A lineup that many would consider a close projection of the Chicago Blackhawks’ opening night roster delivered a predictably poor performance Tuesday night at the UC.
Predictably is the operative word in that heading.
After having the misfortune of seeing in-person a good projection of the quality of hockey we as fans can count on in the upcoming season Tuesday night at the United Center, I can’t help but find myself up late wrestling with the possibility that there might be some sort of reason for the current mess the organization finds itself in.
All summer following a playoff-less season casual fans and experts alike agreed that the Hawks’ lineup as-is was simply not good enough to perform at a high level. Big moves involving some serious re-structurizing around the team’s previous winning model were anticipated. Huge names like Erik Karlsson, Max Pacioretty, and Matt Duchene were thrown around.
No players of note actually came.
Instead, a half-hearted acknowledgement that the Corey Crawford problem was as serious as many feared came in the form of Cam Ward. With him, came Brandon Manning (see last night’s effort), and a talented, but raw, long-term prospect in Adam Boqvist. You would have been hard pressed to find a hockey fan anywhere in the universe who would have told you that the Blackhawks did what was necessary this summer to get back to competitive, high-level hockey.
With that said, the next logical conclusion to draw has been that the Chicago Blackhawks will have yet another less than stellar run this year. While we have not seen enough yet to definitively make that leap, it would be an even bigger leap to make any type of argument that involves the Blackhawks playing meaningful hockey deep into April this year. The fact is, most serious fans should be anticipating a long year; and for good reason.
Unfortunately, it feels like the effort Tuesday night is an embodiment of everything this team will be about in the upcoming season, and to tell you all anything different would be disingenuous.
See The-Rink’s Blackhawks/Wings recap from Ron Luce for more specifics on last night’s ugly finish.
First and foremost, Cam Ward, regardless of the (somewhat) revival year he is coming off, is not and will never be Corey Crawford. This year, the Chicago Blackhawks are going to need Corey Crawford more than they ever have. Even less assuring is that, despite what the overly optimistic conventional minds will strut out on social media, Crawford is not anywhere close to game ready. In fact, I don’t imagine a scenario in which he is playing on a regular basis and at a level that even mimics that of which he was at this time a year ago until at least Christmas, which could be a generous estimation. This is the unfortunate reality surrounding the Crawford situation, regardless of whatever big brand Twitter personality threw on your timeline as they sipped their mocha frappe last week inside MB Ice Arena whilst watching Jimmy Waite fling ankle high muffins at Crawford for 25 minutes or so.
So, as more about Crawford’s somewhat controversial absence is brought into the light, and a better long-term outlook becomes visible, do Stan Bowman’s summer acquisitions (or lack thereof) begin to make more sense?
I can’t help but wonder as I become more and more certain the Blackhawks will have a less than stellar year, did Stan Bowman know his team would likely be without Corey Crawford for a sizable chunk of the upcoming season? Did that make this season futile from the start? Is he thinking even longer-term than we as fans may have realized? Nobody would have had a better, more accurate, honest assessment of Crawford’s condition than Stan Bowman all summer—and it would make sense for him to have hinged his willingness to really shake things up on whether or not Crawford would be ready to go this fall because, as we saw in the second half of last season, without their number one goalie this team is not playoff caliber.
I am beginning to think perhaps in our frustration we have underestimated Stan’s ability to read his own forecast. Could there be a more subtle reason that a recent “dynasty” of a team in a market that now demands success with urgency addressed almost none of its significant needs over the summer? Could Stan Bowman be purposely angling for a better draft pick? Is he, in a way, “mailing it in” this season from the start?
This is a team with almost 7 million dollars in cap space to open a season. A team with realistically only 2 top-four defensemen, and only two dependable centermen. A team that seemingly “lost” every big sweepstakes this summer for free agents (or never even entered in he running). This is an unpopular proposal, and I am not certain this is the case. I am simply stating that, at this point, this seems like the only explanation for the front office’s strange behavior during the summer, other than pure incompetence and laziness.
This theory would also mean that the Hawk GM is relatively positive that he will outlast Joel Quenneville once the heads begin to roll on another disappointing season.
What I am mildly suggesting is that Bowman has potentially known longer than anyone Crawford would not be ready to start this season (or maybe at all), and that such news produced a bit of apathy towards the impending season. Perhaps there is a scenario where he allows this team to perform as well as it can with what it has for the first half of this tour before assessing whether it is worth investing that cap space into an immediate short-term solution at the deadline, or a long-term answer to some structural issues. Crawford’s health, once again, plays into that scenario.
Food for thought.
Then again, who knows? The Blackhawks certainly looked capable of producing offense Tuesday night. A halfway decent effort from Ward might have made for a good looking hockey team. In which case, I’m jumping the gun. I suppose I will continue to helplessly hope that this is the case as we near the start of the season.