Chicago Blackhawks 2022-23 season preview: Playoff probabilities, projected factors, roster rankings

September 20, 2022

Welcome to The Athletic’s 2022-23 version of the crew season previews. Take a look at all of the previews as they’re launched proper right here.

A 12 months in the past, the Chicago Blackhawks had playoff aspirations. Think about that.

And so they weren’t fully delusional, both. In the event you rubbed your eyes a bit, you could possibly make out the form of a crew that’d play related video games. Marc-Andre Fleury would carry over his Vezina-winning kind. We’d see one of the best model of Seth Jones. Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, once more, would excel. Kirby Dach would make the leap. And who wasn’t comfortable to see the return of Jonathan Toews? The tip end result was an 89-point projection that put them at tenth within the West; nothing nice, however within the dialog all the identical.

A 12 months out, it’s clear that issues couldn’t have gone worse. The on-ice product was putrid from the soar, and the off-ice scenario was worse, as a result of group’s disgraceful dealing with of Kyle Seaside’s sexual assault allegations. The latter price Stan Bowman his GM job, although the botched execution of a mid-stream try to maximise the top of Kane and Toews’s profession may’ve sufficed.

Bowman is gone now, with Kyle Davidson presiding over what, by the draft, had grow to be some of the cold, blatant tank jobs in latest historical past. What’s left in Chicago — and what’s the purpose?


The projection

The largest drawback with Chicago’s forecast is that it’s not worse. The Blackhawks had a mission this offseason to grow to be as unhealthy as attainable – the first motive the crew shipped off DeBrincat and Dach on the draft. This crew is in full tank mode and DeBrincat’s presence was a hindrance to that.

The problem is that shifting on from him alone isn’t sufficient… not whereas the Coyotes nonetheless exist. The Coyotes have a doctorate in being unhealthy; they’re skilled veterans of tanking. They know precisely what it takes. For Chicago, it’s been some time for the reason that franchise has been down this street and it’ll take a lot lower than the present roster to compete with Arizona for the title of league’s worst. There’s just one quantity that Hawks followers care about on the chart above and it’s the crew’s likelihood of ending in lifeless final: 16 p.c. Good, however arguably not adequate. You don’t commerce away a bonafide 40-goal scorer for a 16 p.c likelihood.

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Logically, it appears troublesome to think about Chicago enhancing on final 12 months’s 68 factors after the crew shipped away its second-best ahead. The Blackhawks projected 74.4 factors makes little sense below these circumstances as that is clearly a a lot worse crew. There’s at all times a distinction between projected and precise factors and the important thing factor to recollect is the place Chicago was to start out final season. This time final 12 months the crew was projected to earn 89 factors, that means Chicago’s true expertise degree has dropped by 15 factors. The 68 factors the Blackhawks earned final 12 months had loads to do with unhealthy luck, on high of being unhealthy.

Final season, loads needed to go incorrect for Chicago to be as unhealthy because it was. Sprinkle a bit of little bit of unhealthy luck on a real expertise 74-point crew this time round and it’ll be a lot simpler for the crew to land on the backside of the standings. 9 occasions out of 10, the Blackhawks are within the league’s backside 10, and 65 p.c of the time they’re within the backside 5. These are good odds.

In fact, all of this hinges on Chicago’s roster staying intact, one thing that appears unlikely given the crew’s acknowledged purpose and the very fact there are nonetheless a number of affect gamers that stay within the lineup. The presence of Kane and Toews (and possibly Jones too) limits Chicago’s skill to be Arizona-bad from the get-go. However any motion on that entrance and the crew inches a lot nearer.


The massive query

Are the Blackhawks unhealthy sufficient to be the league’s worst crew?

Of all of the questions hanging over the Blackhawks, two of essentially the most steadily requested revolve round Kane: “When will they transfer him?” and “Why is he nonetheless there?”

The second appears to have a less complicated reply. Chicago is a superb place, Kane has performed there ceaselessly and everybody hates shifting. It most likely doesn’t have to be extra sophisticated than that. Throw in some tactical components on the crew facet of issues — think about how determined groups will likely be so as to add Kane midseason, when accidents take maintain and extra cap house opens up — and Kane opening the season on the roster is smart. Anticipating him to make up his thoughts, then hammering out a deal between the draft (when DeBrincat was traded) and the beginning of free company (when groups begin throwing away their cap house) would’ve been unnecessarily troublesome.

