Just perusing Twitter this morning, man, there is a lot of silliness out there. #loseforhughes and #anythingcanhappen are both unrealistic extremes (albeit, one more so than the other), and the ridiculous back and forth is all about right now—not enough about what can be done this year as a first step to restore this franchise to greatness. So let’s break it down objectively.
The streak feels great, but it’s sort of like cotton candy—little long-term value.
Hey, fine, whatever, everyone is allowed to get a little wacky over a 7-game win streak after what has been mostly a 2004-level garbage season. It’s entertaining. It’s probably good for the younger players in terms of confidence and learning how to win in the NHL. Great.
But after that, it’s (sort of) a mirage that just masks the remaining huge holes and questions on the Blackhawks roster and in the organization.
And, worse still, it only kicks the can further down the road in terms of the hard work that desperately needs to be done if this team is going to beat Winnipeg or Nashville in a 7-game series in May 2020 or 2021—as opposed to bumslaying Detroit on a Sunday afternoon in February 2019.
“Buyers” at the deadline? Buyers?! Just. Stop.
Some, including Team President John McDonough, are even talking about being “buyers” at the deadline.
That logic would seem to imply that the Hawks would go out and get a meaningfully helpful piece at the deadline—like a 3-4 defenseman who can actually defend, for example.
Having closely covered the last 10 NHL in-season trade deadlines, I can say with some assurance, the price (from the Hawks) to acquire said player is: a solid roster player + a solid prospect + a pick. None of which the Hawks could afford to give up—if it’s about either making or advancing in the playoffs, or, especially building for the future.
Markus Kruger (or Artem Anisimov), a 3rd round pick, and Tyler Sikura won’t get you that player at the deadline—which is always a seller’s market. And the Hawks can’t afford to trade Brandon Saad for that player—if they intend to contend this year. It’s subtracting in order to add.
So stop. It’s stupid.
McDonough is just doing the same thing he has all year, talking out of his nether regions in order to prop up weak ticket sales. That’s all. This is the same guy who raved about Drew Leblanc’s “youtubes” and gets snickered at by players when he shows up to practice in a team warmup. Caveat emptor.
And that mentality clearly implies you’re going to then hold on to the four players currently occupying nearly $23 million in cap space who are all getting older, less competent, less healthy, or no longer (realistically) able to play—Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and Anisimov. When the trade deadline is the best opportunity to move perhaps 1-2 of those deals for some meaningful, quality assets for the future.
Also, not smart.
The reality of “making the playoffs.”
As of this morning, the Hawks have to catch either St. Louis or Minnesota to make the playoffs—both of which, if I had to bet the mortgage, are unlikely. Especially not St. Louis who have won 6 straight themselves, their last three against Tampa on the road and in a home and home versus Nashville. As much as it pains me to say this, hockey objectivity forces me to: St. Louis is a better team right now than the Hawks. Deeper, more balanced, bigger.
With 3-point games and the Hawks’ eventual return to earth (which is going to happen, probably soon), I wouldn’t bet the house (not yet anyway) on the Hawks making the postseason. Let’s talk more after two road games in Boston and New Jersey this week.
Either way, “anything can happen” isn’t happening.
But say the Hawks do make the playoffs.
I think some people are forgetting, or perhaps never fully understood, how hard it is to win a series in the playoffs, much less a Stanley Cup.
Definitely, some don’t understand that this Hawk team is not the 2012 Kings (a subject Gatekeeper will explore further here in the next couple of days)—a team that, although it squeaked into the playoffs, was built for the playoffs: strong on defense, big, mean.
Like the last three Hawk teams (two of which bowed out in the first round of the playoffs, the other didn’t make it), this year’s model is on the small side and terrible defensively, gets by on flash and dash and wins a lot in 3-on-3 overtime—which doesn’t exist in the playoffs.
Yeah, anything can happen. So go buy a Power Ball ticket. Otherwise, let’s get real.
The “positive” side of the argument.
The team is definitely playing better and responding to Jeremy Colliton. How much better is debatable. You’re not going to win a lot of games giving up 40+ shots per. You may get lucky with hot goaltending for a while, like this team has.
But winning is contagious and certainly the mentality of this team, especially with all the young players, is vastly improved.
Further, getting the first or second pick (Jack Hughes or Kappo Kakko) in the draft was never likely. So I won’t be upset (at all) if, after a more positive conclusion to a mostly God-awful season, the Hawks settle in somewhere around 10th or 11th, and fill an organizational need with a well-considered draft pick.
An even better outcome.
Add to all I just laid out—improvement on the ice, and a reasonably high draft pick—moving a couple of veteran contracts out at the deadline for more picks and/or quality prospects, and the future shapes up nicely. Plus, more cap space this summer to add “right away” veteran help, and maybe making the playoffs or even, more importantly, advancing in the playoffs becomes a very real and exciting possibility next season, and for successive ones.
But the current mania, especially were it to sway the front office, potentially justifies the “easier” choice of foregoing the tough choices at the trade deadline, or the “crack high” (and inevitable crash) of a first round playoff loss.
Keep your eye on next year and beyond. Don’t fall for the ridiculous clickbait or ticket come-ons that are out there right now. The future is not now, but it may yet be bright.
All I have for now. Follow @jaeckel