Can the Blackhawks move forward with a rebuild already?
By James Goldenberg
The Chicago Blackhawks declared themselves to be rebuilding, and yet they haven’t put actions to their words yet.
Despite Stan Bowman’s admission of a rebuild, his backward hand flip goodbye to Corey Crawford, and his apparent obsession with acquiring for bottom-six defensive-minded forwards. I am certain there were still a few Blackhawk fans that held out hope for the upcoming season. I am equally assured that the events of the past couple of weeks have destroyed all of these delusions.
The bad news started with the realization that the surgery to Alex Nylander’s torn meniscus was going to sideline the winger for four to five months. Things got worse after Kirby Dach smashed his wrist into pieces during a World Juniors preliminary round game.
His recovering time matches Nylanders’. Finally, before the debate over whether Dach should have even been playing in the tournament finished, the team released a startling statement regarding Jonathan Toews’s health. While no illness or alignment was specified, The Captain revealed the following per NHL.com:
"“This offseason, I’ve been experiencing symptoms that have left me feeling drained and lethargic. I am working with doctors so I can better understand my condition.”"
So where does leave the ‘Hawks? The Dach and Nylander injuries are unfortunate. Both could use more NHL ice time, Dach to continue on his learning curve, and Nylander to prove to doubters that his elite skills can translate into positive outcomes.
Nevertheless, the two have been given good prognoses and could return to action at end of the shortened 20/21 season. The mystery surrounding Toews is more perplexing. There is no timeline for his return and without him, there is not much reason for Bowman to delay the inevitable. He needs to complete the demolition.
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Before this latest rash of injuries, Bowman knocked out the windows but left some of the main pillars. His half in – half outmaneuvers were directed at the Blackhawks’ most glaring weakness, its defense.
High danger chances, an ominous term ushered in when an advanced analytics body checked old school hockey statistics and threatened to make the marker smudged clipboard obsolete, has become synonymous with Blackhawks hockey.
Bowman addressed this issue by trading for Nikita Zadorov and signing Mattias Janmark and Lucas Wallmark, with the hope that they will help clear out the slot and limit opposing team chances. He recently signed Carl Soderberg to help replace Dach.
Janmark and Wallmark are both bottom-six forwards. The two Swedish centermen have, at times, shown glimpses of offensive ability but their primary purpose on the Hawks will be to shut down opposing players.
Zadorov is an intimating presence that adds size and nastiness to the defensive core that might be improving. Boqvist has a year under his belt. Murphy, de Haan, and Seabrook appear healthy and Keith, while not likely to log the same minutes, can still be highly productive. Ian Mitchell, the most likely call-up, is an offensive-minded defenseman but can certainly help move the puck out of the defensive zone.
But By in large this is still a young and mistake-prone team that finds itself out of position at the worst possible times. The Blackhawks were 2 and 9 in games decided by one goal during regulation. When pressured, they resemble a pee-wee team with multiple players chasing the puck handler and leaving open snipers all over the ice.
Considering the injuries, the lack of a number one goalie, and the uncertainty surrounding Toews, Bowman’s singular goal for the season should be to find the highest trade value for veterans Keith, Murphy, and Kane as he can.
The process is going to get ugly. It’s going to make Jamie Faulkner’s job of selling a rock pile to one generation of fans used to winning and another used to getting screwed over by the Wirtz Family near impossible, but wasting time collecting Swedish born centermen won’t make things easier, it won’t help and won’t change this team’s fate. At best, it will make them more boring to watch.
Light the dynamite.