CHICAGO – There are some things that fans of the franchise are getting used to that they, frankly, would rather not have to deal with.
But the end of the dynasty and the start of a new era that features a lot of youth also brings with it a new status for the Blackhawks in the National Hockey League: Underdogs.
With the loss of goaltender Corey Crawford, the absence of captain Jonathan Toews to an undisclosed illness, along with key injuries to young players like Kirby Dach, the Blackhawks have an uphill climb to start the 56-game season on Wednesday against the reigning champion Lightning.
To be fair, the climb would have been difficult even if those players were in the lineup since the team is in the midst of a transition that was outlined by President of Hockey Operations Stan Bowman this fall. Get younger, develop those players, then use the remaining veterans to jump start the franchise is the hope, but it will take time.
Per VegasInsider.com, the Blackhawks are 65-to-1 to win the Stanley Cup in the 2021 season, with the Avalanche having the best odds at 6-to-1. The Detroit Red Wings (350-to-1) are the only team in the temporary Central Division which have lower expectations than Jeremy Colliton’s team.
The third-year coach, who got his contract extended two-years on Tuesday, is trying to use these lower expectations as a rallying cry for this group as they start an unusual season.
“We’ve got to be excited about the opportunity we have to prove that we’re more than people say,” said Colliton early in training camp. “That little chip on our shoulder is something we can use.”
That quest begins tonight in Tampa Bay and starts with a new goalie as Malcolm Subban gets the call in net for the opener. Toews won’t center the top line and a number of unfamiliar faces will occupy Colliton’s first lines of the season.
Yet others fans have come to know will be there, including Duncan Keith, who begins his 16th NHL season this evening. They’ll be the ones guiding the young players through this stretch with some mainstays and key contributors out of the lineup.
“I think we have to use it as a positive in the way we approach it in a sense that we have to fight through that early on and come together as a team right away,” said Keith of the team dealing with adversity. “There’s no time to wait.”
There isn’t much to waste, either, if the Blackhawks hope to surprise in 2021.