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Blackhawks Rebuild Report: The Mirage of 2019-20



In the Blackhawks Rebuild Report, Chicago Hockey Now takes an in-depth look at different elements of the Chicago Blackhawks rebuild. All contenders eventually fall into the rebuild cycle of some kind. But these stories are designed to track how the Blackhawks expedited this cycle with a series of poor decisions, and an inability to fix what was broken.

Today we look at the 2019-20 season.

The Blackhawks 2019-20 Season in Review

The anomaly of this series, Chicago makes the playoffs in large part because of the pandemic. The Blackhawks sat 12th in the conference but were able to sneak in due to the seedings with the bubble playoff setup. The Blackhawks took out Edmonton in four games but would fall to top-seeded Vegas in five games. It was the first time the Blackhawks made the playoffs since the the 2016-17 season but like most things in 2020, it was a mirage. The Blackhawks don’t make the playoffs if not for the bubble series. Though it was an improvement from the previous two seasons, it covered up the warts for the time being but deep down, even the most hardcore Blackhawks fan knew the season wasn’t what it appeared to be.

Statistically, the big guns all fell a bit. After a career year, Patrick Kane came back to earth. Alex DeBrincat slipped back quite a bit, though the pandemic shorted him 12 games. Dominik Kubalik’s 30 goals were a welcome surprise.

Just like the series win over Edmonton. The Blackhawks, many felt, might very well be back on track.

The Aftermath

Before the bubble was even established, CEO and President John McDonough was fired by the team on April 28th. To put it into context, the pandemic had shut things down for over nearly two months. and the world was in an uncomfortable and frightening pause. McDonough’s dismissal caught many off guard, and it was the second bomb dropped on the organization since Joel Quenneville’s firing.

Once the playoffs resumed in the bubble, the Blackhawks shocked and thrilled defeating the favored Oilers in four games in a best-of-five series. The more realistic outcome occurred with the loss to Vegas but it felt as if a corner had been turned. That maybe the re-win the deposed McDonough coined would occur.

Chicago did well in the 2020 NHL Draft, too.

The win pushed them down in the draft but they managed to grab Lukas Reichel, who has shaped up to be one of their best prospects. Bowman took Drew Commesso in the second round and Isaak Phillips in the fifth round.

Bowman would deal Brandon Saad to Colorado during the offseason and attempt to attempt to reload in other ways. The season would prove a blip in the rebuild, where a middle of the road Blackhawks squad overachieved, and won a playoff series. Albeit in a unique setup.

But it was still delaying the inevitable and necessary tear down that would finally push them forward. Ignorance was bliss at this point. Bowman looked smart brooming Quenneville and bringing in Colliton. Still above .500 agains behind the bench, he added a playoff series win to his resume.

It would be the highest point for him in Chicago.

McDonough’s firing was barely spoken of after, as if he were just a footnote in the history of the organization. For someone who had been the face of everything, it was baffling that he was suddenly and unceremoniously gone.

Was there more to it? Something malicious or underhanded? At that moment, it really didn’t matter. Danny Wirtz sat in the President’s chair. The Blackhawks seemed better than they had been in several years.

But the playoff series win against Edmonton would be the high water mark for Chicago until the 2023 Draft Lottery.

A storm was brewing and it was about to engulf just about everyone in the organization.

Previous Pieces in the Series: Hastening the Fall (2016-17) | The End of an Era (2017-18) | Some Change But Not Enough (2018-19) |