It's my favorite time of year. Football is here. The days of t-shirts exposing the holiday weight we never lost will soon be covered by hoodies and flannels. Before you know it we'll be describing the air as "brisk". As right when that first brisk day comes, the NHL season will be right behind it.
There's a lot of doom and gloom around the Blackhawks and rightfully so as we heading into the final year of Toews and Kane's matching 8 year deals which will not see a single playoff series win. You can't mention the Blackhawks upcoming 2022-23 season without the next sentence having "Bedard" in it. The closer we get to the season and the more I think about this team the more I start to believe that the Blackhawks won't be bad enough to get Bedard.
The Barstool Sportsbook has set the over/under point total for the Blackhawks at 67.5. A very low total that won't ever sniff the "in the hunt" graphic for the playoff picture. That is to be expected, obviously. I think what people assume is that 67 points would be good enough to have the best lottery odds. That is simply not the case. In fact, the Blackhawks finished with 68 last year. An absolutely MISERABLE season from start to finish complete with deadline deals removing key players, a scandal, a coaching change, and with all of that the Blackhawks finished with the 6th worst record and a full 13 points head of tankathon winner, Montreal.
In the last 6 years (excluding the two covid shortened seasons) 67 points would never be bad enough for last place. It usually does get you in the top 3 of the lottery though. At this moment though...I think I am leaning towards the over for the Blackhawks. That is based on a couple of things.
1) I believe in Luke Richardson a lot.
The Blackhawks have been an absolute mess since Quenneville was fired. Nobody knew their assignments tracking back. Young players never developed. Older players were angry and got much worse.
Richardson is the right guy to establish the right sort of culture and I think he will usher in a system that is simple and gives players freedom to play their game since they won't be thinking all the time. That means a better version of Seth Jones, a better version of Jake McCabe, a better version of Jonathan Toews, and an easier assimilation for young and new players getting called in. There is inherent value in that. Good teams murdered the Blackhawks last year because good teams capitalize on mistakes. Only one win against a team participating in the 2022 playoffs is a stunning statistic and one I don't think will be repeated. Richardson will have a full offseason and training camp and will instill a system that guys pick up because it is more natural than the one Colliton couldn't get ironed out in 3+ years.
2) Hungry players
Jonathan Toews at the top of this list. He is reportedly getting in great shape after coming back from the year off during covid that had him looking rarely like his old self. He's excited to play for Richardson. Also...contract year.
Max Domi came to Chicago on a 1 year deal to play top 6 minutes and get ice time with Patrick Kane in order to rejuvenate his career. Don't ever count out a competitive and talented player in a contract year.
Young players like Mitchell, Raddysh, Kurashev, Katchouk, Reichel, Vlasic, all looking to seize on this opportunity to establish themselves in the league. It'll be a very competitive environment as guys know they have a chance to impress before the cavalry comes in the next couple of years.
3) Balance Of Power In The League
I think East is SIGNIFICANTLY better than the West. Unbalanced schedule playing in the West should give them more opportunities than if they played in the East where I think the Blackhawks would be the worst roster outside of maybe Montreal.
Ultimately I think last year's roster SIGNIFICANTLY underperformed. McCabe isn't as bad as he showed. Jones can do more in a simplified system where he can be more efficient. As can Toews. They'll certainly miss half a season of Fleury and 40 goals from Debrincat, but I still think on paper they're better than both Arizona and Seattle. San Jose should be bad. Montreal should be bad too. I don't think this team is going to tank. They have too many real, veteran, pros and a coach trying to build something to actually tank. They won't be good, but I do think the team will all be rowing in the same direction for the first time since 2018.
Ultimately...I want a good culture and team that plays hard and smart every night. I think we will get that. It'll hurt them in the lottery, but something tells me Gary wouldn't let them win the lottery anyways.
Maybe some of this is a mental hedge because I want to be entertained and feel like there is a direction/culture/identity for the future. If they're not going to be getting Bedard anyways, I don't need to have mixed feelings about wins and goals because my reaction will always be to cheer for goals and wins.