Make no mistake about it, the Chicago Blackhawks are still a few years away from being back in the playoff conversation. But while they’re watching from afar, there’s lessons to be learned both on the ice and from the transactional side of things.
The opening round of playoff hockey is a frenetic, frantic affair that features multiple games every night of the week. Once the round is completed, fans seem to take a deep breath. By the time the conference finals roll around, teams are banged up, some on fumes, and some just rolling. The Blackhawks and their fans have watched from home.
Each of those remaining teams though, Dallas, Vegas, Carolina, and Florida are all coming from different places. Not only in their playoff journey, but how they got to where they are.
Here are four lessons each team provides the Blackhawks as they rebuild from the ground up.
Lesson from Florida: The Regular Season Can Be a Mirage
Of the four teams, the Florida Panthers faced the gauntlet. They drew the history defying Boston Bruins, who with 65 regular season wins held a 3-1 lead in the series. They roared back and stunned Boston, earning a matchup with Toronto next. Florida dispatched them in five games after Toronto’s fans infamously chanted for them.
The regular season showed two of the best defensive teams in the league with stunning goal differentials. Of the eight playoff teams in the East, Florida came in giving up the most goals against. None of it mattered. The Panthers had the right players in the right spots along with a goalie who has been on fire, whose playoff save percentage is 17 points better.
Few bet on Florida. But all they needed was to bet on themselves.
Lesson from Dallas: Trade for the Right Players
While Boston, Toronto, Edmonton, and New York all paid some handsome prices to acquire talent, Dallas carefully chose. Blackhawks fans understood that Max Domi would be gone. But Dallas gave up a future 2025 second-round pick for a player who has 11 points in 13 games. Domi has been a force and a catalyst to the Stars’ success. He’s already outpaced his regular season performance with Dallas, a 20-game sample size. He’s third in scoring while another deadline acquisition, Evgenii Dadonov, has nine points (4-5). The price it took to get what they needed was hardly the pretty penny other teams spent.
Blackhawks’ Lesson from Vegas: Calculated Risks Can Pay Off Handsomely
Two words: Jack Eichel. The drama that ensued between him and Buffalo made some wonder if his trajectory was low. Why would Buffalo negate his wishes for surgery, drag it out, and then trade him. They got a haul for him, as they should have, but why be so quick to move on. Should Vegas have been worried about getting damaged goods?
The simple answer is no. Eichel returned from his surgery, potted 14 goals in 31 games. This season he was one short of a point-per-game, but in the playoffs, he’s been indispensable. Arguably, it could be said that he may have even outplayed his 2015 Draft counterpart in Connor McDavid. Don’t mistake it–McDavid is on another planet. But six of his 10 points in the series were exclusive to the power play.
Eichel moves on with 14 points (6-8) in 11 games, and nine of those came against Edmonton. Seven were at even strength. The difference, as written about Monday, was that Eichel’s, along with this team, was more balanced. That calculated risk of acquiring Eichel cost a lot, but in the end, the risk has been totally worth it.
Blackhawks’ Lesson From Carolina: Patience and Culture Pay Dividends
The Hurricanes built-and-built-and-built for nearly nine seasons before finally breaking through. Then, they bow out in the Conference Final in 2019 and fail to get back for another four years. From the top down, the Hurricanes have relied upon the steady hand of Rod Brind’Amour who despite those setbacks, kept the team going. Even when superstar Andrei Svechnikov was lost for the season, their resolove never wavered. A glance at Carolina’s scoring in the playoffs is one of marked balance. Some teams would have fallen to pieces. Others, like the Hurricanes, remain strong.
Carolina is one that in spite of a long journey back to relevance never lost their way. That along that way they put the right people in the right places, and moved to not completely blow everything up over and over again. When they tapped Brind’Amour to run the bench, it was the start of something great.
That patience and insistence on having the right culture could very well lead them to the Stanley Cup.