Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Chicago Blackhawks
Last season: Without the presence of steady captain Jonathan Toews, it was very much a mixed bag. The top-end talent was fantastic – Patrick Kane finished seventh in scoring with 66 points and Alex DeBrincat finished third with 32 goals – but on some nights their aggressive north-south style also exposed a lot of deficiencies on defense and the workload started to weigh on Kevin Lankinen, who posted a .881 Sv% and 3.82 GAA in the final two months of the season. They fell one win shy of .500 and missed the playoffs, but it was a promising showing for a very green team in a tough division.
Best option: Patrick Kane, RW.
Even as Kane enters his 30’s, he remains an elite scorer no matter who he plays with. Kane has finished top-20 in Hart Trophy voting three times over the past four seasons, and ranks fifth in points with 336 even though the Blackhawks have made the playoffs just once. His fantasy value may be discounted because the they’re only a playoff contender, but they’ve made significant additions over the summer with Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Johnson, Jake McCabe and Seth Jones. It should be noted last season was actually a down year for Kane, whose 7.9 S% was the lowest single-season mark of his career and well below his career average of 11.9 S%. With perhaps a regression back to the mean and an improved roster, including the potential return of Toews, Kane remains an elite fantasy option and he’s projected to finish 13th in league scoring with 90 points according to THN’s Pool Guide.
Hidden gem: Kirby Dach, C.
You can’t really be “hidden” if you’re the third overall pick, but Dach was limited to just 18 games due to injury and fantasy rankings tend to discount those who didn’t play a lot in the previous season. There are a couple of prospects in the Blackhawks system – Alex Nylander and Henrik Borgstrom – who would be worth a late-round flyer depending on their performances in training camp, but neither are in same tier as Dach, who may open the season with Kane and DeBrincat on his wings. If that’s the case, Dach’s put in a position to really excel, and the return of Toews could alleviate some of the pressure and draw some of the tougher matchups. According to the Pool Guide, Dach is projected to score 66 points, behind only Kane and DeBrincat, which makes him a fantastic value pick in the middle rounds.
Goalies: This is the area where the Blackhawks made the biggest improvement, lessening the load on Lankinen’s shoulders by acquiring the reigning Vezina Trophy winner… basically for free. Fleury will turn 37 in November and the Blackhawks will have to watch his workload in case of a potential playoff run, so don’t diminish Lankinen’s fantasy value too much, who will surely make at least 30 appearances. It’s actually tougher to gauge Fleury’s fantasy value because it seems unlikely he’ll able to replicate last season’s performance, but at worst he should still be a top-20 goalie.
Outlook: They’re definitely a deeper bunch, but the Central Division is tough. There’s a ton of pressure on Jones to live up to his contract, and if Toews is unavailable, they’re not expected to be particularly tough on defense, especially if they keep taking chances with their aggressive forecheck. Their saving grace could be the Fleury-Lankinen tandem, but it’s also fraught with risk due to Fleury’s age and Lankinen’s inexperience. The good options are on forward, highlighted by Kane, DeBrincat and Dach, but don’t forget about potential surprises in Dominik Kubalik, a former 30-goal scorer, and Dylan Strome, who scored 89 points in his first 116 games with the Blackhawks.