Commentary: Are the Blackhawks willing to pay the price of greatness?

  

Hearken back to the NHL draft lottery this past Spring, when Blackhawk GM Stan Bowman smiled like the Cheshire Cat at learning his team would be picking third in the upcoming draft.

Bowman knew as well as anyone, he had lucked into a prime position, after his team had finished twelfth in the Western Conference the previous season—a position that typically would have a team drafting between 7th and 10th—where Bowman was in the previous year’s draft.

The rest, as we know is history: Bowman selected Kirby Dach, a talented young player with a high ceiling. The problem is, to paraphrase, man does not win by Dach (and/or Boqvist) alone.

A lot of Hawk fans forget, or simply weren’t around or engaged, the several years of sucking the franchise had to endure in order to acquire the picks that became Patrick Kane (first overall in 2007) and Jonathan Toews (third overall in 2006). They also take for granted the big walloping draft successes that previous GMs Mike Smith and Dale Tallon had in unearthing Dustin Byfuglien, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford, Niklas Hjalmarsson and others in the draft’s later rounds.

Because another fact is that Bowman’s drafting past the first round has not been stellar through a now decade long tenure. Sure, everyone points to Brandon Saad and Alex DeBrincat, while conveniently forgetting many more Bowman second rounders who never amounted to squat. And where are the later round value picks? Unless you count Andrew Shaw, not on this roster.

The truth is, getting value past the first 15 picks of the first round is hard. Scouting is better than ever. Teams know more about the prospects now than ever before. The other side of the coin is, the value at the top of virtually every draft now is also hard to dispute.

For evidence, look no further than two of the Hawks’ recent games: thorough beat downs courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche.

I remember going to a game at the UC in 2013, just after Christmas, where the Hawks put the same kind of beating on Colorado, 7-2. Back then, the Hawks were the elite team and the Avs were the doormat.

Had to suck to be an Avs fan back then. But ask most pre-2007 Hawk fans: that’s what you need to go through to become a great young team again—as the Hawks were from 2008 or so to 2015.

Unfortunately, the Hawk front office, while they know this all too well, also knows that if they really tank—in order to really rebuild—a lot of fans and corporate sponsorship dollars are going to head for the door.

Yet, look at the Avs, who paid that price for several seasons:

Gabriel Landeskog, drafted second overall in 2011

Nathan MacKinnon, first overall, 2013

Mikko Rantanen, tenth overall, 2015

Cale Makar, fourth overall, 2017

You can say I’m cherry picking. But take a look at another former Chicago doormat in the Central Division, the Winnipeg Jets: same thing.

And, again, take a look at the arc of the Chicago Blackhawks themselves—not just from 2006 to 2015, but causally, from 2003 to 2007, when they absolutely sucked. Weren’t fun to watch. No one came to the arena. When they traded away fan favorites like Alex Zhamnov, Marty Havlat and Steve Sullivan—but accumulated tons of draft picks (that turned into the Dave Bollands and Bryan Bickells) and quality young prospects. And “earned”—as painful as it was for the organization and fans—the draft position to snag Toews and Kane in consecutive years. And who knows how much better things might have been had they taken someone better than Jack Skille seventh overall in 2005?

Unrestricted free agency is a great (but expensive) way to add a missing piece you need to reach the next level (see: Campbell, B, 2008 and Hossa, M, 2009). But the way to rebuild a franchise remains through the draft—not just having a few later round hits but grabbing at least 3-4 (or more) elite surefire blue chippers at the top of the draft.

Some will now point to Dach and Boqvist as getting the Hawks “almost there.” Except neither has proven a thing in pro hockey yet (and both by the way have concussion histories). But let’s assume both players are going to be a special—that’s a head start. Great. Now what are you going to do with $40 million in cap space wrapped up in players over 30, only one of whom is still playing at a high level.

