The future of the Chicago Blackhawks, like the future of anything, is completely up in the air. Nobody truly knows what this squad will look like come October.
Can Brandon Saad regain his scoring touch after a season of being seemingly unable to finish around the net?
Will Jonathan Toews be the Jonathan Toews we’ve seen in years past?
OK, he probably won’t be THAT Jonathan Toews again.
Can Keith and Seabrook take a step in the right direction after trending in the wrong way last season?
Will Henri Jokiharju make a leap to the NHL next season as a legitimate NHL defenseman?
Can Corey Crawford be the same, healthy No. 1 goaltender we’ve seen in years past?
No one, not Bowman, not coach Joel Quenneville, not you and certainly not me, knows this for sure.
So tell me how, when managing a team surrounded by more question marks than the end of “Inception,” can you possibly hope to address every single problem in a single day of free agency?
I present to you, my friends, the safest (and most boring) scenario available.
The waiting game.
The number of ways this opening night roster could end up looking is limitless. Marian Hossa’s contract is said to be a priority to get off the books. Additionally, rumors surrounding the ‘Hawks are still prevalent, like this one from The Rink’s John Jaeckel.
While nearly the entire fan base is praying for a trade to come in the following days (and that is very possible), there’s still a real chance that the roster we see now is the roster we see opening night. While this sounds like more of a worst-case scenario than anything else, it may be the best bet the Blackhawks have.
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Bowman doesn’t want to commit to a long-term deal on a defenseman or a top-six winger — they have quite a few young guys coming up who will demand that money shortly. He’s dug himself a hole in the past by handing out hefty contracts and is carefully avoiding that situation now.
That should be encouraging for Blackhawks fans, not disappointing. Bowman is actively planning for the future so the next generations’ Artemi Panarins and Teuvo Teravainens can stick around long-term. With a big signing this year, he loses that flexibility.
Taking that into consideration, Bowman knows that doing nothing this year is unacceptable. Without a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year, his job, along with Q’s, are both in danger. The question is: How do the Blackhawks get there?
Patience is requied
So, Blackhawks nation, before you come at me or the front office with your torches and pitchforks, give Bowman and the core some time. Let them prove that they’ve earned these contracts and haven’t all taken a step back. Let them prove that they’re far, far better than the 76-point season they put up a year ago.
Heck, let the young guns prove that they’ve progressed over this off-season. Nick Schmaltz and Vinnie Hinostroza took significant steps this past season. Who’s to say these guys — along with who knows who else — can’t take another?
Who’s to say Artem Anisimov can’t be a productive third-line center?
Who’s to say Jokiharju can’t be Charlie McAvoy 2.0?
While the addition of a top-four defenseman and a top-nine center would be huge acquisitions, these moves remain yet to be seen. Ideally, Bowman will strike up a deal soon to bolster this team in some fashion.
But, if he doesn’t, seeing what this current Blackhawks roster is capable of in front of a healthy Crawford isn’t a bad call either. Then, once the dust settles and we see the squad for what it legitimately is, any major roster shakeups could take place. In that event, Bowman could truly address what the team needs the most.
While we all know the Stanley Cup window with this core is closing, the guys in the locker room and in the front office know that better than anyone. Bowman did a good job of planning for the future, something he struggled with in years past. Now, we need to see what he’s capable of doing in relation to the present.
After all, the Blackhawks waited 49 years to bring Lord Stanley back to Chicago.
How about we wait a few months before bringing the angry mob there, too?