The Blackhawks were hit with a trio of key injuries ahead of training camp, involving center Kirby Dach (out 4-5 months), forward Alex Nylander (4-6 months) and captain Jonathan Toews (indefinitely).
Toews, specifically, is as irreplaceable as it gets. Dach proved his value in the postseason, too. Nylander is still searching for consistency in his game but was expected to take on a larger role going into the final year of his rookie deal.
There's no way around it: these are significant blows for a rebuilding Blackhawks team that wanted to head into the 2020-21 season with some positive vibes. But they have to mentally reset quickly.
Given the recent events, GM Stan Bowman opened up in an exclusive interview on the Blackhawks Talk Podcast about the mindset going into training camp, which begins Monday at Fifth Third Arena.
"The only way to approach it as a team — for a manager, coach or a player — is we've got to focus on what's here," Bowman said. "We love these players and we care about them, but once they're not available to play, we set them aside, let them take care of themselves and we focus on the players that are here. That's the way we're looking at it. Just wishing that things were different, that's not going to help us at all.
"We're looking forward, we're trying to prepare for the season. It's a challenge; no question it's a challenge. But to just sit here and feel sorry for ourselves, that's not going to help anybody. We've got to be excited about the challenge ahead, and it gives opportunity to new players."
One thing Bowman and head coach Jeremy Colliton have harped on for months now is the need to get back to playing a team game. That's how the organization feels it's going to take the next step as a group, and Bowman believes this is as good of an opportunity as any as they find ways to deal with the losses of Dach, Nylander and Toews.
"I think that, if anything, it's maybe expediting something that had to happen anyway, which was really our commitment to be more of a team approach and our work ethic and our supporting one another," Bowman said. "A couple of the players, Jonathan and Kirby in particular, they can do a lot of things individually on their own. And now that we don't have them, we're going to have to band together and we're going to have to play a team game.
"So that was something we were always going to be doing. I think that success of our team was going to be how we play together and our commitment to our work ethic, and that's going to be our ticket. And now, more than ever, that's our ticket forward."
Can the injuries be deflating? Absolutely. How can it not? But Bowman believes "they're only demoralizing if you focus on them," and so the Blackhawks will try to look at the positives, no matter how challenging the circumstances may be.
"We've got a lot of new faces, we've got a lot of young players that haven't earned their spot in the league yet but they want to put their stake in the ground and say, 'I'm an NHL player,'" Bowman said. "So now they'll come with that relentless attitude. That's something we can really bring to the group. They're hungry to show that they can make a difference and that's what gets us excited heading into camp."
Adam Boqvist and Ian Mitchell were singled out as players for fans to get excited about on the back end. Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev and Pius Suter are three names to watch up front, too.
Don't expect them to be thrown into the fire all at once, but the Blackhawks have accepted this is going to be a developmental year. Nothing has changed in that regard. And that's the message going into the new season.
"Let's embrace where we're at and be excited about the opportunity for some new players to step forward," Bowman said. "That's how Jeremy and I are looking at it. Some of these players that aren't that familiar to you, six months from now are going to be a lot more well-known entities.
"When you're missing some really high-end players that can do a lot by themselves, I think it forces you to band together as a group. And sometimes that's when your team really does bring the effort and the performance, and they can surprise people. That's what I'm excited about. I'm excited to see this group come together and bring that relentlessness to the table and surprise some people."