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Connor Bedard, Chicago Blackhawks stockpiling wins is not a bad thing

Greg Boysen Avatar
March 15, 2024

This is the second-straight season where the Chicago Blackhawks have found their groove and started to play their best hockey following the trade deadline. Last season was more of a surprise as the roster was decimated to win the draft lottery. The late-season improvement we are seeing now is a product of this roster being as healthy as it’s been all year and some of the young players making strides in their development.

This time last year, every win was met with anger and anxiety that the Blackhawks might miss out on drafting Connor Bedard. We all know that worked out in the end. This season, Macklin Celebrini is the top prize at the NHL Entry Draft, but the guys in the locker room are not worried about where general manager Kyle Davidson will pick in June. They are trying to build a culture of winning to carry over into next season and beyond.

“We’ve talked about that a lot, that culture, those habits,” Bedard said on Thursday. “It’s been a tough year, but if we can down the stretch build habits and that culture, have some wins, and feel good about that, it’ll be huge going into next year. But none of us are thinking about next year. We’re focused on every game and feel it’s huge to get two points every game no matter where we’re in the standings.”

The goal this season was never to pick first overall. Davidson put together a roster meant to be more competitive than last year but also finish in the draft lottery. If he were “tanking” again, he never would have added Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, and Corey Perry in the offseason. He certainly would not have given Foligno, Jason Dickinson, and Petr Mrazek two-year extensions. Instead, they would have all been shipped out at the trade deadline. The Blackhawks are at the bottom of the standings because of horrible injury luck, not because of roster construction.

As Jay Zawaski wrote for his weekly Blackhawks Beat column, 23 players need new contracts at the end of the season. However, their core for next season is set with Bedard, Foligno, Mrazek, Dickinson, Hall, Andreas Athanasiou, Philipp Kurashev, Ryan Donato, Seth Jones, Kevin Korchinski, and Landon Slaggert all set to come back next year. This list doesn’t include Lukas Reichel or Alex Vlasic, who undoubtedly will get new contracts.

So, winning games down the stretch is more important for the guys in the room right now than how many lottery balls they get after the season.

“We have a couple of key pieces locked in for the next couple of years,” head coach Luke Richardson said. “You need that veteran leadership to realize how we finish can carry over into next year. Those guys are giving us leadership and playing some of their best hockey of the year. It makes it easier for our young guys to stay on track.”

Over the past two years, we’ve heard a lot from Davidson, Richardson, and many of the players about building a winning culture. That is exactly what this current group is trying to do in the last month of the schedule.

“Our leadership group just talked about how important winning is,” Nick Foligno said during his most recent appearance on the CHGO Blackhawks podcast. “The habit of winning, the feeling of winning. It is important to stockpile them. It’s difficult because we’re not playing for the playoffs. We’re playing for the attitude and the understanding of what it is to get in the playoffs eventually.”

What this team does know can have a good long-term effect on the core, especially for Bedard, Korchinski, and Vlasic, who will be the leaders of the future.

“This is a really important time,” Foligno added. “You can handle it in one of two ways. You can either say the season’s lost and just go through the motions, or you can go out there and put yourself in a better position to hit the ground running come the offseason. Then, next season, you have a little confidence; you’ve built something. As an organization and a group, we have to feel like we are just starting to get the ball rolling, and we want to get it going in the direction we need to. Those are the mindsets and habits we have to have. I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen but want to see it continue.”

If the Blackhawks beat the Los Angeles Kings tonight, they will have their first three-game winning streak of the season and earned eight points in their last five games. Nothing about this is a reason to get upset.

As last year proved, finishing last in the league does not guarantee the number one overall pick. Likely, the Blackhawks will not pick any lower than fourth. Plus, they have the Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round pick and three more selections in the second round. The rebuild is heading in the right direction whether they land Celebrini or not. Having the young core start to develop winning habits is an important step, and if it costs them the first pick, so be it. And who knows, maybe they will still have both!

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