Hockey

Leave it to Elliotte Friedman to angry up my blood in his 31 Thoughts this week:

7. I do think Colorado checked out Corey Crawford. But Robin Lehner’s future ties into Chicago’s decision. Lehner’s performance during Chicago’s 5-3 loss to Edmonton raised eyebrows. Not because he was bad or anything, but because he was “quiet.” Lehner plays a “loud” game, both in terms of his voice and activity. The Blackhawks and his representatives are trying to find a match, but word is term is going to be a hurdle. Lehner has said that he deserves to be paid “fairly,” and it was so unusual to see him so placid that people were wondering if a lack of progress bothered him. He was back in goal for Saturday’s 8-4 win in Calgary, where he made a big save to preserve Chicago’s advantage when the game was still in doubt.

Carolina, meanwhile, has had a lot of interest in Lehner, and has that extra first-rounder.

I’m going to start with the trade idea, because that’s more exciting. Crawford to Colorado less so, but Lehner to Carolina…yes, yes please. First off, with the way Francouz has played in Denver, I can’t imagine the Avs have a goalie too high on the priority list even with Philip Grubauer on the shelf. And given their injuries up front, that has to be the priority. We’ll circle back to this.

Carolina, on the other hand, definitely needs a goalie. And this has been the case for like five years. While they were able to miracle a conference final run last year out of Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, that was never a long term solution. And while they might not like the idea or even agree to it, the Canes are in their window right now. Metrically, they’re one of the best teams, as always, in the league. They’re still young, but with the uncertain budget in Raleigh every year it’s hard to know what is going to stick around and what isn’t. They’re clinging to the last wildcard spot, though are also only a point behind the Flyers for the last automatic spot in the Metro. And they’re better than the Flyers, or the Jackets who are behind them.

The only reason they’re even messing around with this kind of shit is Mrazek turning back into Mrazek. Now, Jame Reimer has been good for them so far, but if you want to turn your team’s fortunes over to James Reimer, that’s a great way to have your heart broken. It’s just not what he is, and if you’re the Canes you want to get back into the Metro spots because you do not want to have to negotiate Tampa and Boston in the first two rounds just to get back to where you were last year.

So if you’re the Hawks, you have to be circling the Canes as a main partner. And you have to start ignoring what your aims were this year. Your vets aren’t stupid. You’re eight points out of it with four teams to leap to get into the playoffs. They should be at least able to hear the argument that at least a second first-round pick is better long-term for this team.

And just a first-rounder should only be a starting point for Canes and Hawks talks over Lehner. If Blake Coleman gets you a first rounder and a prospect (one of the garbage Feet sons), then Lehner should be similar. Or you can pick off one of the extra picks the Canes have in the second and third rounds too. Or both. Or pry Jake Bean loose (or flick him loose, as it were). And then perhaps at the draft you can parlay the two first-rounders you have into a higher first-rounder, or package them for a real winger from a rebuilding team.

Would two first-rounders be enough to get you maybe Timo Meier or Tomas Hertl from the Sharks, who are going nowhere in a hurry? Worth a call, don’t you think?

As for the Avs. I am loathe to part with Brandon Saad for just about anything, but given that Mikko Rantanen is made of boogers and Gorilla tape, they need a middle six forward. And as he only has one year left on his deal after this one, it gives them flexibility. And if it sends Bowen Byram the other way, which would be the asking price for me, you’d have to think about that one long and hard.

If you could pull that off, you have Byram and Mitchell joining up next season, which means your defense could look like:

Boqvist-Murphy

Keith-Mitchell

de Haan-Byram

Give me all of that. Not only that, but with the presence of the three kids, it’s cheap for at least two seasons. And when it gets expensive, Keith will be spinning off his hockey mortal coil.

Even if that costs you Saad, with that defense you’re only a forward or two away from being something serious. Play things right by buying out Maatta and telling Seabrook to do one somehow, and you’d also have Saad’s cap space. Would that be enough to tempt Taylor Hall? If Kreider makes it to free agency? Toffoli? Let’s say there are options.

