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NHL - US Sports: Chicago Blackhawks season preview

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup three times in the space of six seasons between 2010 and 2015.

However, those glory days are long behind them as, following several disappointing seasons, General Manager Kyle Davidson has decided to strip the franchise down to its very core and begin a total re-build.

What:NHL Season 2022/23
Where:USA and Canada
When:October 7th 2022 - June 2023
How to watch:ESPN+, Star+, NHL.TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming
Odds:COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100

Future of champions

Forward pair Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane played pivotal roles in the Blackhawks' huge success and have been honest in their lack of interest in being part of a long re-build.

Toews, 34, and Kane, 33, have been with the franchise their entire NHL careers, but in the new season enter the final year of their contracts.

In consideration of the teardown, the futures of both have been heavily speculated about and where each may end up is one of the most interesting aspects of Chicago’s season.

Kane is likely to attract the most trade interest after leading the Blackhawks for points last season with 92 (26 goals, 66 assists) in 78 games.

Captain Toews will use the season to try and prove that he can get back to his world-class best after missing the 2019/20 season due to a chronic immune response syndrome.

He returned last year and contributed 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) in 71 games, but that return was by far the lowest of his career.

Teardown signalled by trade

Chicago made their re-build intentions clear by trading top goal-scorer Alex DeBrindcat to the Ottawa Senators in return for valuable draft picks which they will spend the next few years trying to acquire and use wisely.

A former first-round pick Kirby Dach was also traded, and Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik were allowed to walk away on free agency, a curious move as each could have been moved further down the road for assets.

While the Blackhawks have elite talent in Kane and arguably Toews, there is little beyond that to believe they can be competitive in 2022/23.

But that appears to be the plan, as they seek to earn the highest possible draft selection in 2023 which if they win the draft lottery could be Connor Bedard, the type of prospect every team would like to build their future around.

Overhaul in goal

The Blackhawks will have a new tandem in goal after taking Petr Mrazek's $3.8million contract off the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs, to allow them to have a third pick in the first round of the 2022 draft and signing Alex Stalock from free agency.

Thirty-year-old Mrazek and Stalock, 35, previously of San Jose Sharks take over from Kevin Lankinen and Colin Delia.

For Mrazek, who will be the regular starter, it will be a chance to prove that his disappointing season with the Maple Leafs was an outlier in his career, dropping to a .888 save-percentage, by far the worse of his career.

Defensively fragile

Chicago conceded the 26th most goals in the NHL last season (291, 3.52 average per-game) and had the 24th ranked penalty-kill (77.1%).

Having done little to improve the blue-line except sign depth defenceman Jack Johnson, Mrazek can bank on being busy.

The biggest story on defence comes in the form of Seth Jones who signed an eight-year deal with the Blackhawks in 2021 which carries a massive $9.5million cap hit.

On penning the deal, neither he nor the Blackhawks planned to be in a re-build situation a year later, but as their clear number-one on the back end he will be relied upon heavily.

The 27-year-old performed admirably last season contributing 51 points (five goals 46 assists) in 78 games, though question marks were raised about his defensive game and his value in relation to the pricey contract.

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Scoring a struggle

Chicago scored the fourth fewest goals in the NHL last season (219, 2.6 average per-game) and had the second fewest five-on-five expected goals per 60 minutes (2.08) and a 21st ranked powerplay at 19.2%.

That is unlikely to improve either, as of the eight players that had more than 25 points last year, only Kane, Toews and Jones remain, and their leading goal-scorer DeBrincat has been traded away.

Andreas Athanasiou, Max Domi and Colin Blackwell have been added but none have previously been able to provide regular offence at the NHL level.

Richardson can grow wings with Hawks

Luke Richardson was hired by Chicago at the beginning of the off-season and the rookie head coach can grow with the Blackhawks project.

The former NHL defenceman has no head coaching experience in the NHL, but has been hotly tipped to earn a position after playing an important role in the Montreal Canadiens' run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2021 as an assistant.

He’s almost certainly going to have to deal with a lot of losing in the first year of his tenure, but the more important work is going to occur off the ice as the original six franchise push the re-start button.

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