Analyzing expected Blackhawks storylines for second half of 2021-22
How the Hawks fare over the last 41 games might not matter much overall, but how some particular players fare will be more meaningful.
DENVER — From the outside, the second half of this 2021-22 Blackhawks season seems rather pointless.
The playoffs are merely a pipe dream at the moment. The Hawks’ postseason odds entering Monday — when they officially began the second half by taking the ice for Game No. 42 against the Avalanche — ranged from 0.4% to 7.2%, depending on the source, but all sources agreed they were long shots.
None of the many below-average statistics from the team’s first half suggests they’re capable of making the kind of miraculous run they’d need to rejoin the conversation, either.
The future vision of the organization and the leaders — including hockey operations president, general manager and coach — who will implement that vision remain entirely undecided, too. So the Hawks’ second-half results and trends won’t even necessarily be worth extrapolating as hints of what’s to come in 2022-23.
And, as new forward Sam Lafferty put it Monday, 41 games are “a lot of games.” That equates to 2,460 minutes of hockey with virtually no meaning, which might feel like three months of simply going through the motions.
Inside the locker room and coaches’ room, though, the Hawks aren’t thinking of the road ahead as inconsequential.
Interim coach Derek King, asked Monday about his goals and expectations for the second half, said he’ll be broadly focusing on “how we’re competing, how we’re playing [and if we’re] getting contributions from everybody.”
“That’s how we have to win hockey games,” he added. “Hopefully we just keep climbing the charts here, so it makes it a lot harder to get rid of guys at the deadline and we keep the guys we have here.”
King raises a good point about the trade deadline, which will almost certainly headline the second half. It’s so late this year — not until March 21 — that the Hawks still have 21 more games to play before then (they’ll only have 19 left to play afterward), but even its lead-up could be juicy.
From King’s perspective, he’d understandably prefer to keep the current team together, knowing the bond they’ve formed and the strain that getting traded puts on any player’s family.
From a building-toward-the-future perspective, conversely, it would make sense for the Hawks to convert trade-worthy players — a list that starts with Marc-Andre Fleury, then continues with Dominik Kubalik, Calvin de Haan, Dylan Strome, Ryan Carpenter and beyond — into prospects and/or draft picks.
Either way, the upward or downward trends in the performance of those trade-bait players — as well as players with expiring contracts, such as Kirby Dach, Philipp Kurashev, Caleb Jones, Kevin Lankinen and Lafferty — will be worth monitoring, even if the team’s overall trends are not.
How the Hawks’ prospects fare, and what NHL opportunities they receive, will also matter. Lukas Reichel will arrive back in Chicago eventually, able to play up to seven more games without burning the first year of his entry-level contract (and potentially more if the Hawks don’t mind burning it). And whether any separation occurs in the logjam of young defensemen Ian Mitchell, Jakub Galvas, Wyatt Kalynuk, Nicolas Beaudin, Alec Regula and Isaak Phillips will be interesting.
Several off-ice questions might have clearer answers by the time the April 29 season finale against the Sabres rolls around, too. How plausible is King’s full-time coaching candidacy? What permanent role will interim general manager Kyle Davidson assume? Will the current attendance dynamic — not selling out but still drawing sizable crowds — change when the team is dead in the water, and, if so, how will that alter marketing strategies moving forward?
The day-to-day grind of the Hawks’ second half will seem monotonous at times, but at least a handful of intriguing storylines should emerge.