Oh who the fuck am I kidding? They will do exactly none of this and sign Michael Frolik on July 1st.

 

Everything Else

Welcome to the FFUD #3 Pick Preview. Each day, we’ll look at one prospect the Hawks might have a chance at with the #3 pick and walk you through the ins and outs, the what-have-yous, the strands going through ol’ Duder’s head. We’ve narrowed it down to five guys, and much like the restaurant chain, you’ll likely walk in thinking, “This was a good idea,” and walk out grabbing or clenching some part yourself that you shouldn’t have to. Today is Alex Turcotte.

Physical Stats

Height: 5’11”; Weight: 185 lbs.; Shot: Left

On-Ice Stats (2018-19)

League: USHL/USDP; Team: USNTP Juniors/USNTP U18; Position: Center

53 GP, 39 G, 57 A, 36 PIM (Combined)

Why The Hawks Should Take Him

You rarely come across a player with the combination of offensive skill and defensive prowess at the center position that Turcotte brings. The last time the Hawks were in this position with a #3 pick, they found themselves one Jonathan Toews, and I’d venture a hot take and say that pick worked out. Turcotte has drawn comparisons to Toews, and some even have fentured to say that he may have a tad more offensive ability than Toews did at the time of his draft.

Turcotte’s ceiling is probably that of a 1C, although there are legitimate questions about A) his ability to reach that ceiling and B) how high he ranks on the list of 1C’s if/when he’s there. While the comparisons to Toews are certainly nice, I am of the belief that if NHL scouts really thought he had that kind of ceiling, he’d be the #2 pick in the draft. With all due respect to Kaapo Kakko, if it’s me I am taking the future 1C over the future top line winger.

Turcotte’s scoring ability seems to project well to the NHL, as some models (like this one) think he could be among the top producers at the NHL level among players in this draft. However those projection models are hardly 100% accurate, so of course take that with a grain of salt. That being said, at his ceiling Turcotte could be a franchise-anchoring center, and the Hawks don’t have anyone really close to that in the system right now. I love Dylan Strome and think there’s still a shot he can be a #1, but he’s more likely a long-term high-level 2C, which is perfectly fine. Turcotte’s timeline to the NHL and being that anchor of a team seems likely to align well with Toews eventual descent from greatness, but that also could be considered a negative as we will see now.

Along with it all, Turcotte is a local guy, which is certain to be a marketing home run and keep the giardiniera soaked idiots on their couches pleased.

Why The Hawks Shouldn’t Take Him

Let’s just rip off the band-aid here: the Hawks shouldn’t take him because he’s not Bowen Byram. More generally, he isn’t a defenseman, and while the 1C-ceiling type prospect is lacking in this organization, the Hawks don’t necessarily need to find one right away. Toews is coming off a strong “bounce-back” year in which the bad-luck bug finally left him alone. And while I did just say Strome is probably not a future-1C, we’re still only three years and 106 NHL games removed from NHL scouts thinking he was one, and he was nearly a point-per-game player after coming to the Hawks, and he’s still only 22, which all adds up to mean that he probably should get a bit more time to show if that ceiling is still there.

On top of that, Turcotte is not ready to play at the NHL level next year, and while that doesn’t necessarily have to be a priority with your #3 pick, it would certainly be nice to add someone who can contribute right away and has a high-level ceiling you lack in the system. You don’t get an opportunity like that in the draft if you’re not in the top-3, and the Hawks weren’t supposed to be here, so they have to maximize the return here.

