© 2023 BSN LIVE, INC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Coming into the 2022-23 season, the expectations for the Chicago Blackhawks were among the lowest in the NHL. Along with the Arizona Coyotes, the vast majority of fans and people in and around the league thought the Blackhawks would be squarely in the running for the worst record in the league and playing for the best odds in the Connor Bedard sweepstakes. They were built to do so. But after the first 15 games of the season, the Blackhawks find themselves exceeding early expectations with a 6-6-3 record and playing on an 82-point pace for the season.
That isn’t expected to be sustained, but it’s also not bad enough to land inside the top three, or even top five, best odds for the top selection in the 2023 NHL Draft. If the ultimate goal for this season is to land the top overall pick, as the Blackhawks were constructed to do by general manager Kyle Davidson, then they have failed so far.
It’s becoming harder to pin-down what this team exactly is so far this season, though. Are they not bad enough to be in the bottom-three, but bad enough to not compete for anything? Are they playing far above their shoes and will come crashing down to Earth? Are they a plucky group, never to be counted out?
All of that can be true at once, it appears.
The Good: Jonathan Toews
Jonathan Toews is playing like the “old Jonathan Toews” to begin this season. Not many people expected that. Maybe only Toews himself expected that to be the case 15 games into the season. After having his career-worst year in 2021-22, a year after missing a full season do to Chronic Immune Response Syndrome, Toews is scoring goals at a pace not seen by him since he put up 35 in the 2018-19 season. His current 55-point pace for the season isn’t that remarkable considering his career standards, but if you had come into this season and said Toews could put up 55 points on this Blackhawks team, your head may have fallen off your neck.
Is it sustainable? A question that surrounds this entire Blackhawks team so far this season. But for the 34-year-old Captain, there seems to be little to suggest he can’t keep this kind of production pace going. Yes, a shooting percentage in the 20’s is unlikely to hold up, but for a player that “didn’t know how to lead a rebuilding team” back in April, it appears things have started better than expected for Toews.
The Good: Luke Richardson
As advertised and then some. That’s the best way I can describe how Luke Richardson has been as a head coach in Chicago for his first 15 regular season games with the Blackhawks. Everything that we had been told and learned about Richardson from his time as an assistant in Montreal has seemed to be absolutely true. He is, dare I say, the right coach for this Blackhawks team now and into the (hopefully near) competitive future.
Kyle Davidson said they wanted the next Blackhawks head coach to have a presence, command a locker room, and be able to connect to the players. Check. Check. Check. Richardson has been a breath of fresh air, as far as coaching goes, for both the Blackhawks players and fans alike. He brings a simplicity to the game that is easily translatable to his players, allowing them to play based on the instincts that got them to the NHL. Something that was washed out of some players under Jeremy Colliton’s “predetermined” system of play.
It is still early, but a 6-6-3 start for Richardson is better than expected. Funnily enough, that was the record that wasn’t good enough for Joel Quenneville back in November of 2018 that brought about his departure from the team and ushered-in the Colliton era. But that was then, and this is now. And right now, Richardson has his team playing above expectations and playing for each other. Not much else you could hope for from a new head coach.
The Bad: Blackhawks at 5v5
That 6-6-3 record for the Blackhawks through their first 15 games could very well be 3-9-3 or worse, had they not mustered a few comeback wins along the way. That’s where the “pluckiness” of this team has shone-through early this season. The idea that you have to be down by two goals to come back by two goals has worked, but again is unsustainable for this Blackhawks group. Now, if we were talking about the Avalanche having a couple multi-goal comeback efforts, that’s a different story. But these Blackhawks are not the Avalanche.
Usually when a team is getting unexpected wins when they are playing as poorly at 5v5 as the Blackhawks are this season, you can chalk it up to an overwhelmingly successful powerplay and/or penalty-kill. Neither are true for the Blackhawks. We’ll delve into the stats in a bit, but the Blackhawks rank dead-last in the league at 5v5 in Corsi-For% and are in the bottom-five of the NHL in Shots-For%, Goals-For%, Scoring Chances-For%, Expected Goals-For%, and High-Danger Shots-For%.
That’s not good. That’s not going to sustain an 82-point pace for the season.
So for all of those who are worried that the Blackhawks are playing too well to earn themselves the best chance at drafting in the top-three and having a shot at Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli, or Matvei Michkov, if the play at 5v5 doesn’t improve, you won’t have anything to worry about.
