NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2021-22 regular season, which starts Oct. 12. Today, five questions facing the Chicago Blackhawks:
1. When will Jonathan Toews return?
The 33-year-old center did not play last season because of chronic immune response syndrome. There is no timetable for his return, but the Blackhawks captain is expected to play at some point this season.
“With what he’s gone through, we don’t know where it’s going to be,” general manager Stan Bowman said Aug. 2. “So here we are today, things are looking good, and that’s our thought moving forward.”
Toews returning would give Chicago another scoring threat; he scored 60 points (18 goals, 42 assists) in 70 regular-season games in 2019-20 and has scored at least 20 goals in 12 of his 13 NHL seasons. But how big of a threat he is depends on how ready he is, having last played Aug. 18, 2020, when the Blackhawks were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round.
2. How will games be divided between the goalies?
Marc-Andre Fleury and Kevin Lankinen are expected to be Chicago’s goalies entering this season.
Fleury was acquired in a trade with the Golden Knights on July 27 for forward prospect Mikael Hakkarainen. He won the Vezina Trophy voted as the best goalie in the NHL after going 26-10-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage and six shutouts in 36 games last season. The 36-year-old has played at least 61 games in eight of his 17 NHL seasons. He started 61 games for Vegas in 2018-19, the most recent full NHL season.
Lankinen proved he can handle a heavy workload, starting 37 of 56 games as a rookie with the Blackhawks last season. He was 17-14-5 with a 3.01 GAA, a .909 save percentage and two shutouts.
3. Will Patrick Kane‘s playing time decrease?
The 32-year-old had the most time on ice of any forward last season (1,244:52) and his average ice time per game of 22:14 was second behind Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner (22:26), who is 24. Kane averaged 21:20 of ice time per game (seventh in the NHL) in 2019-20 and has averaged at least 20:00 in each of the past six seasons.
Kane led the Blackhawks with 66 points (15 goals, 51 assists) in 56 games, playing increased minutes partially because of injuries to their forward group. Toews and Alex Nylander (torn meniscus) each missed the season and Kirby Dach was out until March 27 because of a wrist injury sustained at the IIHF World Junior Championship on Dec. 23, 2020.
4. How will the defensemen fare?
The Blackhawks defensemen will have a new look after Chicago acquired Seth Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Adam Boqvist and three draft picks on July 23; Caleb Jones from the Edmonton Oilers for defenseman Duncan Keith and minor league forward Tim Soderlund on July 12; and Jake McCabe, who was signed to a four-year contract July 28.
McCabe and Seth Jones could be the top pair to start. Calvin de Haan and Connor Murphy have played together before and could again.
The biggest question will be the third pair. The Blackhawks like rookie Wyatt Kalynuk, who scored nine points (four goals, five assists) in 21 games last season. He’s a left-handed shot but can play on the right. There probably will be competition to make that final pair between Kalynuk, Riley Stillman, Caleb Jones, Nicolas Beaudin and Ian Mitchell, but it will be an adjustment after losing three regular defensemen from last season (Boqvist, Keith, Nikita Zadorov).
5. Where does Dylan Strome fit in?
A natural center, Strome could be the odd man out after the Blackhawks acquired Tyler Johnson from the Tampa Bay Lightning on July 27. Strome, Johnson, Toews, Dach and Jujhar Khaira will be in the mix for the four center spots when healthy.
Strome struggled last season, scoring 17 points (nine goals, eight assists) in 40 games. The 24-year-old missed 11 games because of a concussion from Feb. 23-March 15 and was a healthy scratch in four of the final 10 regular-season games.
Strome and Johnson each has played on the wing before and it’s likely one will end up playing there this season.