Blackhawks 2024-25 season projection: How much could Chicago improve?

Let’s not kid ourselves. There was only one direction for the Chicago Blackhawks after last season. It would have been pretty challenging for them to go any further backward.

Still, when Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson declared it was time to take a step forward, the question was how big that step would be. Davidson had a ton of control over that. He had the cap and roster space to significantly alter his roster. But considering the long-term vision of his rebuild, it was unclear what Davidson would actually be willing to do this offseason. It seemed like he was tempering expectations in late June.

But beginning a few days before the draft and into free agency, Davidson finally showed his cards — and he had plenty of them. He acquired forward forward Ilya Mikheyev from the Vancouver Canucks. He then signed forwards Tyler Bertuzzi, Teuvo Teravainen, Craig Smith and Patrick Maroon; defensemen Alec Martinez and TJ Brodie and goalie Lauren Brossoit. Just like that, he had brought in eight new players and taken on nearly $30 million in cap hits.

So, what actual impact will those players have? The truly optimistic fan is already wondering if the playoffs might be possible. Is it possible?

Here at The Athletic, as usual, we turn to Dom Luszczyszyn and his model to predict the NHL future. On Thursday, he’ll be laying out his projections for every NHL team based on their offseason moves to date. Today, we’ll focus just on the Blackhawks.

First, below is a look at what the Blackhawks would be projected to look like next season if they returned the same roster. The ratings are projections on how players will perform next season based on their past performances and roles they’d have. You probably don’t need reminding, but last season was bleak, so it’s not surprising where a lot of these players’ ratings land. Based on these projections, the Blackhawks would have the second-worst cumulative player ratings. The only players with positive ratings in this projection are  Connor Bedard, Alex Vlasic and Seth Jones. It could have probably been worse, though, if Jarred Tinordi, Jaycob Megna and Isaak Phillips were included as they had some of the team’s worst Net Ratings last season.

Let’s dissect how Davidson improved that roster, at least on paper.

The first thing that jumps out is how he upgraded the Blackhawks’ top-six forwards. He didn’t sign anyone from the elite tier this offseason, but he landed a couple of quality forwards who have played top-six minutes for competitive teams. Bertuzzi was a plus-5 in the model last season and Teravainen was a plus-6. They’re projected below that this season but are still a step up for the Blackhawks. Depending on how Luke Richardson wants to utilize them, Bertuzzi and Teravainen could immediately be moved to the front of the line and placed alongside Bedard. Philipp Kurashev could remain beside Bedard. Kurashev did have more primary assists in five-on-five play than Bertuzzi or Teravainen last season. Either way, the Blackhawks will have more top-six options, including Taylor Hall’s return.

Davidson also addressed the Blackhawks’ lack of NHL-caliber defenseman depth. Instead of relying on Tinordi, Megna and an assortment of prospects, Davidson signed two established NHL defensemen in Martinez and Brodie. Both are closer to retirement than their primes, but they have still proven to be solid. More importantly, they’re upgrades. Again, their projections with the Blackhawks are slightly lower than with their previous teams, but they would still have had the third- and fourth-highest ratings among Blackhawks defensemen from last season. Their arrival will also allow Davidson to give his younger players more development time in AHL Rockford. That could mean Kevin Korchinski or Wyatt Kaiser playing with the IceHogs.

Davidson also improved the Blackhawks’ bottom six. The Blackhawks walked away from MacKenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson, Tyler Johnson and Taylor Raddysh and replaced them with Mikheyev, Maroon and Smith. They also re-signed Joey Anderson, who was analytically one of the Blackhawks’ better forwards last season. Mikheyev and Smith are definitely upgrades, according to the model. To go along with more top-six players, the Blackhawks can also now move other players down the lineup. Jason Dickinson, Nick Foligno and Ryan Donato will probably see more time on the third and fourth lines this season compared to last season, where they at times played on the first and second lines.

Finally, Davidson decided not to run this season back with Arvid Söderblom as the No. 2 goalie. Davidson was hopeful Söderblom would emerge as the No. 1 last season, but he struggled throughout the season and didn’t give the Blackhawks much of a chance when he was given the net. Davidson signed someone who should in Brossoit, one of the best backups available. Brossoit had the highest-quality starting percentage (.727) among all goalies who started at least 20 games last season. Söderblom had a .345 percentage.

Let’s see how that all plays out in Luszczyszyn’s model. Below is his 2024-25 roster projection reflecting the changes. It’s possible Anderson and Smith are in the lineup, Frank Nazar could win a spot, Kaiser could be among the defensemen and you can argue about the lines, but the roster isn’t that far off.

The Blackhawks made a 46-point jump in Net Rating with these moves. That is definitely something, but here’s the sobering part for Blackhawks fans: Chicago was so bad last year that a cumulative minus-37 rating would still put it among the five worst teams in the NHL. A zero rating is the league average and a plus-16 is the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Of course, the Blackhawks could be better than the projection. We’ll see what a healthy Taylor Hall can do. The Blackhawks have to be hopeful players like Andreas Athanasiou and Lukas Reichel are better than what the model projects for them. What does Bedard do in his second year? Maybe he’s even better than expected.

But even if everything goes right for the Blackhawks, the reality is they’re probably still not a playoff team and are looking at another early draft pick in 2025. They’ll likely take that step Davidson sought, but it might not be as massive as some fans hope.

(Photo of Connor Bedard, Philipp Kurashev and Nick Foligno: David Banks / USA Today)