It is February 17, 2020. The Blackhawks just wrapped up a 1–4 Canadian road trip. They have a February record of 2–4–2. Their overall record is 26-25-8 which is just a fancy way of dressing up a 26-33 record, and they are still 6 points behind the two wild card teams.
At this point, after the impending third straight year of not making the playoffs and not winning a playoff game since 2016, the “professional” writers are still too terrified to call a spade a spade and call this entire organization out for what it is…
The longer that the Blackhawks fanbase accepts McDonough and his entourage of “yes men” making awful decisions after terrible moves, the longer Chicago will be just another average NHL team in the middle of the pack just scraping by. The Chicago Blackhawks are a broken organization and no one seems to be holding the front office accountable for it. As much as I love to watch Leafs fans meltdown, at least they are holding the team’s decision makers responsible.
For that, I respect them.
It didn’t have to be this way, though. Last summer, when the Blackhawks (by no actions of their own) were gifted the third overall draft pick, Stan Bowman made the right decision by drafting Kirby Dach. It certainly wasn’t the popular decision but drafting Dach over yet another in a long line of “smallish puck moving defensemen” was the right move. Bringing in Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta for the rights to two players they didn’t want anymore and a middle-six wing (that has since been replaced very nicely by Dominik Kubalik) were sneaky good moves. This brings me to the final move he made which, again, was gifted to him.
Late in the day on July 1, when Lehner’s people were scrambling, Bowman had just enough cap space to sign Lehner to a pretty affordable one year deal. Big win! Before Lehner was brought in, Bowman was looking at another season with the fragile Corey Crawford and the inexperienced Collin Delia as his goaltending duo. Fast forward eight months and Lehner has been nothing short of an amazing addition to this team.
Not so fast, though, because it looks as though they are about to screw that up, as well.
If recent reports are correct (and I have no reason to think they aren’t), the negotiations between Lehner and the team have headed south this past week. One might assume that Lehner and his agent are looking to drive his salary into the $9 million or $10 million range, which is something that the Blackhawks certainly should not buy into. Recent reports, though, are that he is looking for a seven-year deal in the range of $7 million to $7.5 million, which is very reasonable for a 28-year-old goalie who was a Vezina Trophy finalist a year ago and is currently (at minimum) a top ten NHL goalie. The same team that is paying $11 million for Lehner and Crawford this season, is allegedly balking at a potential duo (Lehner/Delia) that would be paid $8 million next season.
I’m no math professor, but $8 million sure seems like less than $11 million.
Yes, it’s true that the team could bring back their soon-to-be 36-year-old goalie who has multiple recent major concussions on his resume for a cheaper deal. That is because he’s aging out and has a major head injury history, which are both things you cannot avoid with “hopes and prayers”. Contrary to what one Blackhawks “writer” thinks, the UFA goalie crop this summer is NOT strong. Outside of Lehner and Crawford, the only name on the list that might be able to play at their level is Braden Holtby, who is somehow having an awful season behind one of the best teams in the NHL. You don’t turn that around by playing behind a defense that gives up the most shots in the entire league.
Jeff, surely there have to be more goalies out there, right?
This is the alleged “strong” goalie market they have to choose from July 1:
Francouz is the only one that could potentially be a better-than-Cam Ward level backup. The current Avalanche backup is older than Lehner, though, at 29. Call me crazy, but letting your known asset go to take a huge risk on any of these guys listed above is an enormous gamble with a high likelihood of little-to-no reward. (note – Francouz signed and extension in Colorado)
How has this organization completely screwed themselves like this? The answer? Arrogance.
Last season, when fans had to suffer through Cam Ward and Collin Delia getting their brains beat in on a nightly basis, they kept trying to sell that unrealistic playoff narrative. Stan and company did nothing to open up this roster for a re-tool at the deadline and the team finished with a mediocre draft position. This should have landed them yet another three-year project that could eventually turn into a serviceable NHL player after Kane and Toews were either gone or swiftly riding off into the sunset.
Then, by sheer luck, the third overall pick was dropped into their lap. They got lucky.
None of this happened because Stan Bowman or John McDonough are great at their jobs. How do they follow that up? Another dismal season, potentially reverting their goaltending situation right back into last season’s disarray, One More Shift and more public relations nonsense about the playoffs that they are in no way qualified to compete in.
That is called kicking the can down the road. When will enough be enough? When will fans stop renewing season tickets? When will the fanbase hit the Wirtz cartel where it hurts them most, the pocketbook?
The Chicago organization has been suffocating under a blanket of John McDonough led stupid decisions for at least five years and they just keep getting away with it by spoon-feeding the casual fans with their “just get in the playoffs, anything can happen,” and “anything is possible when you have Toews and Kane on your team” narratives. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, fans, but that’s a bunch of Public Relations nonsense the marketing department is feeding you so you will still spend money on their mediocre-at-best product. You’re all being lied to, treated like idiots, and far too many fans are lapping it up like a big bowl of chicken noodle soup.
You should all be as furious as I am about it! The time is now, people.