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Because it stands, based on The Athletic’s Mark Lazerus, the Blackhawks have had “no discussions with any groups” involving Kane. Sooner or later, that’ll change; Kane has one 12 months left on his deal, and it’s just about inconceivable to think about him signing a brand new one. Given the Blackhawks’ clear and current purpose — lose as many video games as attainable — the earlier, the higher. Kane, possibly greater than his two nearest opponents mixed, is Chicago’s single greatest impediment to creating that occur.

He’s, certainly, nonetheless that good; adequate to tug a number of extra factors out of a 74-point projected crew over the course of a full season. That would imply the distinction between leaderboard standing and “additionally receiving votes” within the Connor Bedard Derby. In fact, DeBrincat’s exit goes to “assist” the trigger right here; Lukas Reichel is an impressive prospect, however the odds of him having his personal 40-goal season with Kane because the trigger-man, as a first-year NHL participant, aren’t nice — and that’s the place the majority of Kane’s worth lies, at this level in his profession. Creating high-danger likelihood is one factor. Having gamers round who can capitalize on them is one other.

A line pairing Max Domi and Andreas Athanasiou can be a pleasant bet-hedge for the tank, as nicely. These two have been offense-first/just for years. If that carries over, they’ll produce factors for each side.

The largest motive to suppose that Chicago can drag this throughout the end line — apart from the chance that they ship out anybody with an expiring contract and a pulse by the commerce deadline — is their scenario in web. Petr Mrazek, who the Blackhawks took off Toronto’s palms together with a 13-spot sweeter in June’s draft, figures to get the majority of the begins. He was one of many worst goalies within the league final season, with a Objectives Saved Above Anticipated of minus-12.9, tenth worst within the league. A part of the explanation issues went so unhealthy so shortly final season for Chicago was its goaltending; Kevin Lankinen was second from the underside in GSAx, and Fleury was 14th. Mrazek looks like a worthy inheritor. His backup, Alex Stalock, is a superb story; at 35 years outdated, and two years after lacking a season with myocarditis, he’s again within the NHL full-time. Final season, he performed 5 AHL video games and one with the Sharks, permitting six objectives on 28 photographs.

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The wildcard

Can Max Domi be a high six ahead once more?

Signing with the Blackhawks provides Domi a chance he wouldn’t have on a deeper crew: the potential for top-six minutes. Skating in a top-six position and truly assembly the caliber that position asks for are two various things, although. Proper now, Domi doesn’t mission to be at that degree and his high comps after 2021-22 don’t instill confidence that he’ll get there, both.

Domi might be an efficient offensive menace between his passing and taking pictures, so long as he can stroll the road between being a troublesome opponent and staying disciplined. However position and lineup placement will likely be influential in his degree of play since he hasn’t been in a position to drive his personal line in a while. If he’s requested to play heart, the defensive obligations — which have been an space of weak spot at five-on-five by means of a lot of his profession — could drag his play down. Which will maintain true at wing, too, contemplating the crew round him. So the one option to actually fight that could be to outscore his issues, and that could be tough until he will get minutes alongside Kane.

The possibilities of Domi reaching respectable top-six caliber are slim, contemplating his degree and the crew round him. However the higher he performs, the higher the return must be on the deadline for the Blackhawks who may use no matter commerce belongings they’ll get.


Max Domi. (Dennis Schneidler / USA Right now)

The core

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Andreas Athanasiou, Tyler Johnson, Seth Jones, Connor Murphy, Petr Mrazek

Core? What core?

For over a decade the Blackhawks have been outlined by two gamers: Kane and Toews. They’ve been the dual faces of this franchise, with the very idea of a “core” within the wage cap period coming into common lexicon partly due to them. It was The Chicago Mannequin for achievement, a mannequin that groups nonetheless emulate to a point to at the present time. They have been era-defining superstars for an era-defining crew.

However that period appears prefer it’s coming to an finish, and with it the top of Chicago’s so-called core. For now although, they’re nonetheless technically the centerpieces of Chicago’s core.

Kane stays one of many league’s greatest gamers, a purely one-dimensional offensive drive who’s about pretty much as good because it will get with the puck on his stick. Few generate extra offense off the push and create high-danger probabilities – whether or not that’s by way of shot or move. Kane was high 5 within the league in excessive hazard shot contributions final 12 months.

