Blackhawks Struggle (Again) after 4 Game Win Streak
The Blackhawks have now lost four straight games following their four game win streak. Following their loss to the Avalanche last night, even more questions circle the team as far as the trade deadline. Starting off with Marc-Andre Fleury, who has been excellent in the past couple of games, saying that he wants to help this team go on a playoff run and stay in Chicago. It's just about giving him offense to help back him up (the Blackhawks would certainly be looking for a first round pick in the upcoming draft as they do not have one because of the Seth Jones trade). There have been countless rumors about him and his future and where he may end up at the trade deadline. When the Vegas Golden Knights dealt him to the Blackhawks, the main reason he considered retiring was because he did not want to move his family to another city. The Blackhawks organization has said that they will respect his decision on whether or not he wants to be traded. "It's not my thought yet. All I want is to have this team make the playoffs. Honestly, that's what's in my head right now. To me, it's not worth looking too far ahead." If he does want to finish off the season somewhere else, I expect him to be gone within days of his request. The top contenders for him would probably be the Edmonton Oilers and the Colorado Avalanche.
Now, if the Blackhawks do decide to rebuild who would end up being traded? Per some sources it sounds like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Seth Jones are the only untouchables and with that being said, where do Debrincat, Dach, Hagel, Lankinen and other young pieces fall into the plan? That would be a great place to start rebuilding and would probably be better pieces than Kane and Toews to keep considering their age and where the team is as of right now. If some of those names were to be traded, the rebuild would likely be a lot longer.
The Blackhawks do not have a lot of solid upcoming prospects other than Lukas Reichel and Drew Commesso. Reichel has played in only two NHL games but really stood out to me. His speed from the neutral zone into the offensive zone was very impressive and he's also had a couple of scoring opportunities against the Anaheim Ducks but was robbed by their goaltender on the power play on a very powerful wrist shot. Coach Derek King stated that "There is a plan for this kid, we don't want to ruin him.", which is part of the reason why he was sent back down to Rockford. Commesso on the other hand has not had any NHL experience yet on his resume but has had some very notable games and tournaments so far in his professional career. He played in the IIHF World Juniors this year, which was later postponed due to Covid, but had two very good performances when he did play. Commesso will also be playing for team USA in the Olympics this upcoming February. If you are a Blackhawks fan, that would be something to look out for given that it's a big stage for his growth as a future NHL goaltender. Some other pieces going along in this process could involve defensemen Calvin De Haan and Jake Mccabe along with forward Ryan Carpenter. Now these guys are all shot blocking and penalty kill type of guys, but that does not mean a contending team would not be interested in them. Calvin De Haan has been linked to the Florida Panthers per sources. Jake Mccabe has not been connected with any teams yet but we could possibly see him going to a team that needs a defensive upgrade and penalty kill upgrade. Ryan Carpenter could really go to any team looking to upgrade their fourth line, as Carpenter has been doing dirty work for years now on the fourth line.
Now jumping into the team side of play, the Hawks have really improved over the last month or so. The offensive side has improved in their high-danger chances which was a struggle for the Hawks at the beginning of the season. The defense is starting to bear down in front of Fleury now, giving him some help and that has helped his play as well. The Hawks have been using new forward lines and there are two of them that really stick out to me. The best line in my opinion for the Blackhawks right now is the Debrincat-Toews-Lafferty line. It feels like they are always in the offensive zone, drawing penalties, and creating scoring chances and that's with Lafferty being a pickup a few weeks ago and he's already stood out. His speed is the main part of his game, and when he has two gifted players on his line in Debrincat and Toews, that really helps them out as well. The other line has been the Kane-Strome-Hagel line. Strome's production has been down since the start of last year, but the year before that he had been a very good offensive player for the Hawks. His best season came when he was centering a line with Patrick Kane and now with another opportunity to play with him, he is making the most of it. The Hawks have been trying to move him since the off-season but nothing has gotten done. Hagel is known for his chippiness and is just what Kane needs on his line. Hagel and Strome are always looking for Kane when he is open and Kane, being the playmaker that he is, is also always looking for the open lane to Hagel and Strome. Strome has also greatly improved at his faceoffs since he's been working with one of the best faceoff guys in the league in Jonathan Toews. Now, the main problem with this line is forcing the puck to each other. When they are always looking for each other, that can lead to making ill advised passes across the zone that lead to turnovers. Kane used to force the cross-crease pass to Debrincat which is why I think they were separated to different lines.
Looking ahead, the Blackhawks next five games are against the Red Wings, Avalanche again, Canucks, the Wild again, and the Oilers. These next five games are really going to decide how much the Hawks will sell at the upcoming trade deadline. As of right now, it is looking like some of the names I mentioned will go, most likely for some draft picks. Now the question is, do the Blackhawks have a run in them to get back in playoff talks or will they go into rebuild mode?
-Jack P. (IG: @jackpolkow / Twitter: @polkowjack)