A Chicago Blackhawks core that arguably should be far from finished, and yet an undercurrent of apathy and futility looms over the upcoming 2018-19 season.
Doesn’t it just feel as though a cloud looms overhead? Have we as a fanbase been this uninvested in the beginning of a season in the last ten years?
“The Core“. It’s a term that’s been thrown around the Chicago hockeysphere for the better part of the last decade. Included within it have been arguably the same five or six names. Names that are widely considered essential to all three of the ‘Hawks’ championships since 2010, and names whose performance and maturation the organization depends heavily on. For the majority of the last decade, we as fans have enjoyed an unrivaled and steadily growing confidence in the core of this team’s ability to perform under pressure and go the extra mile to get the Blackhawks over the finish line. The core has been the most dependable group of professional athletes arguably in the world over the last decade.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford. Those five are with absolute certainty the remaining five of the core still present on this team. The players whose success the fate of the organization depends heavily on. Regardless of the supporting roles of upcoming players of the future, the Chicago Blackhawks have built their brand and success on the backs of the core; and until a complete blow-it-up Toronto-esque rebuild begins, the Blackhawks will continue to depend on them for any meaningful success. They have put their eggs in this core’s basket and in many ways it has paid off in sum. However, with the gradually degrading overall performances of the last two seasons, that aforementioned confidence in this core’s ability to dominate in the unrivaled way they once did is almost all but gone. Has the league and the game itself passed them by? Is this dynasty finished? It’s certainly hard to argue otherwise at this point.
Perhaps most disconcerting about this dilemma is the fact that, relatively speaking, the core of this team is far younger than many of us imagined they would be before they came to a screeching halt in productivity and dominance. Not one of them is over 35 years old. And by dilemma, I mean the fact that a team that went from an embarrassing first round sweep, to missing the playoffs altogether, to now yet another less than exciting start to the preseason (to be taken understandably with a grain of salt given the lineups). Still, there is something to be said about the cloud of doubt and lack of confidence surrounding this season. Almost all fans would agree they aren’t satisfied with the changes Stan Bowman made over the summer; and with an indefinite question mark surrounding the team’s star goaltender, it’s very difficult to feel optimistic.
At the same time, the core of the Chicago Blackhawks has a mix of experience and youth that has produced championships in places like Detroit, Pittsburgh and Boston. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are both older than Jonathan Toews. The same Jonathan Toews that was once heralded as the best player in the world, over both of those superstars.
Patrick Kane continues to prove he may be the most versatile and dangerous winger in hockey, Duncan Keith remains more or less a model of consistency on the back-end as he fits into a more nuanced veteran role, and rumors of a rejuvenated, lighter, quicker Brent Seabrook have been circulating pretty rapidly throughout the Blackhawks blogosphere.
This season feels different because a majority of the evidence points to an indication that the hard miles of a decade of success and championships may have done irreversible damage to the core of this team. Damage that, if irreversible, marks the definitive end of an era. An end that would with blunt punctuality call for years of full rebuild and playoff-less hockey in Chicago. An end that came earlier than many would have guessed. All the same, we as a fanbase have largely surrendered to this unfortunate reality at this point; and unless the core of this team rallies and proves otherwise, this season could be the beginning of another dark period in Chicago hockey history.