At 7-7-2, can the Blackhawks’ record be defended anymore? Or can patience still be urged with a roster that doesn’t seem to be working?
What follows is a matter of opinion, but the mounting evidence, game after game, suggests the answer to both questions is “no.”
Coach or GM?
First, let’s set aside the blame game between the coach and the GM. They’re both to blame. Stan Bowman has assembled a roster a hall of fame coach can’t win with. The hall of fame coach can’t win with at least three future hall of fame players.
The clear message there is simple. Bowman has either held on to certain players too long (and at too much salary), or the supporting cast is entirely ill-conceived and insufficient. Alternately, the team’s effort (in particular the power play) is somewhere between inconsistent and horribly bad.
The bigger question—one to be answered in the offseason, assuming the team’s fortunes don’t turnaround this season—is whether the “Cup Window” is now closed and is a teardown/rebuild in the offing.
For now, what can be done this year? Joel Quenneville and staff have tried just about every possible line combination and defensive pairing.
First, there are too many sacred cows.
You can’t trade Brent Seabrook—no one’s taking his contract unless you get an equally bad one back so forget that—but you can sit him. Why not? He’s a turnover machine and getting turnstiled fairly regularly.
Alex DeBrincat and his 3 goals, two of which went into empty nets. Sure, you can pount to Tommy WIngels or Lance Bouma’s “production” or lack thereof, but they are sent out to do a different job than “Cat” is, and they do it relatively well.
The latest “Cat” rationale is:
“Well, he’s not scoring, but he isn’t hurting the team either.” Seriously, if this was a 6th round pick or a journeyman—and not the most hyped prospect of the last two years—would this kind of apology be offered up, or would everyone be calllng for the guy’s head? If we’re being honest, we know what the answer is.
“Cat’s” job is to score. Period.
If he doesn’t score, he has almost zero value, even with the other “emerging narrative” that he’s some kind of set-up God al la Ron Francis.
Hey, good for him that he made the team out of camp at 19 years old, but there is also no reason he can’t be down in Rockford improving his overall game, giving a Vince Hinostroza or a Matthew Highmore at least a chance to show where they’re at and maybe provide a spark to a team—that isn’t scoring.
Despite “insider” reports this summer that Patrick Sharp was ready for a big season and in “tip top shape,” he looks done.
Why should we be surprised? When last seen in a Hawk sweater in the summer of 2015, Sharp appeared on the decline, a third line winger (on an admittedly great team) not the top 6 threat he once was. Now, two seasons and several injuries later, we’re waiting for him to reverse the aging process?
My information this summer was that signing Sharp was not (actually) seen by the team as a “big free agency coup”—in spite of how it may have been “pushed out”—rather a “depth, veteran experience move.” Perhaps a 13th forward you could spot in different situations, which it appears, at best, is what he is.
Or he’s a candidate for the press box or waivers.
Can the Hawks make a meaningful trade? Maybe. They do have, for the first time in several years, a handful of young players and high AHL prospects who may have some value, not to mention Connor Murphy or even Nick Schmaltz. You have to give to get, and change your team chemistry.
Personally, I think the first (and, for now, the only) move will be firing up the Rockford Shuttle, and you may see some veterans as healthy scratches—and not just the Boumas and Wingels.
And yes, continuing the status quo of strictly “patience,” trying different line combinations etc., may yet work. But as the games tick off and the losses pile up, that looks less and less likely.