The Blackhawks will finally return to the United Center tonight after almost three weeks that felt like an eternity. Rookie phenom Connor Bedard won’t be joining the club on the ice just yet, but the lineup will at least be more complete than it was now that Tyler Johnson is fully healthy. With Chicago resting comfortably dead last in the NHL’s standings, tuning in to watch the team at this point in the season can seem fruitless. However, there are still three main reasons to watch the Blackhawks as they return from the All-Star break.
With the NHL trade deadline just a month from Thursday, there’s little doubt that GM Kyle Davidson and his staff will be busy once again this season. With the team constantly looking to build for the future, a few players can be expected to pack their bags sometime over the next few weeks. While Chicago has taken several potential trade chips off the board including Petr Mrazek, Nick Foligno, and Jason Dickinson, others like Tyler Johnson and Anthony Beauvillier could have something to offer a contending team down the home stretch of the season.
Tyler Johnson is the Blackhawks’ second-highest-paid player behind only Seth Jones, but with the abundance of cap space at Chicago’s disposal, the team would likely retain most of his salary in a potential deal. With Johnson finally fully healthy, the Blackhawks could ship him off to a contender, where he can offer versatility, speed, and all-around awareness while chasing his third Stanley Cup. He’ll fetch a bit more value than someone like Anthony Beauvillier, who will remain on IR for a decent stretch of time. He’s been on the team for just over two months, but could fetch the Blackhawks more than the conditional fifth-rounder he was acquired for from the Canucks, provided Chicago retains some of his $4.15 million salary.
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As the Blackhawks usher in a new era with a bundle of young players, the next few months will be crucial for the development and outlook of the team. Can Bedard return and continue his impressive production? Can Lukas Reichel turn things around after a surprisingly slow start? Can the influx of defensive talent flourish into a legitimate trio of blue-line pairings? While the Blackhawks are still a team of unknowns, a few of those questions could get answered in the last portion of the season.
Tank for Celebrini?
Let’s face it – the Blackhawks won’t be taking home a Stanley Cup this season. With just 30 points tallied before the All-Star break, Chicago likely wouldn’t even make the playoffs if they won every game from here on out. The team will still work just as hard, but the franchise’s focus will soon shift to the offseason, and that includes the NHL Draft. The franchise that holds the first-overall pick will undoubtedly use it on Macklin Celebrini, and the Blackhawks have as good a chance as anyone to snag him. Provided they finish dead last in the NHL standings (where they currently are), they’ll have the best shot at earning the top pick through the lottery. Will the Blackhawks be able to hold the “lead” over the Sharks (33 points) and Ducks (38 points)? Everyone wants to see their team win, but Blackhawks fans may not root quite as hard as their team finishes out the season.
While the Blackhawks aren’t the most exciting squad to watch this year, there are more reasons to watch the team after the All-Star break than ever. More than a few questions hang over Chicago as they embark on the last stretch of the season, and many will be answered over the next few months.