Connor Bedard

When will the Blackhawks be Stanley Cup contenders again?

The Blackhawks haven't won a playoff series — excluding the 2020 bubble — since the 2015 Stanley Cup Final

Chicago Blackhawks v Detroit Red Wings
The Blackhawks haven't won a playoff series since the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. When will they be championship contenders again?

The Vegas Golden Knights made history on Tuesday, becoming the second-fastest franchise in the NHL's modern era — since 1943-44 — to win a Stanley Cup after doing so in their sixth season of existence. The Edmonton Oilers won their first championship in their fifth year.

Since entering the league in 2017, only the Tampa Bay Lightning (61) have playoff wins than the Golden Knights (54). Over that span, the Blackhawks have zero, excluding the 2020 bubble. It's hard to believe when considering their dominance in the 2010s.

So it got me thinking: When will the Blackhawks be Stanley Cup contenders again? No, not playoff-bound; I'm talking about legit championship caliber.

Before winning the 2023 NHL Draft lottery, my feeling was the Blackhawks wouldn't be playoff contenders until the 2026-27 season and Stanley Cup contenders until the following season in 2027-28. I now believe Connor Bedard — the projected No. 1 overall pick — moves the timeline up by a year.

Let me be clear about something: I do not expect the Blackhawks to go out of their way to expedite the rebuild. They're going to stay the course, as they should.

What I'm saying is, I believe the timeline will be sped up because Bedard helped speed it up, not because the Blackhawks got impatient and forced themselves into doing so. He is a franchise-changing talent and future captain material.

That being said, Bedard's supporting cast is still a ways away from becoming permanent NHL players, which is why the rebuild will still require patience for the next few years:

  • Frank Nazar is expected to return to college for his sophomore season after missing most of his freshman campaign with an injury. 
  • I would be surprised if Kevin Korchinski is a full-time NHL player next season, even though I wouldn't rule out him starting with the Blackhawks. 
  • Sam Rinzel's NHL timeline is still at least two years away.
  • I'd imagine whoever the Blackhawks take at No. 19 overall could be one or two years away, too, if not more — same with the 2024 first-round selections.

You also have to factor in the adjustment period once they actually do get to the NHL. It's going to take multiple years for those prospects to get acclimated to the pro game, playing against the best players in the world, and feel settled into their roles.

And these are just the first-rounds picks. The players that were drafted in the second round and beyond last year could take a little more time to develop; same with this year. The Blackhawks will get themselves into trouble if they try rushing them to the NHL before they're actually ready, which is a mistake they seem committed to not making again.

The other thing to consider is, not every prospect is going to hit. In a few years, the Blackhawks will have to evaluate which players will be part of the new core, which ones are complementary pieces, and which ones could be used as trade chips to fill other needs as their competitive window begins to open.

There are a lot of moving parts, and it's why the Blackhawks don't have any plans to accelerate this rebuild themselves. The players and progression of the prospects will be the ones to determine when it's Go Time, and I think Bedard will obviously play a big role in that.

All in all, here's how I predict the next four years will go for the Blackhawks:

2023-24: Bottom-8 finish
2024-25: Improved, but no playoffs
2025-26: Playoffs, but not true Stanley Cup contenders
2026-27: Stanley Cup aspirations

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