The Chicago Blackhawks have had a rough go of it lately, and their trip to the east coast so far has been no exception. What is wrong with this team?
The Chicago Blackhawks are in a bad way right now. The latest episode is a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers in a game that an empty net goal ended up being the game-winning goal. This loss comes in game 49, which is tied for the most in the entire NHL. That is not good when you are chasing, because that means you have fewer games than anyone else to get some points.
Their 41 points are tied for the least in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa has also played two fewer games, and they were one of the universal picks to come in dead last as they are clearly rebuilding. Ottawa traded their superstar captain Erik Karlsson right before the season started to ignite their rebuild. Not a franchise you want to be mentioned with right now.
John McDonough and Stan Bowman have made it clear that they believed this was a roster that is good enough to compete, but it is hard to believe that they actually believed that going in. It isn’t really cool to lie to your fans and they would probably deny it, but the Blackhawks’ roster as is, is not good enough to compete for a playoff spot let alone win the Stanley Cup.
Stanley Bowman has made a few good trades in a row, but none of them are big enough to impact the team in a way that they will all of the sudden become a playoff team. Trading Nick Schmaltz for Dylan Strome was probably the closest because Schmaltz seemed to not enjoy being a Blackhawk and they took on Strome who never got going in Arizona despite being a third overall pick. Strome has fit in well so far.
So what happened to the team? How did they go from first in the division to last in the division in one offseason? Well, that is simple, they worried about the future while they had two generational talents in the middle of their prime. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are Blackhawks legends. They will be in the Hall of Fame, have their numbers retired and statues will be built for them. The back half of their prime is looking to be wasted.
There are two moves that stick out as unforgivable as far as making the team worse. The first is the obvious, trading of Artemi Panarin to the Columbus Blue Jackets to re-acquire Brandon Saad. Panarin is a superstar playmaker. Saad is a good player don’t get me wrong, but he is not even on the same level as Panarin.
The other is trading Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Connor Murphy. That was a move to get younger and cheaper but when you have Kane and Toews in their prime, the time to win is now. Even if Hjalmarsson had a lot of miles on him, so does Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. Meanwhile, in Arizona he has played pretty well for them. The Blackhawks could really use a shutdown defenseman right now, and he was one of the best pure defenders in the NHL with the Blackhawks.
The jury is still out on head coach Jeremy Colliton and whether or not he will remain the head coach beyond this season, but it is hard to believe that he is doing any better than former head coach Joel Quenneville. The firing of him so early in the season was another big mistake. They should not have let him handle training camp and the preseason if this was going to be the case all along.
Is Corey Crawford‘s injury the reason the team stinks? It may be the reason they are dead last in the entire NHL, but it is not the sole reason they are bad. They are bad because the supporting cast is not good enough, and they give up good chances because they are not great defensively. Cam Ward and Collin Delia have played as good enough as you would expect your second and third string goalie to play, especially Delia who might find himself playing in the NHL in the future. It would be cool to see what he can do with a team that is better defensively.
So what should the team do to fix the problem? Well, they are not making it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year. They are on pace for about 68 points, which is not good at all and that total would certainly put them in good lottery position. If they were to win the lottery or even come in second, there are two very good players at the top of the draft.
It will be very hard to do a full blown rebuild as long as Toews and Kane’s contracts are on the books and they are both over the age 30 hill. They are still having great years, especially Kane. That means they sort of have to retool on the fly instead of stripping down the roster in order to rebuild. Winning the lottery would certainly push that forward, but some changes need to be made.
The Blackhawks are back in action on Sunday when they visit the Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals. Washington will be one of the Blackhawks biggest tests, as they return this year with a new coach and are still one of the best teams in the league.