-term plans. I know this season’s broadcasts were jarring to Hawks fans. It’s understandable. We didn’t know who would be calling the action game to game, so it got difficult to settle into a rhythm. One near constant on the broadcasts was Cohen. The Hawks like what they have in Cohen, but the fans really don’t seem to like him. I’m not sure if it’s his lack of ties to Chicago, his age, or whatever, but I don’t really understand it. Conversely, fans seemed to welcome Pat Foley’s replacement, Chris Vosters, pretty openly and warmly. I hope fans give an open mind to Cohen. He’s plugged in. He understands the game. I think it would serve him, and the Blackhawks, well to give him a permanent role. Let him be a studio analyst. Let him be between the benches. But don’t make him do every role on a rotating basis. My dream TV lineup is Pat Boyle, Caley Chelios, and Charlie Roumeliotis in-studio, Chris Vosters and Eddie or Nick Olczyk on the color, and Cohen between the benches. Let each person settle into an established role. Oh, and any sort of “phasing out” of John Wiedeman on the radio call would be a colossal mistake.
- Next season is make-or-break for Kirby Dach. It’s abundantly clear that Stan Bowman rushed Dach to the NHL. I think even Bowman would admit that at this point. That, paired with injuries and COVID seasons really put Dach in a bad spot to begin his career. As years have gone by, Dach has been feeling the pressure of living up to that number three overall pick. Derek King admitted as much, saying Dach needs this summer just to clear his head. I still believe Dach has the tools to be a very solid NHL player. Will he ever be a superstar? Probably not, but an elite #2 center is still on the table. He has undeniably improved his game in all three zones. Now it’s a matter of creating offense and putting points on the board. He’s been gunshy to shoot the puck. When he does get clean looks, he’ll often stickhandle himself out of a scoring chance. These things are fixable. The only question is: Will they be fixed in Chicago, or somewhere else?
- Pat Foley needs a banner. The legendary broadcaster’s send-off was perfect, but there needs to be some sort of permanent display for Foley. Former Bulls announcer Red Kerr has a statue in the United Center concourse. Sabres broadcaster Rick Jeanneret, who called Sabres games for 51 years, had a banner raised to coincide with his retirement this season. Hawk Harrelson has the Guaranteed Rate Field press box named in his honor. The Blackhawks should (and probably will) honor Foley in a similar manner. Lord knows they’ll need events like these to sell tickets during what could be a long and painful rebuild.
- Alex DeBrincat should be here when the Blackhawks are ready to win again. DeBrincat is one of the best goal scorers in the NHL. With the Hawks headed to a rebuild, I want DeBrincat to be here on the other side. I think back to Tony Amonte, who was one of the league’s most electrifying players on a team that sucked butt. It’s a shame he was never able to enjoy team success as a Hawk. When asked about DeBrincat’s future, Davidson was elusive, steering the conversation to more general thoughts on the value of cap space in the long term. It’s important to note that Davidson can’t flat out say, “He’s our future captain and the face of our franchise,” with a free agent negotiation on the horizon, but a little more love for #12 would have made me feel a little bit better.
- Don’t expect the 2022-23 Blackhawks to be the Rockford IceHogs, Seth Jones, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Alex DeBrincat. Davidson is going to sign a few veterans to fill holes while the kids in Rockford develop. As I mentioned earlier with Dach, rushing a prospect to the NHL can be detrimental to development. Remember before the 2020-21 season, when Stan Bowman signed Carl Soderberg and Mattias Janmark? These were mid-tier veterans who got forced out of more skilled teams due to cap and roster constraints. Both provided some solid veteran play and leadership in their time with the Hawks and were flipped at the deadline. Soderberg was traded to Colorado for Ryder Rolston and Josh Dickinson. Janmark to Vegas for a 2021 second-round pick and a third-round pick in this summer’s draft. These are the sort of moves the Blackhawks could look to make to fill some spots until the Ice Hogs are ready to move up. Remember, the most important part of a rebuild is the development. Filling an NHL team full of kids might get you in the draft lottery, but it would also destroy the careers of some of your prospects.
- If there is one thing I learned this season, it’s that things can always get worse. I figured the worst of Blackhawks hockey from when I was in Jr. High and High School was behind me. While the past few seasons were bad, they weren’t the worst. This season, on and off the ice, was the worst. I’m hopeful that Kyle Davidson and the lot can put together a blueprint for a successful rebuild and we are no longer talking about having to worry about getting into the top two or three picks in the NHL draft for long.
- The Blackhawks coaching search this summer will not be a quick process. They’ve already let go of the assistants and Derek King did not have the interim tag lifted from him before the end of the season. While I still believe there is no harm in bringing him back to help facilitate the development of young players during the rebuild process, the more time passes, the less I believe he will be back as Blackhawks head coach. From what Kyle Davidson said in his interview with The Athletic, it seems the team could be looking for a coach that will not only help navigate the rebuild, but also could be the long-term solution for when the team is ready to compete again.
- Former Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville has been rumored to be potentially back in the NHL coaching mix. Before you even ask the question, the answer is no, absolutely not. While there was absolutely a zero-percent chance that Quenneville was done coaching after being dismissed from the Panthers for his role in the Brad Aldrich sexual assault cover-up (this is the NHL, after all), in no way, shape, or form should he be back in Chicago.
