- Following the Chicago Blackhawks’ first-round exit from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, normally levelheaded general manager Stan Bowman angrily promised change. Since then, Bowman has kept good on his promise by making a lot of big moves that shook up the roster, but none of those changes have made this team a better one than it was in the 2017 playoffs.
I wasn’t angry when the Chicago Blackhawks traded Niklas Hjalmarsson or Artemi Panarin away. In fact, I think the Panarin-Brandon Saad deal is quite good, while the other remains to be seen (but I’m optimistic!). These deals made the ‘Hawks considerably younger while providing them a bit of cap space and potentially a few players who could make an impact down the road.
Even during the NHL Entry Draft, I was pretty happy with the team’s moves and loved its first pick. The Blackhawks loaded up on defense and quietly had a really good draft. It was really when free agency came around that I realized that while Bowman has promised and delivered on change, it just won’t be enough.
Bowman went out and did the best he could with the ‘Hawks’ cap situation by signing a lot of NHL-ready vets with cheap contracts. Plug these new players into the spots that have been vacated this offseason and you don’t have a team that is anything close to being better than the team we just witnessed getting swept.
Patrick Sharp, while the Blackhawks got him for an exceptionally cheap cap hit that even I can live with, is another in a list of twilight reunions the Blackhawks have a strange love for that probably won’t work out. But it gives fans a reason to remember the good old days of winning Cups. I’m going to shamelessly plug my own tweet here, but I think it’s valid:
The Blackhawks need to find ways to get better, and the moves thus far haven’t made the team better or worse for 2017-18. I feel the Blackhawks are much the same team, with different numbers and names on the back of the sweaters.
Time to face facts
Bowman certainly is to blame for a lot of the team’s cap compliance issues that have made it tough to retain much-needed talent, but that’s the way cap is.
With that being said the efforts Bowman has made this offseason have been commendable. Unfortunately the moves are being made with the pipe dream that this team can actually continue to contend for a Cup in 2018.
Blackhawks fans, I have sad news for you: The 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks will not be winning a championship. If I’m wrong, and I hope that I am, I welcome you to come back to this post and blast it and myself wholeheartedly in the comment section, and I like you will read them with jubilance.
The Blackhawks organization needs to take a step away from this honorable desire to win a Cup every year, which is just not possible in today’s NHL, and find a way to make sure it can win a Cup again in two or three years.
I’m willing to wait two or three more years to stockpile middle first-round picks and have a pseudo-rebuild rather than ending up at the back of every first round with little to show for it. That is a path that leads to the mire of mediocrity.
Hope for the near future
Da Windy City
There is reason to be optimistic, however. The Saad deal, while tough to digest at first, is a really good deal. Saad’s contract is four years at a cap hit similar to Panarin’s for a stud of a two-way player in Saad (which, by the way, is a lot harder to come by then a 70-point scorer).
Saad knows the system and locker room very well and manned Jonathan Toews’ left wing better than anyone in the captains 10-year tenure (tongue twister, eh?). Odds are, in two years Panarin’s asking for $7-8 million, a price the Blackhawks just simply wouldn’t be able to afford, and they’d lose him for nothing.
While watching the cross-ice beauties between Panarin and Patrick Kane was a wonderful thing, Kane has shown he can produce with pretty much anyone on his wing, a skill Toews has not been able to demonstrate.
I feel I should remind everyone that Kane was having a league-best season in 2015 without Panarin before his collarbone injury screwed up a potential bid for back-to-back Art Ross and Hart Trophy wins. Toews had his last superstar season that year, the same year after which Saad was shipped away. I don’t think that’s coincidence. Toews needs Saad more than Kane needs Panarin, and this trade may have, in a way, made both lines better.
The Blackhawks addressed their backup goalie situation with the trade for Anton Forsberg and the signing of J.F. Berube, and added some young blueliners like Jordan Oesterle, Connor Murphy and Henri Jokiharju who could become good players. The hope is that Alex DeBrincat can develop into a prolific scorer, and I believe he can because today’s NHL is a small kids’ NHL.
The problem is they just make the team competent. Kane will likely have to carry most of the scoring burden again, and he’ll do it. If the Blackhawks expect to make it past the first round of the playoffs this season, they need Toews to be the three-time Stanley Cup championship winning Toews, not the one team has had these last two seasons.
They need the bottom six to play hard defense while also providing meaningful supplemental scoring. Corey Crawford better be prepared to win 30-plus games again, and the blue line definitely will have to play above it’s means.
Blackhawks fans, be patient. I want to see them win a Cup every year just as bad as anyone, but I’d rather they rebuild into legitimate contention rather than waste the remainder of Kane and Toews’ prime on pipedream mediocrity.