Editorials

Chicago Blackhawks Not Far From Some Stanley Cup Playoffs Teams

By Colin Likas
PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: Travis Sanheim
PHILADELPHIA, PA - APRIL 15: Travis Sanheim /
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The NHL’s parity has created some less-than-stellar Stanley Cup Playoffs teams, which means this year’s Chicago Blackhawks aren’t far from a playoff contender

The 2017-18 Chicago Blackhawks were not a Stanley Cup Playoffs-quality team. Few disagree with this, if any. But maybe the Blackhawks weren’t all that far away after all.

Yes, they had serious blue line problems and no goaltending, the latter resulting from Corey Crawford‘s long-term injury. Looking at the present Stanley Cup Playoffs, however, suggests the Blackhawks could’ve been a real playoff-quality program, though.

The New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers both look relatively mediocre in this year’s playoffs. Sure, they aren’t going to go out in four games, as the Blackhawks did in 2017, but neither team is convincing viewers it can advance past the first round.

The Columbus Blue Jackets could’ve fallen into this category as well. Maybe they still do. But the Washington Capitals initially have decided to do what they normally do — choke away a playoff series — which makes the Jackets look even better.

Considering the Caps have the same record as the Toronto Maple Leafs — also known as the Atlantic Division’s third seed — we have a discussion on our hands. The NHL’s parity means the Blackhawks may not be as bad as their 2017-18 record looks.

A comparison chart

Even if the Blackhawks had fluked their way into a playoff spot this season, a majority of viewers would’ve seen it as just that: a fluke.

This was on the table for quite some time, until the Blackhawks went to absolute dumpster fire mode in early February or so. Let’s take that timeframe … early February. How did the Blackhawks look in comparison to some other teams around Feb. 1, 2018?

Well, that’s interesting.

Ignore the goal differential. That was always going to be out of whack because of the Blackhawks’ early-season results. Let’s instead just look at points. You might notice a few things:

— The New Jersey Devils were five points ahead of the Blackhawks

— The Philadelphia Flyers were one point ahead of the Blackhawks

—€” The St. Louis Blues were 10 points ahead of the Blackhawks, and the Dallas Stars were eight points clear of the Blackhawks

Why do I make that last point? Because the Stars and Blues failed to qualify for the 2017-18 postseason at all. Let’s welcome in the discussion about parity in the NHL, and how the Blackhawks aren’t in all that bad of shape for 2018-19.

Points don’t mean everything

Yes, I told you to “just look at points” a few paragraphs before.  But it turns out they might mean even less than one would’ve believed, in the scheme of long-term success.

The Blackhawks compiled just 76 points in the 2017-18 season, planting them 19 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the Western Conference’s second wild card spot. The Avs tallied 48 points last season and lost Matt Duchene in the middle of this campaign, yet they’re going toe to toe with the top-seeded Preds.

So are the Blackhawks really in that bad of shape? Well, they aren’t in amazing shape. But they’re not in “let’s tank forever like Buffalo” shape, as some fans seem to think.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman during the midseason seemed to notice the Blackhawks were not trending in the correct direction with their NHL roster, making a bevy of moves to push the Blackhawks toward a younger and quicker roster. Coach Joel Quenneville did nothing to oppose this move (and if you don’t think he had the option, you’re lying to yourself).

This matters in today’s NHL. Ask the Vegas Golden Knights, who were handed the option of drafting a bunch of young, quick athletes in this expansion draft. If the Blackhawks can go in that direction (with some veteran players, of course), there’s a very easy opportunity to turn back to a playoff-caliber program.

Given the NHL’s parity, there’s no guarantee the Western Conference maintains even half of its playoff teams from 2017-18 to 2018-19. With that in mind, as well as the possibility of a number of positive Blackhawks developments (youngsters improving, even-younger youngsters stepping up, Corey Crawford returning, etc.), Chicago could very well be back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by next season.

I’m not saying the Blackhawks would’ve been better served by making the 2018 postseason. In fact, they’re in better shape as a result of their struggles late this year. They can draft a talent in this year’s NHL draft who can make it to the top level in a short amount of time, compared to previous draft selections.

Next: Securing The Future, Part III: Alex DeBrincat

However, I don’t think the Blackhawks are in all that bad of shape when it comes to the near future. Yes, things could go horribly wrong regarding player development and veteran stability. But there’s very little way to predict how either of those items play out. Therefore, based on what we know, there’s sufficient evidence the Blackhawks could be a viable postseason club within the next season.

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