- I love NHL Draft time. I live for the optimism of every prospect potentially being the next franchise-changer. I live in that delusion for a week or so every summer. It’s fun. This year is the first time, maybe ever, that a team might be praying that they DON’T win the NHL Draft Lottery. Chicago would be better off trying their hand at winning the 2023 Draft Lottery for a shot at Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, or Matvei Michkov. BUT, if they do end up with the first or second pick in the 2022 Draft, there is nothing wrong with getting a top player like Shane Wright, Logan Cooley, or Juraj Salfkovsky. Any of them would instantly be the best prospect in the Chicago system. In the case of Wright, while he is not regarded as the “franchise changer” as Connor Bedard might be, he’s a player that already, at 18-years-old, looks capable of playing in the NHL. People compare him to Patrice Bergeron. Uh, yep, I’ll take that.
- While Jay mentioned that Alex Vlasic has become his top defensive prospect in the Blackhawks’ system, I think the nod goes to Alec Regula. We saw him get a ton of ice-time in the final month of the season, including getting the opportunity to run the powerplay a number of times. I think his mixture of size, skating ability, and two-way game makes him maybe the most versatile defender the Blackhawks have right now. It’s close at the top of the list with Regula, Vlasic, and Ian Mitchell. While none of them are probably ever going to get a Norris Trophy vote, they should have productive NHL careers ahead of them.
- The United Center sound system needs to lower the volume on their “club remixes” during the pregame warmups. There, I said it.
- Chicago has no solid plan in net heading into next year. Arvid Soderblöm is on the books for next season and had a good rookie season with the IceHogs, but I don’t know if he’s an NHL-level goalie. Kevin Lankinen probably gets re-signed to a one-year deal, cheap, because Chicago has no real plans. Collin Delia would probably benefit from a change of scenery and prospect Drew Commesso is a handful of years away from the NHL. They will not be asking Marc-André Fleury if he wants to come back to Chicago. Get that out of your head. It would be interesting to see if they go after a player like Braden Holtby, but that’s unlikely as well. One guy that would be interesting, for numerous reasons, as a free agent net-minder is veteran, soon-to-be 42-year-old, and Park Ridge-native Craig Anderson. Originally drafted by Chicago in 2001, Anderson has suited up for 56 games with the Blackhawks in his 683-game NHL career. If he is able to be coaxed into one more season, why not end his career with the club he began it with? People will forget that Anderson was able to win 17 games (over half of all their wins) with the Sabres this season.
- We got ourselves an idea of the type of player Kyle Davidson wants on his roster. With the additions of Sam Lafferty, Taylor Raddysh, and Boris Katchouk, we know that he likes his players to have size, speed, and effort. I expect this to be the type of players he targets at the NHL Entry Draft later this offseason.
- Staying with Davidson, he certainly gives off the appearance of one who has ice water running through his veins. He proved that he is not afraid to make unpopular moves when he traded Brandon Hagel while his trade value was at an all-time high. With the way he has spoken about veterans wanting to be around, he certainly is not worried about hurting anyone’s feelings. A clear plan and strong will are what every successful general manager needs. But they also need to be willing to listen to those around them. Davidson is starting to build a team of people he believes are smart and that he trusts. So far, so good.
- The Rockford IceHogs are more important to the Blackhawks than ever. This season’s Calder Cup Playoff run is huge for the development of players like Lukas Reichel, Ian Mitchell, and a handful of young defensemen. The Blackhawks need to be far more patient with their prospects than they were under Stan Bowman. The future of winning hockey in Chicago must start in Rockford.
- Dylan Strome should return to the Blackhawks next season. Once he was put on a line with skilled players and given the confidence to go out and do his thing, he went out and had a career year. Some players need longer to hit their stride, and I don’t think Strome has played his best hockey yet. His age and price tag make him a player I’d like to see around for a couple of more seasons.
- Tyler Johnson is the type of veteran this team needs next season. Yes, he is getting paid far more than what his production warrants, but this is a guy who has come from a winning culture, something that has been missing at the United Center for over five years. Next season is not about where the Blackhawks finish in the standings. It is about how much progress is made between Game 1 and Game 82. Johnson is a leader and isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said in the media and the locker room. He can teach a lot of young guys what it means to be a pro.
- Nobody is safe this summer, both on the ice and off it. Davidson is going to make this his team and his front office. This offseason is about pruning the dead leaves on this hockey tree and starting to groom the healthy ones. You either “hop on the ride” or hitch on somewhere else. This is long overdue.
- Blackhawks fans must have patience this offseason. Most of the moves this summer will be made to set up future endeavors. You can’t start judging the Davidson era by what he does between now and October. He is on clean-up detail and will need more than one summer to manage this mess. So, hold off on the knee-jerk reactions and give the organization some patience. They have a lot of mistakes from the past regime to correct and will need time to do so.
What we all learned together…
- Food delivery services hate Mario. Long-time Madhouse Podcast fans are feisty, but loyal. Greg owns more Roosevelt’s shirts than anyone in existence and should be respected as such.
Thanks to everyone for sticking with us this season, despite how bad the games got. You made our jobs much easier with your presence, input, and encouragement. Remember, we’re still with you five times a week in the offseason. We’re not going anywhere. We hope you’ll stick around, too.
Get Chicago's Best Sports Content In Your Inbox!
Become a smarter Chicago sports fan with the latest game recaps, analysis and exclusive content from CHGO’s writers and podcasters!
Just drop your email below!