Meanwhile, the Hawks sit only above the LA Kings in the West, with $11 million in cap hit wrapped up in what they call “the best one-two punch goalie tandem” in the league. Like that matters when you get absolutely shelled the way Crawford and Robin Lehner have most nights.

Wake up. It’s pure marketing bs, people.

This team is not good, but probably just good enough to play its way into a 12-15 selection in the first round year after year, out of the prime spots for great transformational players, while we wait for the contracts of Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Kane, and Toews to run out. Yep, they may get hot again in the next few weeks, go on a 5 or 6 game winning streak. But who wants to bet, before the leaves are on the trees again, they won’t derail and meltdown the way they have every season in recent memory?

Where am I going other than Downer Town?

It’s my belief that aside from lucking into Dach, the Hawks are, by choice, stuck in “half rebuild” mode, and will be for a long time, praying and hoping that Toews and Seabrook and Keith especially suddenly age backward five years, and the Hawks become a competitive team again—without doing anything more than adding an Olli Maatta here or a Calvin DeHaan there.

Yet, every year since 2015, as especially since 2017, we’ve seen this formula fail.

And every year, the Hawk front office goes out and does it again. Not because they’re dumb. Not because they’re insane. But because they know if they really tear down—as in trading Keith or Kane or Toews or some combination thereof for younger players and picks—(most) fans and corporate dollars will disappear from the UC like a pizza at a frat house. No one wants to hear it. No one wants to think about it. “You can’t trade Kane—he’s the only thing that makes them worth watching.”

And you like what you’re watching?

You see, the fact remains, the price of a glorious young team on the way up is typically a few years at least of unquestioned suckitude. A half empty arena. Pain. Discouragement. When it sucks to be a fan of a team—ask those of us who followed this franchise for decades. And you can bring up the Vegas Golden Knights in their inaugural season as a counterpoint, except they worked expansion masterfully—different circumstances entirely.

The cruel irony is that Kane still in his prime, and what’s left on the tires of Keith and Toews, make this team just good enough to sort of tease a playoff spot for a while every year, and then finish out of prime draft lottery position (this year’s fluke notwithstanding).

Let that sink in.

And then ask yourself, are you happy with this team? Have you liked finishing 12th-13th in the conference year after year?

If so, maybe you just have an addiction to seeing Kane and Erik Gustafsson team up in 3-on-3 a few nights a year and a few “silky” shootout moves—which mean nothing in terms of actual playoff hockey (a phenomenon some Hawk fans have apparently now forgotten)—and you will keep buying tickets and merchandise and argue to keep the #OneGoal Dream alive in vain hope of one last hurrah from “the core.”

Or maybe after another year or two of this “half pregnant,” not rebuilding, not contending nonsense, you’ll have an epiphany of sorts. And realize this isn’t working.

In other words, use the only real power you have as a fan: stop supporting this mess with your money and maybe then it’ll actually change for the better.

Comment below.

Center Ice Forums Commentary: Are the Blackhawks willing to pay the price of greatness?

Viewing 9 posts - 1 through 9 (of 9 total)
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  • #15436
    John Jaeckel
    Keymaster

    Hearken back to the NHL draft lottery this past Spring, when Blackhawk GM Stan Bowman smiled like the Cheshire Cat at learning his team would be picki
    [To continue reading full article, click here: Commentary: Are the Blackhawks willing to pay the price of greatness?]

    Apparently, all goalies are Vikings

    #15440
    Bob P.
    Participant

    Been hanging around over at Hockey Buzz since 2010 JJ. Mostly as a lurker. I think this is perhaps(imho) one of your best articles ever. To me, it’s spot on in so many ways. i had an opportunity a few times last year for 100 level tickets from a season ticket holder i know. i politely turned them down. Also, i’m getting emails from Ticketron these days soliciting available tickets for numerous games. THAT never happened 5-10 years ago. i guess my point is that what you are suggesting is slowly starting to happen.

