The Chicago Blackhawks are officially in Phase 2 of their return-to-play plan. As of June 8, the Blackhawks and the rest of the NHL were finally allowed out of quarantine to re-open their training facilities and get the players back on the ice. While there are still a number of uncertainties, the ultimate goal is to have 24 teams contend in a playoff competition to award the Stanley Cup for the 2019-20 season. So how are the Blackhawks tackling Phase 2? Here’s what we know.
Blackhawks’ Phase 2 Participants
To be clear, the NHL has detailed Phase 2 very specifically to ensure the health and safety of all involved due to COVID-19. This initial step towards the continuation of play is completely voluntary and is no substitute for an actual training camp. It’s simply a way for players to skate together in small groups and shake off the rust. As a matter of fact, only six players are allowed together at one time, with a very limited number of staff.
According to Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic, the Blackhawks’ participation in this phase might be limited.
The Hawks don’t expect many players initially when Phase 2 opens. Six players were in town as of Friday (6/5) and the team expected perhaps three more players to arrive by the end of next week. The team expects that number to increase as the month goes on and by July 1 to have most of them back.
Blackhawks’ contributor Scott Powers added this:
I imagine Phase 2 will begin without much player presence in Chicago early on. Most players took off and returned to their hometowns at the beginning of the pause. With the uncertainty of the season and the state of IL still getting around 1000 new COVID-19 cases a day (which has been notably decreasing), players will likely take a wait-and-see approach before coming back. Chicago is just starting to allow some businesses to expand their operations. The city is also under a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew due to the recent protests. Considering all of that, players aren’t likely rushing back until there are more definitive plans for the season to return.
(From ‘LeBrun: What to expect from each of the 24 teams as they enter Phase 2’, The Athletic – 6/5/20)
The good news is four players showed up at Fifth Third Arena on Wednesday, June 10 for a voluntary skate. Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, Alex Nylander, and Malcolm Subban all made appearances, masks and all.
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) June 10, 2020
Does it really surprise anyone that Kane and DeBrincat were there? Kane is a total rink rat, and DeBrincat seems to be following in his footsteps. These guys live and breathe hockey, so of course they will be around for anything they can get.
It’s encouraging that Nylander made the practice. His dedication has been questioned in the past, so it’s good to see him getting off on the right foot. And poor Subban is just trying to save his job. Since coming to the Blackhawks at the trade deadline on Feb. 24, the netminder has merely stood in for just over a minute on Mar. 3 while Corey Crawford was checked for concussion protocol.
The above four players have been showing up regularly since that first day. It will be interesting to see when other players join these Blackhawks skates moving forward.
Positives on the Injury Front
On June 11 the Blackhawks finally spoke to the media in a Zoom call. General manager Stan Bowman gave an update on players that were injured at the beginning of the pause.
SVP/GM Stan Bowman gives an update on players who were injured at the time of the pause:
𝗱𝗲 𝗛𝗮𝗮𝗻: expected to participate in camp
𝗦𝗲𝗮𝗯𝗿𝗼𝗼𝗸, 𝗦𝗵𝗮𝘄 & 𝗦𝗺𝗶𝘁𝗵: still progressing through their recoveries pic.twitter.com/dppDoXYIGP
— Chicago Blackhawks (@NHLBlackhawks) June 11, 2020
We took a look at a potential Blackhawks/Oilers matchup when the 24-team format was initially formalized. At the time we discussed that having defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward Drake Caggiula back in the fold would be extremely beneficial towards the Blackhawks having a chance to win this series. It’s great to see our hopes come to fruition.
De Haan’s addition would allow the Blackhawks to continue to ice Duncan Keith and Adam Boqvist on the top pairing, who were really starting to gel together towards the end of the season. De Haan and Connor Murphy could make up a very strong second pairing, with Olli Maatta, Slater Koekkoek, and rookie Lucas Carlsson all options on the third pairing.
Caggiula suffered a hand injury at the time of the pause, but it appears it was a minor issue. The addition of the fiesty yet skilled forward gives the Blackhawks so much more flexibility with their lines. Caggiula is an incredibly versatile player, able to play up and down the lineup and always find a way to make an impact.
It’s great to have it confirmed that Boqvist’s concussion issues didn’t linger and he will be ready to play. Concussions are a tricky thing, as we know all too well from Andrew Shaw’s struggles. While not a surprise, it’s sad to hear Shaw will likely not play. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if his playing days are over.
Apparently Brent Seabrook’s timeline of being ready for the 2020-21 season remains unchanged. Zack Smith was dealing with back issues throughout this season. It appears they were more serious than we initially thought, causing him to still be sidelined.
Words From Coach Colliton
Head coach Jeremy Colliton spoke during the Zoom call about preparing for the matchup with the Oilers. Colliton stressed the Blackhawks are a young team, but those young guys are contributing to their success.
…the guys who played 20-plus games in the league, we had eight guys in entry level who played 20-plus games, seven guys who played 35-plus, five of our top-ten scorers were on entry level deals.
Colliton is referring to Dominik Kubalik, DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Alex Nylander, and Kirby Dach. These youngsters will all be excited about playing and making a difference in a playoff environment.
Add in the championship experience of Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Keith, and goaltender Corey Crawford and it’s hard to count them out. When is this qualifying series happening again?!
Proposed Dates and Locations for the Future
According to the most recent statement by the NHL, if all goes as planned for Phase 2, then Phase 3 would start on July 10. This would be formal training camps for all 24 teams. Phase 4 would be returning to play, in which a date has yet to be determined. But most estimate this should be around Aug. 1.
This gives the Blackhawks almost two months to prepare for the Oilers. It should be a good measuring stick for Colliton and his coaching crew. Do they have what it takes to correctly prepare their players for this best-of-five series? There’s no easing into this; they’ll have to start with all their ducks in a row.
The NHL has yet to determine the two hubs where play will take place. One of them is projected to be Las Vegas, and Chicago is still in the running as well.
It’s exciting to have Phase 2 underway and see players back on the ice. There are many more decisions to be made and obstacles to overcome before official return to play. But it certainly is a step in the right direction.