Blackhawks Pegged As Fringe Playoff Contenders

The captain is back, the new goaltender has something to prove, and there is a new No. 1 defenseman in the Windy City for the 2021-22 NHL season. Each component is important individually, but how those pieces affect the whole will determine just how good the Chicago Blackhawks are in what looks to be a demanding Central Division and Western Conference.

In a pandemic-revamped Central Division that included two teams from the Metropolitan Division (Carolina and Columbus) and three from the Atlantic (Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay, Florida, “Original Six” rival Detroit), the Blackhawks finished nine points out of a playoff spot in 2020-21. Once a model franchise that won three titles in a five-year span last decade, Chicago has not won a playoff series since winning the Stanley Cup in 2015, and it has missed the postseason three of the last four years.

Sportsbooks feel that trend could continue, given that the customary Central Division includes three playoff teams from the West (division-topping Colorado, plus St. Louis and Minnesota) and North runner-up Winnipeg returning as favorites to reach the postseason. Even so, sports bettors may want to consider backing the Blackhawks’ chances of being in the mix for the West’s two wild-card spots as their season opens Wednesday on the road against the Avalanche.

Toews, “Flower,” and Mr. Jones

There was no arguing that the Blackhawks clearly missed Toews, their talisman for all three Stanley Cup titles and one of the best two-way players in the league. After sitting out all of last season with what he eventually disclosed as “chronic immune response syndrome,” the 33-year-old Toews is expected to be slotted in the No. 2 center spot and an integral part of the team’s power-play units.

Still, the expectation is for Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton to gradually increase Toews’ workload, which will occasionally make his game-to-game availability an issue. That is likely why no sportsbooks are offering player props on Toews, who is five goals shy of 350 and 30 assists shy of 500 for his career.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who backstopped the Pittsburgh Penguins to three Stanley Cup titles and the Vegas Golden Knights to the Cup final in the team’s first season in the league in 2018, was surprisingly dealt from Sin City to Chicago in the offseason. There were rumors the 2021 Vezina Trophy winner might retire at age 36 rather than suit up for the Blackhawks, but he put that talk to bed in August.

“Flower” is among the leading options at Illinois sportsbooks to repeat as Vezina winner, with PointsBet most bullish on him at +800 as a second choice to Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy. He is listed at +1000 at DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars, while BetRivers and Barstool — both powered by the Kambi platform — have him sixth at +1500.

Being a Vezina favorite also makes Fleury a darkhorse candidate for Hart Trophy as NHL MVP, getting play for +4000 at DraftKings, PointsBet, and Caesars, and +5000 at FanDuel and Kambi.

Chicago’s defense was a sore spot last season, as the 33.7 shots allowed per game tied Buffalo for the most in the NHL. Duncan Keith was shipped to Edmonton, leaving a hole that Seth Jones will try to fill amid heavy expectations. The Blackhawks paid a steep price to pry him from Columbus — first and second-round picks in 2021, defenseman Adam Boqvist (taken 8th overall in 2018), and a No. 1 pick in either 2022 or 2023 — before pushing all in by giving Jones an eight-year, $76 million extension in July.

Yet Jones is hardly considered a Norris Trophy contender, with FanDuel offering +4800 and PointsBet listing him at +5000 to be named league’s top blue-liner.

So what are the Blackhawks odds?

To be blunt, the Blackhawks are longshots for a fourth Stanley Cup title in 12 years. BetRivers, Barstool, and PointsBet are offering the shortest odds at +4000. Oddsmakers have them in the top 10 to win the Western Conference, with listings ranging from +1800 at PointsBet and DraftKings to +2400 at FanDuel.

With a Central Division title also considered an outlier in a tighter band from +1800 to +2000, the more balanced offerings come with the yes/no option for making the playoffs. Of the five sportsbooks with that listing, FanDuel has the best “yes” option at -102, while DraftKings has even money (+100) for the Blackhawks to miss out.

For season over/under point totals, PointsBet has Chicago listed at 91.5 points (-115), while Bet Rivers and Barstool counter at 90.5 at -112 in both directions.

For player props, Toews’ uncertain availability creates intrigue for the team’s top two offensive options, Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat. Kane, one of the league’s craftiest scorers who has averaged better than a point per game in eight of his last nine seasons, is a +2600 option at FanDuel to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league’s top point scorer.

A five-time 30-goal scorer, Kane also has markets for his over/under goal tally. FanDuel is on the low side at 29.5 goals (-114), while DraftKings is on the high side at 31.5 (-115). The Kambi platform is splitting the difference with a notable offering of -125 for over 30.5 goals and +100 under. Kane also has two wildly divergent over/under point totals, with FanDuel offering 90.5 at -114 and Kambi listing 97.5 at -112.

DeBrincat, a -155 option at BetRivers and Barstool to be the team’s top goal-scorer, has an over/under of 38.5 goals at Kambi (-112) and DraftKings (-115) after totaling 32 in 52 games last season. He also has a seven-point spread in that over/under category between FanDuel at 70.5 (-114) and Kambi at 77.5 (-112). DeBrincat is a +1600 listing to win the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league’s top goal-scorer at BetRivers and Barstool, but a +2600 offering at FanDuel.