    #15441
    Jeff Osborn
    Keymaster

    Been hanging around over at Hockey Buzz since 2010 JJ. Mostly as a lurker. I think this is perhaps(imho) one of your best articles ever. To me, it’s spot on in so many ways. i had an opportunity a few times last year for 100 level tickets from a season ticket holder i know. i politely turned them down. Also, i’m getting emails from Ticketron these days soliciting available tickets for numerous games. THAT never happened 5-10 years ago. i guess my point is that what you are suggesting is slowly starting to happen.

    as Bartles and Jaymes ones said….

    @PuckinHostile on Twitter

    #15442
    Anonymous
    Inactive

    you are spot on!

    #15445
    Phil M
    Participant

    Learn from the baseball teams. Both finally realized that overpaying for mediocrity leaves you stuck in mediocrity. At some point there needs to be a full tear down and hopefully a good team can eventually rise from the ashes at some point.

    #15450
    Chico Maki
    Participant

    Extremely well thought out, John.   Bravo,

    I’ve been calling for Bowman’s head on a stick for years.  His mismanagement of the salary cap, playing one skater short, was/should be, the last straw.  Yeah, I know the Hawks had several skaters sick/hurt.  But, that’s the GN’s job to make sure he can fill out a roster.

    Bowman’s half-ass off season, of Maata and DeHaan, didn’t fix what’s ailing the blueline.  They’re slow.  Actually, as a team, they’re slow.  All you need to do is watch the last 3 games or so, to see what happens to the Hawks when they play a GOOD team.  They get skated out of the rink.

    Yep, the ONLY way this mess gets cleaned up (maybe) is when Rocky starts seeing 10,000 empty seats.

    As much as I love watching Kane play for the Blackhawks, it might be time to consider what would have been sacrilegious a year ago–moving #88 for picks.   But, does anyone trust Bowman to make those draft selections??

    Oh…the talk of Lehner signing a long term deal here confuses me.  WHY would he?  This team isn’t close to winning.

    #15458
    jr_howie
    Participant

    J.J.

    Let’s provide the good reader with another prospective.  Yes you could blow it up and suck for many years BUT this also doesn’t guarantee success. If you trust the management of this team (that has 3 cup rings) to run the hockey business – why not assume they have a plan in place to come out the other side. To say that the Blackhawks need to become a bottom feeder to have future success is not exactly a plan. Also, you would have to entrust the same management team to gather up the necessary young talent to pull the team from the depths of “beeen there, done that” awful hockey. The point being that if the management of the Chicago Blackhawks (well respected hockey people, in the hockey business, making hockey decisions)  are capable of winning Stanley Cups, then are they not capable of collecting talent along the way, while respecting the core of guys who brought the Holy Grail to the Windy City? Do we really need to bottom out for a half decade to have success?

    You provided the example of the COLORADO and their draft success. This may or may not provide them with the ultimate goal. With this single example there are many others that contradict your theory.

    Montreal CANADIANS have been terrible for a long time. Missed playoffs 3 of the last four years.

    1st round picks:

    Sergachev (2016) *traded for Drouin, Poehling (2017), Kotkaniemi (2018), Caufield (2019)

    I am not worried about the Habs winning anything, anytime soon.

    Detroit Red Wings paid the price for being so good, they have been terrible for a long time. Missed post season last 3 years and first round exits all 3 years before that.

    1st round picks:

    Moritz Seider. Round 1, Pick 6 (2019) …
    Filip Zadina. Round 1, Pick 6 (2018) …
    Joseph Veleno. Round 1, Pick 30 (2018) …
    Michael Rasmussen. Round 1, Pick 9 (2017) …
    Dennis Cholowski. Round 1, Pick 20 (2016) …
    Evgeny Svechnikov. Round 1, Pick 19 (2015) …
    Dylan Larkin. Round 1, Pick 15 (2014) …
    Anthony Mantha. Round 1, Pick 20 (2013)

    This does not look as though they will be challenging for the CUP anytime soon!