It’s the opposite facet of the puck that’s at all times in query, however Kane creates greater than sufficient offense to make up for it – one thing that anticipated objectives doesn’t seize nicely. Relative to teammates, Kane’s skill to drive anticipated objectives has been unfavorable for eight straight seasons, however his skill to drive precise objectives has nearly at all times been constructive. In that span, his affect on anticipated objectives is minus-0.15 per 60… however by precise objectives he’s plus-0.34.

One concern with Kane: his five-on-five points-per-60 has dropped in 4 consecutive seasons. His 2.22 charge from final 12 months continues to be sturdy and near his profession common, however a good bit decrease than his 2.8 from 2018-19. The perpetrator: a drop in his personal skill to place the puck within the web.

Kane continues to be very a lot value his big-ticket contract. Toews… not a lot, although his play final 12 months did fly a bit below the radar. Toews solely scored 37 factors in 71 video games, however at five-on-five his 1.83 points-per-60 was respectable given he didn’t spend a lot time with both Kane (18 p.c) or DeBrincat (23 p.c) – and nearly by no means on the similar time.  His points-per-60 ranked 147th amongst forwards, a strong second-line charge.

Toews’s declare to fame is his two-way play and it was nice to see a return to kind for him in that regard. A lesser position definitely helps and his affect on anticipated objectives was his second-highest during the last seven years. He might not be a top-line caliber participant anymore, however he’s removed from washed.

With out that duo, issues are simply dire for the Blackhawks. Actually, it’s simply Seth Jones left and he’s received to be kicking himself for committing himself to eight years of this franchise as a result of it might take that lengthy for them to return to relevancy.

Jones is a gamer – he needs to win. He’s not going to do this right here and it’s in these excessive leverage conditions the place one of the best of his sport is proven. The lore round his 2020 playoffs nonetheless shapes notion round his sport, with Jones’s worth being among the many most polarizing within the league.

In our NHL Prime 100, he was positioned in Tier 4A; seen as someplace between the twentieth and twenty third greatest defenseman in hockey. For some traditionalists, that was most likely too low given his instruments, talent and dimension. He looks like the entire bundle. For some analysts, that was most likely too excessive given his outcomes don’t line up with that perceived bundle. The place he was positioned on that listing represented a center floor between the 2 factions: a barely below-average primary defender.

From an analytical perspective, Jones’s relative anticipated objectives numbers improved final season to proper round common – however his uncooked whole being under 50 p.c continues to be a problem. There was solely a lot he may do on such a poor crew, however a part of being an elite primary defenseman is elevating that poor crew to higher heights. That’s why he was introduced in and it’s arduous to say he achieved that with a 47 p.c anticipated objectives charge. Those that level towards his objectives proportion as proof of him being one thing extra have been met with a actuality verify relating to that quantity being so risky. Jones was at 41 p.c final 12 months, 5 proportion factors decrease than anticipated – and unfavorable relative to teammates. During the last three seasons, his anticipated and precise purpose charges are practically an identical: 46.5 p.c.

As for a glance into how these numbers grow to be so poor, Jones’s micro-stats inform among the story. Final 12 months, Jones’s plight at defending zone entries from earlier seasons remained an issue in Chicago, and his skill to exit the zone was additionally problematic. In response to knowledge tracked by Corey Sznajder, Jones led the crew in profitable exits, but additionally had a excessive ratio of failed exits and botched puck retrievals. He’s a riskier participant than his status makes him out to be. That appears nice when he’s main the push, one in all his greatest traits from the backend, but it surely’s troublesome when he’s defending it or orchestrating a breakout.

Jones is flawed, however with the suitable supporting forged can clearly be very helpful. You’ll not discover that right here the place the remainder of the crew’s “greatest” is generally simply cast-offs.

Tyler Johnson was a wage dump that Chicago hoped can be one thing extra final 12 months, however he solely suited up for 26 video games. In these video games, Johnson scored seven factors. Athanasiou may very well be strong,and had a pleasant comeback season final 12 months – however that was over solely 28 video games. He’ll have extra utilization than he can deal with in Chicago. Mrazek is the final of the castoffs and the very fact he’s the crew’s seemingly starter is a masterful stroke of genius towards the crew’s tanking objectives.

That leaves Connor Murphy as the ultimate member of the core, who could probably be the one one left standing by this time subsequent season. Murphy has had strong seasons previously placing up sturdy relative numbers enjoying powerful minutes, but when he’s the man taking up powerful minutes to your crew we have now points. At his peak, he was a powerful second pairing choice, although that wasn’t the case final 12 months when even the crew’s most usually dependable defender struggled.

