The Chicago Blackhawks currently sit just outside the last Western Conference wild-card spot for the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But if the ‘Hawks don’t have a real shot at winning this year, could missing the playoffs be a good thing?
Jonathan Toews is scoring, Nick Schmaltz is scoring, Vinnie Hinostroza is providing some much-needed speed and even Richard Panik finally scored again for the Chicago Blackhawks, maybe giving general manager Stan Bowman just the right amount of leverage he needed to pull the trigger on a truly great trade for young forward Anthony Duclair earlier this week.
Things are looking up for the Blackhawks, so the timing of this post seems odd. The thing is, though, there have been multiple stretches of good play sandwiched in between even longer stretches of bad and downright atrocious play, and if this good stretch is yet another mirage, maybe the Blackhawks need to finally accept the present and quickly rebuild for the near future.
It’s no secret Bowman made some big retooling moves this offseason with the single-day double-blockbuster of shipping Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin for Connor Murphy and Brandon Saad. These moves, while good for the future, were meant to give the Blackhawks a chance to still win now.
This season, both of those players have given the team mixed results. Saad started off the season about as good as you can, with a hat trick in his first game, and continued scoring in the early stages. But then he slowed down drastically.
The opposite could be said for Murphy, who struggled early on found himself in coach Joel Quenneville’s dreaded doghouse, but has since been able to get himself into a bit of a nice groove.
The issue remains that if you look at the ‘Hawks’ true win-loss record (where overtime losses count as regular losses), this team is below .500 for the first time at this point in the season since the dark days previous to Patrick Kane and Toews joining the team way back in 2007.
This isn’t the beginning of a trend, either. These issues have been noticeable since directly after the 2015 championship, with streaky play that resulted in two straight playoff exits — one in which the ‘Hawks only scored three goals in a four-game sweep to the Nashville Predators.
Looking to the future
I’m a big fan of the Blackhawks’ first-round draft pick this year in Henri Jokiharju, a speedy, puck-moving D-man who can himself score. But he likely won’t sniff the NHL until probably two years from now, and I don’t think the guys the Blackhawks currently have on the roster or who are nearing maturity in Rockford are ever going to become the Duncan Keith/Brent Seabrook style of shutdown D-men a team needs to go deep and win in the playoffs.
On the front end, the Blackhawks have aging top-end talent in Kane and Toews surrounded by a lot of promising young players, none of which are top-of-the-line talent that Kane or Toews was. More currently, they’re not in the mold of Auston Matthews and Connor McDavid, having the potential to lead their team to multiple championships in their careers.
So maybe if the Blackhawks miss the playoffs this year — a huge but possible if — maybe the best route isn’t burning the whole thing down by firing everyone and trading everyone with a shred of trade value. The ‘Hawks would be in the lottery and could get a top pick who hopefully would become the heir apparent to Toews, Kane or Keith.
Could one year of missing the playoffs be the worst thing in the world? The alternative could be a fate similar to that of the Detroit Red Wings. We all know of the Red Wings’ historic playoff streak that lasted over two decades, but at what cost? The Red Wings’ streak was ended last year, and now they find themselves seven points out of the final wild-card spot in the East stuck in the mires of mediocrity.
The benefits of falling short
To me, the only thing worse than being atrociously bad is being mediocre. Too good to get a good pick to turn things around, but not good enough to win. The Blackhawks aren’t mediocre and they aren’t atrociously bad, but they are definitely not as great as they once were.
I truly believe they could be one top-tier player away from being legit, bona fide contenders again. Not to mention a full offseason off could do some wonders for the players who have played more hockey than just about anyone on Earth the last decade or so.
This is not a call for the team to tank. More so, it’s a call for fans to stay calm and have some perspective. I know if the ‘Hawks miss this year fans will be looking for heads on stakes, and I just do not think that’s the solution.
Coach Q is a legendary Hall of Fame coach. The talent is just not what it was in the early 2010s, and that’s OK. That’s normal as players age. However, these top guys still have a lot of gas in the tank. They might just need a bit more help.