The Bad: Injuries
For a team already thin with talent, losing players that are key to helping on and off the ice is never a good thing. Seth Jones going down with a thumb injury might have opened the door for players like Alec Regula and Filip Roos a little earlier than expected this season, but losing a player who was eating 25+ minutes per night leaves a large hole in your lineup. In his absence, we’ve seen players like Jack Johnson, Caleb Jones, and Jarred Tinordi, yes that Jarred Tinordi, playing 20+ minutes on any given night.
From a tank season perspective, that’s good. From an on-ice product perspective…woof.
Look, love or hate Seth Jones, he’s important to this Blackhawks team in more ways than one. He’s a leader on and off the ice and the anchor to the Blackhawks defensive group. He leads the top powerplay unit. Plays significant penalty-killing minutes, and can help facilitate offense at 5v5. Without him playing, he also isn’t driving up his potential trade value. Sure, his contract is a boat anchor. But the idea that the increase in the salary cap over the next few seasons make it entirely possible that his $9.5M AAV cap hit could become less of a hindrance to teams looking to add to their blue-line in the next handful of years. While Jones won’t say it, I’m sure he’s not thrilled to be in the position he is in with this Blackhawks team and the direction they are going. Not many high-end players sign up for an eight-year rebuild.
Adding to the loss of Jones is the loss of Tyler Johnson. Another NHL veteran and voice that carries in the locker room. After missing a chunk of last season due to injury, Johnson was looking to bounce back this year and get off to a good start with an elevated opportunity in the lineup. Then he gets hurt again and his season gets derailed.
In his place, Philipp Kurashev has made the most of his opportunity to move up the lineup, which is good from a development standpoint. But Johnson is important to this team in establishing the all important culture of the Blackhawks, something Kyle Davidson and Luke Richardson have both emphasized multiple times this season.
The Unexpected: Faceoff wins
After years of the Blackhawks being one of the worst teams in the league at the faceoff dot, aside from Jonathan Toews, they are now the BEST in the NHL when it comes to winning faceoffs. They are winning 58.5% of their draws this season, tops in the league ahead of Boston’s 57.1%. Both Toews and Max Domi rank in the top-five of the NHL in individual faceoff percentage with Toews’ 64.3% win-rate ranking second behind Ryan Johansen’s league-leading 64.6%. Domi comes in at fifth in the league with a 60.9% win-rate.
That’s all well and good for the Blackhawks, but after winning the faceoff, you have to do something productive with the puck. That’s been the more challenging part for this group. (See: previous comments on 5v5 play)
The Unexpected: Patrick Kane’s offense
Now, this may sound silly saying that the guy leading the team in points is having an unexpectedly tough start offensively this season. But consider that Kane leads the Blackhawks with 12 points through 15 games this season with only two of his ten assists coming as primary assists and seven of his 12 points coming on the powerplay. It’s great that he is producing at a 0.80 point-per-game pace to begin the season, but that’s just a 65.6-point pace over the full 82-game schedule, which would rank as his lowest output in a full, 82-game season.
This season began with Kane playing alongside Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou, two players that you would fathom could hang with Kane based on their specific skill sets. But it hasn’t worked. Domi is becoming too passive with the puck when Kane is on the ice. Athanasiou’s speed can create chances offensively, but his finishing ability still leaves something to be desired. It can be harder to play with Patrick Kane than one thinks. It takes a special player with a special hockey mind to play alongside the future hall of famer.
We’ve seen lineup changes already to the defacto top-line for the Blackhawks with Philipp Kurashev moving up and Athanasiou moving down. Could more changes be on the way to “get Kane going” as the saying in hockey goes? Time will tell.
The Fancy Stats
*Stat: (NHL Rank 1-32)*
- 5v5 Corsi-For%: 40.90 (32nd)
- 5v5 Shots-For%: 41.55 (31st)
- 5v5 Goals-For%: 41.67 (28th)
- 5v5 Expected Goals-For%: 41.24 (30th)
- 5v5 Scoring Chances-For%: 39.80 (31st)
- 5v5 High-Danger Chances-For%: 42.92 (27th)
- 5v5 PDO (shooting percentage + save percentage: 1.000 (16th)
- Shots For per game: 25.8 (31st)
- Shots Allowed per game: 34.7 (29th)
- Powerplay%: 21.7 (15th)
- Penalty-kill%: 75.9 (23rd)
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!