The Chicago Blackhawks had a dreadful start to the 2018-19 season. Lately, however, they have been much better and are in the mix in the West.
The Chicago Blackhawks are in a weird position as we stand today. They have strung together some wins and find themselves three points out of playoff position in the Western Conference. They have a guy tied for second in the league in points in Patrick Kane. They also would likely be in playoff position if not for a dreadful start to the season.
With all of that said, what should they do now? There have been some rumors from the mouths of the big name hockey insiders that they would approach both Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook about possibly waving their no-trade clauses. Well, it doesn’t seem logical to trade either one of those two if they plan on making it to the postseason.
Although neither of them is the player they used to be, they are both capable of being put in a position to succeed on a good team. Keith is still a legit top-four defenseman on any good team and Seabrook is capable of being a top-tier bottom pair guy at this point in his career.
The Hawks being back in the race and these rumors coming out days apart is not an ideal situation. But, they have some decisions to make within the front office.
Do they want to try and make the playoffs, or do they want to get assets and start looking at the future? These are the questions for Stan Bowman and the rest of Chicago’s brass. The answer is subject to how you see this season playing out. Nobody can see the future, but that is what predictions are for.
The Blackhawks should probably try to win instead of tanking for one big reason.
Age is catching up to them and it could hit them even harder — very soon. The NHL is becoming a younger, faster league. Kane and Jonathan Toews both make north of 10 million dollars and are each 30 years old. Corey Crawford is currently injured but he is 34 years old. The aforementioned Seabrook is 33 and Keith is 35. All of those guys make a nice, heavy paycheck and are signed for a pretty long time.
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That fact makes their contracts harder to move as time goes on. Eventually, Chicago will likely be stuck with the contracts unless they give up a lot to move them. So, they might as well try to win now. If they were to finish last and draft Jack Hughes first overall, he would not necessarily be ready to be a game-breaker until Kane and Toews are in their mid-30’s and Keith and Seabrook their late-30’s. They either have to go all-in on a rebuild or try to compete for the playoffs.
Competing for the playoffs is the answer because of their current contract issues, but are they good enough to win the Stanley Cup? The answer is probably not. They would not fare too well against the Nashville Predators or Winnipeg Jets in the first round. But, at the same time, going into a rebuild the proper way is very difficult because of the contracts in the books. There have also been instances in the past where teams sneak into the playoffs and go on a run; see the 2012 Los Angeles Kings.
They could, however, attempt what would be known as a retool. They could trade a few assets like Keith and potentially try to move Seabrook in an attempt to keep Kane and Toews playing well and surround them with some more depth. You have seen this tactic be successful around the NHL. It takes smart decision-making and a little bit of luck.
For example, the Boston Bruins traded away some of their core pieces like Johnny Boychuk, Milan Lucic, and Dougie Hamilton to get assets while hanging on to guys like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand. They developed some of their young talents like David Pastrnak and Torey Krug and got a little bit of mid-first-round luck with Charlie McAvoy in a set of back-to-back years missing the postseason. They are once again a true Stanley Cup Contender.
As the Bruins have shown, it is possible to take advantage of only a few down years and avoid a full-blown rebuild. The Blackhawks could attempt that, especially if they miss the playoffs this year. A lot can change between now and the February 25th trade deadline.
If they fall completely off by then, they should sell their expiring contracts. But, that is a few weeks away. If they keep winning they could let it play out and see where it goes. It is not like any of their expiring contracts are impact players that other teams will be begging for anyway.
If a real contender wanted Chris Kunitz for locker room/leadership purposes then the Blackhawks would move him instantly. Other than that, how they handle the trade deadline/offseason could depend heavily on how they play the next few weeks.
The Blackhawks’ next attempt at two points comes in a home game against the very team they ironically are chasing in the second wild card position, the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver is one of the surprise bubble teams this season who can be tough to beat on any given night.
They, like the Blackhawks, bring their A-game every single night because of where they sit in the standings. They are led by young players like Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson. It should be interesting and fun to watch the Blackhawks make an attempt here after a tough start to the season.