Wishful thinking to believe Blackhawks should be better? Probably

Before this season began, Nick Foligno believed the Blackhawks could surprise.

Sixteen games in - despite the Hawks owning the second-worst points percentage in the NHL - nothing has changed.

Foligno still believes.

"We're a way better team than we're showing," Foligno said after a 3-2 loss to Buffalo at the United Center on Sunday. "That's the disappointing part too is ... I see more. I see the plays we make, I see the care in this room.

"But it's got to translate out there."

While Foligno's faith is admirable, it's also seems to be wishful thinking.

Nearly half the Hawks' roster has fewer than 140 games of NHL experience. Seven players have appeared in 50 or fewer games.

In some ways, it's similar to what Tyler Johnson went through in 2013 when Tampa Bay used nine rookies. Included on that list were Johnson, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Radko Gudas and Richard Panik.

Tampa Bay went just 18-26-4 that season, but made the playoffs in 2014 and advanced to the Stanley Cup Final in 2015.

"We had a lot of good players and we were coming together as a group," said Johnson, who finished third in Calder Trophy voting for rookie of the year in 2014. Palat was second. "We were very good structurally compared to other teams.

"That 2014-15 team, we didn't expect to be in the Finals. But it's one of those things that once you get there you never know what's going to happen.

"We had high aspirations, which we should here. It's just one of those things where you've got to put in the work."

It's important to note those Lightning teams included Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, defensemen Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman and - perhaps most importantly - goaltender Ben Bishop.

Hedman has become one of the best defensemen of his generation, winning the Norris Trophy in 2018, the Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP) in 2020 and racking up 147 career goals to rank 48th all-time among blue liners.

But even he admits it took until 2014-15 before he was totally comfortable.

"I was still finding my way (in 2013)," Hedman said after the Lightning beat the Hawks at the UC last week. "It was only my fourth year.

"It really helped having Coop (coach Jon Cooper) come in. It was kind of a reset button. I was able to get some power-play time that I didn't get in the beginning. A confidence builder there - and we just took off.

"A lot of credit to the coaching staff for that."

Cooper replaced Guy Boucher late in the 2013 season.

The Hawks, meanwhile, are being led by Luke Richardson, who is in his second season behind the bench. While blessed to have generational talent Connor Bedard at his disposal, Richardson is also trying to push forward with forwards Lukas Reichel (50 games), D-men Alex Vlasic (35), Wyatt Kaiser (25), Isaak Phillips (24) and Kevin Korchinski (16) and goaltender Arvid Soderblom (25).

Richardson also doesn't have nearly the veteran talent of those Lightning squads, and he's been without Taylor Hall for six games and Andreas Athanasiou for the last four.

What's disappointing for the Hawks is they beat Pittsburgh, Toronto, Vegas, Florida and Tampa Bay en route to a respectable 5-7-0 start. With the daunting part of their schedule over, it looked like the Hawks could build momentum over the weekend. Instead, they lost to Nashville and Buffalo to fall to 5-11-0.

"We've beaten some great teams to start the season," said defenseman Seth Jones. "And the games we should have won, we haven't played to our expectations.

"It's about finding that consistency every night and not only getting up for the big games."

So is there any way to accelerate the learning curve? Perhaps a bit.

"It's something you have to fight with," Foligno said of the inexperience factor. "You understand where we're at, but you can't accept that either.

"If you're an NHL player you're expected to have an NHL mindset and learn quickly. We all had that. ... The quicker you learn, the better pro you're gonna be, the longer career you're gonna have.

"Hopefully we can help these guys understand that."

Jones agreed - and still believes despite the rough start.

"If you learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward, I don't understand why we can't be in the same situation as the Lightning," he said. "It's not just the younger guys, but old guys have to play to their abilities as well.

"It's got to be a whole team effort."

By the numbers

Blackhawks with under 50 games of experience

Name Games

Connor Bedard 16

Kevin Korchinski 16

Isaak Phillips 24

Arvid Soderblom 25

Wyatt Kaiser 25

Alex Vlasic 35

Lukas Reichel 50

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