On paper, it’s not the league’s worst core, however in due time it will likely be. No Kane, no Toews and possibly even no Jones will make certain of it. The truth that they’re near being the worst core even with these guys is a reasonably damning indictment of what’s left – and why a scorched earth rebuild is important.


Seth Jones. (Kamil Krzaczynski / USA Right now)

The assist

Huh. OK. Properly, we already talked about Domi at size… apart from him, there aren’t a variety of non-core gamers that stick out.

Reichel is the hands-down most attention-grabbing participant within the group. Issues went based on plan on the Blackhawks’ rookie showcase. Now, the 2020 first-round choose’s process is making the soar from a point-per-game first season within the AHL to precise NHL contributions. Corey Pronman has him projected as a top-line NHL winger, based mostly on his manufacturing and his well-rounded sport. He’ll assist Chicago win video games finally. Simply … possibly not proper now. Regardless, he ought to play on a line with Kane. Nothing that occurs on the ice for the Blackhawks will likely be extra necessary than getting Reichel reps with different elite gamers.

The remainder of the ahead holdovers — Johnson, Sam Lafferty, Jujhar Khaira, MacKenzie Entwistle, et al — don’t transfer the needle. The brilliant spot might be Taylor Raddysh, a part of the Brandon Hagel deal. He cut up 22 factors between the Lightning and Blackhawks, and his 0.8 GSVA most likely clocked in a bit larger than anticipated. He has one season as a pleasant depth participant below his belt, however attempting to observe that up in a expertise vacuum — or probably enjoying up, given the shortage of choices and attainable in-season trades — will likely be an attention-grabbing process. His manufacturing this season, as a 24-year-old, will go a great distance towards establishing his long-term rep.

Defensively, the Blackhawks are in equally unhealthy form. A bounce-back season from Jake McCabe will likely be powerful; he’s anticipated to overlook about two months of video games after cervical backbone surgical procedure. McCabe made a reputation for himself as a respectable shutdown defender who posted (comparatively) glowing anticipated objectives numbers for a brutal Sabres crew alongside Rasmus Ristolainen. Issues have been completely different in Chicago, the place McCabe’s numbers (43 xG proportion) weren’t good even when grading on a curve in his first season again from a critical knee damage.

The X-factor general is Alex Vlasic, who could discover himself paired with Seth Jones. Vlasic’s leads to 15 NHL video games after making the soar from Boston College have been promising — an xG proportion of 53.7, enjoying the majority of his minutes with Jones — and he has a status for shifting nicely regardless of being 6-foot-6.

In the end, although, speaking about anybody on this roster is troublesome. “Assist gamers” — no less than within the conventional sense — are briefly provide. What’s left, outdoors of Kane, Toews, Jones and Reichel, are commerce items and the odd prospect. Finally, that’ll change. Simply not proper now.

We’ll end on this be aware: Stanley Cup champion Jack Johnson is on the squad, on a one-year, $950,000 deal. Congrats to each side.


The perfect case

The Blackhawks are the league’s worst crew, win the lottery and reignite a brand new hope for the following technology of competition for a storied franchise.

The worst case

The Blackhawks aren’t the league’s worst crew as Kane, Toews and Jones stick round lengthy sufficient to stifle Chicago’s possibilities of tanking with renaissance seasons. Mrazek is wholesome and has a comeback 12 months behind a out of the blue regular protection. Domi and Athanasiou thrive in larger roles whereas Raddysh and Johnson carry aboard some Lightning magic. It’s all sufficient for an 88-point season – precisely the place no Blackhawks fan needs to be.


The underside line

The Blackhawks are going to be unhealthy. Very unhealthy. Amongst one of many worst within the league. Whether or not they sink to the very backside is dependent upon how a lot participant motion there may be through the 12 months to ship NHL-caliber gamers out. The expectation must be that fairly a number of are on the transfer by the point the deadline rolls round.

The near-future isn’t vivid, however there’s an opportunity for administration to instill some hope into the long-term if they’ll begin strolling out of trades because the winner. Thus far, that hasn’t occurred. However there must be loads of alternative to vary that shifting ahead.

References

How these projections work

How these projections carried out final season

Understanding projection uncertainty 

Assets

Evolving Hockey

Pure Stat Trick

Hockey Reference

NHL

All Three Zones Monitoring by Corey Sznajder

Learn the opposite 2022-23 season previews right here.

(Prime picture: James Guillory / USA Right now)