Tracking some key stats for the Chicago Blackhawks

Overall, expectations are low for the Chicago Blackhawks this season. It’s disappointing as a fan to see an organization aiming for last place like it was never a goal. However, it’s liberating in the sense that staff and players can do whatever they want without repercussions. It’s a season for experimenting.

One area I’d like to see Chicago make adjustments in is defensively. People can point out holes throughout the line-up, which will likely be even bigger after the trade deadline in early March, but none of that really matters right now. The existence of these holes is why this year is going to be the abomination that it is. There is plenty of room, however, for head coach Luke Richardson to start implementing a defensive system that could yield long-term benefits.

No team wins long without a reliable defense. You can have all the offensive firepower in the world, but without a defense this team probably won’t win a championship. (I’m looking at you Edmonton!) Putting processes in place to improve the team defensively is absolutely something Richardson can and should start now.

To that end, I thought it might be helpful to track some stats during this Chicago 5-on-5 season. I’m specifying 5-on-5 because, just like with offense but no defense, the special teams alone are not enough to lead a team to a championship.

Richardson hopefully asks himself questions such as “How can we strengthen the power play? How can we prevent opposing teams from having too much time on our side? What can we do to limit the chances to score against us (the Blackhawks)?” It doesn’t matter who’s on the roster because the head coach can set up a system and get the players into it.

A few stats to consider for this particular season deal with high-risk scoring chances. Every team should look to prevent their opponents from having A+ opportunities to put the puck in the net, whether they rebuild or not. Here are some examples and definitions from Hockey Reference:

High-Risk Goals Against

High-risk goalscoring opportunities against that lead to goals

Percentage of high risk scoring chances that are converted into goals, for opponents of this team

Every team gives up shots in a game, but the quality of their opponents’ shots makes a real difference. If Richardson can start getting his players to tighten things up defensively, and that’s still been a trend over the season, then that would be positive for me. Especially when we take stock of the fact that young players who could be part of the long-term plan will see NHL minutes this year.

With Chicago’s top prospects in the AHL, players can navigate their way into a new defensive structure without having to unlearn a previous one. On some level, this is likely part of GM Kyle Davidson’s scorched-earth approach to replenishing the depth of the organization’s roster.

Last year, those same stats were, unsurprisingly, below the league average. (You can see ‘Team Analytics at 5-on-5’ for yourself, via Hockey Reference.) Setting modest goals like improving defensive numbers is reasonable. Plus, 82 games is plenty of time to set things up, not to mention Richardson had a full training camp with the team. Even though he’s a new coach, he has a free hand to organize things the way he sees fit.

The NHL level is where the proof of concept will be evident. Richardson and Davidson have their work cut out for them. Still, since Chicago is going to be bottom of the league, it’s a good opportunity to do some math and see if the stats show Chicago tending to go up, even though the team’s record indicates otherwise.

Karen J. Nelson