Analyzing most encouraging, discouraging aspects of Blackhawks’ season

From Lukas Reichel to Luke Richardson, this loss-laden Hawks season has still produced plenty of pleasant surprises. But other areas — like the overall offense — haven’t been so pretty.

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Lukas Reichel celebrates a goal.

Lukas Reichel’s NHL success has been one of the most encouraging parts of this Blackhawks season.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

SEATTLE — On one hand, it’s hard to imagine how a season in which the Blackhawks sit in the NHL basement with only 25 wins through 78 games could be uplifting.

On the other hand, this is what the Hawks were designed to do — and hidden behind the poor results have been many silver linings and sources of longer-term optimism.

As the Hawks enter the last week of the season, the most encouraging and discouraging aspects of 2022-23 are worth reviewing and analyzing.

Encouraging: Lukas Reichel’s growth

Reichel entered the season projected to be an impactful top-six NHL forward for many years to come. He’ll finish the season having proved he’s already an impactful top-six forward.

The 20-year-old top prospect already has established himself as one of the Hawks’ best players during the season’s stretch run. The breakthrough Jan. 8 against the Flames — he had three points in what turned out to be arguably the Hawks’ most meaningful game of the season — established a new level for him that he has maintained ever since.

With 13 points in 22 games, he has produced at a 48-point pace over a full 82-game season, and he has done so with little support or stability. At five-on-five specifically, his points-per-minute pace has been better than Patrick Kane’s.

Discouraging: Dire lack of goals

It’s unfair to blame the Hawks’ intentionally talent-deficient roster for this, but aside from a few bright spots such as Reichel and Max Domi (before he was traded), the offensive production has been undeniably awful.

In a season in which scoring leaguewide is at its highest point — 6.36 combined goals per game — since 1993-94, the Hawks have not been swept up in the wave.

The Hawks rank last in the league in goals per game at 2.41. Only one other team, the Ducks, is even below 2.63. The Hawks also rank last or second-to-last in shots, shots on goal and scoring chances. They’ve been shut out nine times.

The problem hasn’t been solely a lack of elite forwards — the Hawks have no players in the top 100 in points — but also a lack of depth scoring. Boris Katchouk (15 points), Jujhar Khaira (13), Colin Blackwell (10), MacKenzie Entwistle (nine) and Reese Johnson (six) have contributed little.

Encouraging: Luke Richardson’s coaching

Despite the Hawks’ struggles to put the puck in the net, Richardson’s rookie season as an NHL head coach has been impressive.

His three key objectives entering the season were to implement more effective and better-suited on-ice systems and tactics, to create a collaborative atmosphere and positive morale within the team and to build the foundation for future success despite short-term struggles.

He succeeded on all three fronts with flying colors — something that seemed like a nearly impossible task before he took over. It would be difficult to find a more universally well-liked and respected coach anywhere else in the NHL.

Discouraging: Other rebuilds around NHL

It was not a great year for other franchises attempting to return to contention after undergoing longer-term, more intensive, build-from-within rebuilds like the Hawks have just begun.

The Red Wings are wrapping up the fourth year of general manager Steve Yzerman’s “Yzerplan,” and although they have technically improved each year, such improvement has been slow. They’re going to fall well short of the playoffs again.

The Sabres, meanwhile, are the eternal poster child for anti-rebuilding proponents and — despite also improving in the standings and finding a diamond in Tage Thompson — likely will miss the playoffs for a 12th consecutive year.

The Ducks sit at a much earlier stage of their rebuild, but preseason hopes that they might start climbing the ladder this season proved incorrect. Instead, they have been just as bad as the Hawks.

The Avalanche, Oilers, Kings and Hurricanes — top contenders who were bad within the last five years or so — remain intriguing case studies, and the Devils are one organization that made an exciting leap this season, but the overall results were mixed.

Encouraging: Goaltending, now & future

The strongest part of this 2022-23 Hawks team — and the thing that might actually prevent them from entering the draft lottery with the best odds — is their goaltending. They’re 21st in the NHL with a .900 team save percentage, which is impressive for a unit that seemed (entering the season) to be clearly the league’s worst.

Alex Stalock has become one of the NHL’s best comeback stories, a beloved character within the Hawks’ locker room and a very good on-ice goalie, too, despite his adventurous tendencies. Petr Mrazek also has been OK, balancing out a rough first half with a strong second half.

That’s the present goaltending. But the future goaltending — predicated on Rockford prospects Arvid Soderblom and Jaxson Stauber as well as Boston University goalie Drew Commesso, whose college season just ended Thursday — is even more interesting.

Soderblom and Stauber showed their talent and mental steadiness during fruitful NHL call-ups this season. Commesso remains one of the top NHL goalie prospects not yet in the pros.

Discouraging: trade returns for stars

By trading Kane to the Rangers with their hands completely tied and by not being able to trade Jonathan Toews (because of his health issues), the Hawks received only second- and fourth-round picks back for their two franchise legends on expiring contracts.

When general manager Kyle Davidson announced this rebuild last spring, the potentially massive trade returns for those two stars seemed like they would propel the rebuild. Davidson has done well to convert other players into big returns, and there’s nothing he could’ve done to get more for Kane and Toews, but it was disappointing nonetheless.

Encouraging: Seth Jones’ stabilization

The stats don’t really show it. Jones has scored twice as many goals this season as he did in his Hawks debut season (10 vs. five), but he has had so many fewer assists that his point-per-60-minutes pace has actually decreased from 1.50 to 1.19.

The analytics don’t really show it, either. Jones’ five-on-five scoring-chance ratio, for example, has decreased from 47.3% last season to 44.8% this season.

But the eye test does show it: Jones has much more closely resembled the dynamic top-pairing defenseman this season that he previously had been in Columbus and Nashville. He and Jake McCabe, who was traded to the Maple Leafs, were fantastic together. And Jones also has grown into a more vocal leadership role.

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