Once again, this tine of year has turned into a philosophical study of how the Hawks got here, where they’re going, and whether or not any of it is correct or possible. It’s not what you’d ideally be discussing at this time of year, but when your front office’s only ploy to fix things is turning the team off and then on again, this is where you end up.
The Hawks claim that they’ve been forced into this position for a third straight year not because they made any mistakes, because no one makes mistakes over there don’t you know, but because this is just the price you pay for the success they had. We’re sure the Penguins or Bruins would like a word, but we have the Lightning to deal with at the moment. And keep in mind, the Lightning have done with with two different GMs but a constant vision and direction. How nice that must be.
The Bolts don’t have the long track record that the Hawks do in the past, but they were at the same point in 2015 and separated by barely the width of a sheet of paper. Now a direct comparison isn’t totally fair, as the core of that Lightning team was younger than that of the Hawks. Still, with how Toews and Kane have played the past couple years, and Keith this one, they aren’t seprated by light years either.
The Lightning have the top of the draft picks just like the Hawks do, in Hedman and Stamkos. They also had Jonathan Drouin, #3 overall. But from there, the Lightning have just done so much more with later round picks than the Hawks, or indeed most teams. Brayden Point was found in the third round. So was Anthony Cirelli. Tyler Johnson and Yanni Gourde weren’t even drafted. And that was eight and six years ago now, but the Hawks added literally no one who’s contributing to this team now between 2008 and 2016. You can’t have that gap. You have to have a middle generation to go with your standards and your young kids. The Hawks missed that, which is why they’re paying the price. There’s nothing between the Keith and Toews generation and the DeBrincat one, aside from maybe Brandon Saad and that came at the cost of Artemi Panarin.
And since the Lightning took Drouin 3rd overall, they’ve never picked above 19th. In that time they’ve added Point, Cirelli, and Mathieu Joseph. They also added Brett Howden, who they spun into Ryan McDonagh (your value of that may vary) and J.T. Miller, which was then spun into another first round pick that got them Blake Coleman this past deadline. No matter where it turns, it’s something they can use.
The Lightning have been better at trades as well. They weren’t going to re-sign Ben Bishop, so they got Erik Cernak out of it. Compare that with the Gustafsson or Lehner return. When Drouin wasn’t working, they turned that into Sergachev. They realized that Kevin Shattenkirk would work in a limited role. We can go on here.
Compare that with the Hawks who only have Dominik Kubalik in the past three years as a definite win as a trade, and maybe Dylan Strome but it’s hard to say that for sure right now. Their free agents or guys they took a flier on…well, we don’t need to go on about that because you’re probably going to want to eat in the next few days. There are guys out there that could have filled a role that the Lightning identify and the Hawks pass on. That’s how you end up with Nick Seeler.
The Hawks have used the excuse of their late draft positions or cap problems to try and hide their failings. But the Lightning, or the Bruins, or the Penguins, have faced all these obstacles the last five seasons and keep ending up at the top of the standings. It’s not about the obstacles. It’s about how you get around them. And if you’re blaming the obstacles, that tells you everything you need to know about your skills.
It’s quite simply, not good enough.