    There is no guarantee with any formula. However, the formula that has provided me with the most satisfaction over the years (55 years, life long HAWKS fan-through many many terrible seasons) is loyality. I went to church some many years ago and said the same to my wife . Let’s spend the rest of our life together – through thick & thin.  My wife has been my rock. The Blackhawks are my team, I love watching hockey and I love the challenges each season bring.  The 3 Stanley Cup winning seasons seem to have brought a level of entitlement to a faction of the Blackhawks fans, along with acting out like a child in the grocery store aisles.

    The BLACKHAWKS won 3 Stanley Cups ! AMAZING

    Don’t ever stop enjoying hockey or our beloved Blackhawks because they are not CUP winners. Paid hockey people are doing their best to bring the team back for more opportunities. Until then, remain loyal and your wife will LOVE you back.

    Respectfully,

    Go HAWKS

    jr_howie

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    #15578
    DK002
    Participant

    Great write up as always John…been away for a bit – this team isn’t worth putting the time in for at this point.  Last nights game against the Blues was just embarrassing.

    I have to take issue with Howie’s comment regarding the mgt. team that won three cups.  They were gifted a deep team by Tallon and other before him ie Mike Smith.  Bowman added around the edges for two additional cups, but make no mistake the current look is all Bowman and Co.  And I have no faith whatsoever in the current regime to bring this team out of where it is when they are the ones who put it there.  Bowman’s handiwork has been slow, but methodical and killed this team.

    You have the back to back offseason trade fiasco’s of Leddy and Sharp…and as I like to refer to it as Stan’s summer of suck tour 2015.  Where he couldn’t wait to resign his pet Rundblad and not find a viable #4 defenseman.  The trades of Saad and Bickell, nill totally fleecing Bowman on the Sharp deal.  And then watching Oduya walk to Dallas.  My my my.  And don’t forget that spring spree where he moved Danault for hot garbage…IT was great to see Runny in game 7 against the Blows.

    Then you have the subsequent offseasons where Bowman managed to hand over Hammer and Panarin…and then the stellar UFA class of Manning, Kunitz and Ward.  Then this offseason he makes a lot of depth moves and patchwork on the defense.  How has that worked out…and how bout that trade for Nylander…and then there’s the Seabs deal…yikes.

    You can go on but the point is this just didn’t happen overnight.   Yet they’re not going to stop trying to patch it because of corporate $, but its clear that the Hawks need a fresh voice and a new vision.

    The problem is if you fire Bowman and his personally picked coach who takes over?  One of McD’s lackey’s in McIsaac? Or another one.  Remember these guys all sat there and told us this was a playoff team last year after they launched Q.  McD loves to use his marketing gimmicks One Goal and then there’s One More Shift or my favorite the All Decade Team – because the coming decade is going to suck.

    It’s amazing this town and its horrid sports teams’ mgt.  Whether it’s the Sox who keep telling us they’re going to spend money and instead trade for a meh rightfielder and get spurned by Zack Wheeler, or the Cubs who’s ownership whines about an imaginary salary cap while the Yanks sign Cole and Angels sign Rendon.  Or how bout the Bulls who’s coach makes Cotillion look like he knows what he’s doing.  But I saved the best for last – current Bears honco Ryan Pace.  The man that thinks Mitch is the answer, the man who still can’t figure out how to draft a decent first rounder, White, Floyd, Mitch, well there’s Roquan…the man that couldn’t wait to get rid of Robbie G.

     

    #15594
    6628
    Participant

    Ya. Article is right on. But as long as marketing (money) is the priority and not hockey get used to it.

    Actually I see Kane telling them he will waive his NTC at some point because he can’t stand the losing. But he’s going to want to go to a good team, so the picks the Hawks could get should be low and not worth it. They’re in a pickle for sure.

    Happy holidays to all  over here.

     

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