As we close in on the end of the worst calendar year in recent memory, the Chicago Blackhawks were not able to escape 2020 without suffering even more travesty.
On Wednesday morning, the Blackhawks announced that 22-year-old forward Alex Nylander had surgery to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee that he suffered during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Nylander will miss four to six months as a result of his surgery and could be out for the entire 2021 regular season.
MEDICAL UPDATE: Alex Nylander had successful surgery on Monday to repair a meniscus tear in his left knee.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) December 23, 2020
Then, Blackhawks forward Kirby Dach suffered a gruesome wrist injury in Team Canada’s exhibition match against Team Russia on Wednesday night. Dach collided with Russian defenseman Ilya Safonov near center ice during the third period and immediately went to the locker room for treatment. Following X-rays on his wrist, Dach was diagnosed with a fracture and will miss the entire 2021 World Junior Championship. The former No. 3 overall pick is also in jeopardy to miss some games for the Blackhawks at the beginning of the 2021 NHL regular season.
No official word yet from @HockeyCanada but Kirby Dach is out of the WJC because of the injury suffered yesterday. So Team 🇨🇦 loses its captain. CHI doctors still assessing Dach’s injury but he will be missing NHL time as well.
— Bob McKenzie (@TSNBobMcKenzie) December 24, 2020
How Long Will Dach Be Out?
A typical wrist fracture generally results in a four-to-eight-week absence, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. Although, if surgery is needed, Dach could be out of the Blackhawks’ lineup for much longer. Dach is set to travel to Chicago on Thursday and will undergo further testing from the Blackhawks’ medical staff to see if surgery is required.
If Dach does not need surgery, he is expected to rejoin the lineup by early-to-mid February. With the 2021 regular season officially set to begin on January 13, that would put Dach on track to miss somewhere between 10-20 games early on for the Blackhawks. Dylan Strome, who still needs to sign a new contract, would likely be bumped up to the second line with Patrick Kane as a result of Dach’s absence.
If Dach’s injured wrist does require surgery, though, then there will be internal conversations by the Blackhawks on whether or not they should shut him down for the entire year. In reality, 2021 was already a bit of a lost cause in terms of wins and losses. The expectation was not to make the playoffs this season, but to develop the young players and prospects for the future. That goal can still be accomplished without Dach on the ice.
Should The Blackhawks Have Allowed Dach To Play For Team Canada?
Hindsight is always 20/20. Of course, knowing what we do now, it is simple to say the Blackhawks should not have allowed Dach to play for Team Canada in the 2021 World Junior Championship. But had Dach — who was serving as Canada’s captain before the injury — went out and dominated the tournament, then there would not be nearly as many folks questioning the Blackhawks’ decision. Instead, they would be salivating over the thought of their future star performing just as well for the Hawks in 2021 and beyond. After all, Dach’s capability of lighting up the World Juniors was the reason the Blackhawks loaned him to Team Canada in the first place. Not only would Dach have the opportunity to lead Canada to yet another gold medal, but he would also gain valuable experience playing against other top NHL prospects.
There were also reports that Dach went as far as to beg the Blackhawks to allow him to go to the World Juniors this year. Sure, the Hawks are taking heat for allowing him to play, especially after the New York Rangers held top prospects Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kaako out of the tournament, but Dach clearly expressed his desires. Injuries are part of the game and can happen at any time or place. Dach could have just as likely gotten hurt in a drill or scrimmage during Blackhawks’ training camp. An unlucky outcome should not dictate if the Hawks made the correct call in this situation.
With Nylander set to miss most — if not all — of the 2021 regular season, it will be intriguing to see if the Blackhawks give the eighth overall pick from the 2016 NHL Draft a new contract next offseason. Nylander will become an unrestricted free agent following the conclusion of this year, and with many questions surrounding his skill set and consistency at the NHL level, his tenure in Chicago could be coming to a close.
However, Nylander is still only 22 years old and was part of a vital trade that sent former first-round pick Henri Jokiharju to the Buffalo Sabres. Had Nylander remained healthy this season, then he would have likely seen time with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane in the Hawks’ top six. While the result could have been disappointing (much like 2019-20), there is also the possibility that Nylander could have taken the next step in his development. The only way for the Blackhawks to find out is by offering Nylander a new deal next summer. The Swedish forward will not be an expensive re-sign coming off an injury and multiple discouraging NHL campaigns.