On top of all of that, the Hawks picking a center when they so clearly need to address the blue line both now and in the future would signal a major lack of of what I call Knowing Just What The Fuck We Are Doing Here. We’ve talked about the embarrassment of riches the Hawks think they have on the blue line due to the NHL players (a term applied very loosely to most of the guys on the main roster) and prospects they have, but they lack major upside on anyone, unless you’re higher on Adam Boqvist than most, which I admittedly might be. But adding someone like Byram to the organization would actually put you in a position of strength, especially when you’d then have two of the better right-shooting blue line prospects in the game to potentially flip in the future for, say, a player who might have a ceiling as a 1C.

On top of that, Turcotte is a local guy, which certainly has the Hawks pitching a tent but has never proven to work out for them (Hinostroza, Hartman, Hayden, etc. WHY DID THEY ALL START WITH H?!?!). Not that being from Illinois means he is not the player people think he is, but if that ends up actually playing into his decision we have yet another red flag on this organization’s evaluative standards.

Also, you might end up handing Colorado a future pairing of Byram and Cale Makar, which would be grounds for firing on the stage immediately.

Verdict

Picking Turcotte would be fine, and I won’t necessarily be mad about it. But it has potential to be a major fuck up, would present a clear lack of understanding on the front office’s part of how to get back into contention, and I would definitely be disappointed.

Just pick Byram.

Everything Else

Welcome to the FFUD #3 Pick Preview. Each day, we’ll look at one prospect the Hawks might have a chance at with the #3 pick and walk you through the ins and outs, the what-have-yous, the strands going through ol’ Duder’s head. We’ve narrowed it down to five guys, and much like the restaurant chain, you’ll likely walk in thinking, “This was a good idea,” and walk out grabbing or clenching some part yourself that you shouldn’t have to. Today is Bowen Byram.

Physical Stats

Height: 6’00”; Weight: 194 lbs.; Shot: Left

On-Ice Stats (2018-19)

League: WHL; Team: Vancouver Giants; Position: Defense

26 G, 45 A, 71 P, 80 PIM

Why the Hawks Should Take Him

Bowen Byram is the best player likely to be available to the Hawks at #3. Just about every scouting outfit has him as the #3 best prospect. Though we have a tenuous-at-best relationship with scouting reports around here (“DeBrincat will top out at 20 goals,” dear reader), this is what we’re working with.

Byram is fast and an outstanding skater. The Hawks have precisely zero of those on their blue line. According to Corey Pronman, he’s one of the best skaters available, full stop. In case you weren’t watching me evacuate my bowels all over every wall that I could about it last year, the Hawks need better skaters out of the backend.

Keith isn’t it anymore, no matter how much anyone wants to wail for it to be 2013 again. Murphy’s never really been that guy. Gustafsson can be recklessly creative but he’s the kind of fast you see when the slowest horse wins because all the other ones fell down. Forsling sucks. Seabrook blows. Maatta is blue line Anisimov. The rest of the flotsam have names that sound like their skill levels. This blue line is hot garbage, and unless the Hawks find real contributors, they are going to suck out loud again.

With Byram, the Hawks can have their cake and eat it, too. They don’t need to decide between best and need, because the best player available is the one they need. Unlike the current crop of defensive prospects the Hawks have in Harju, Boqvist, Beaudin et al., Byram projects to be ready on both ends of the ice immediately.

His 71 points in the WHL were third among all WHL D-men. His 26 goals led all D-men by far. He played on the PK, and his PIM numbers show he’s no shrinking violet, so he’s got appeal to both nerds and the hardest giardiniera farters in town. And he was only seven-fucking-teen!

You probably won’t ever get anything like that from Harju. There aren’t grumblings about his defense like there are with Boqvist and Beaudin. Though you never want to pin your hopes on an 18-year-old D-man, Byram is about as ready as you can be.

The Hawks should take Byram because their defense is a shambles. Maatta is a $4 million prayer who’s had more bad seasons than good. On a team comprised of two second-pairing guys (Murphy, Keith), a ton of 6s and 7s, and a bunch of kids who might not actually know how to play defense, Byram would immediately stand out. He’d also give the Brain Trust breathing room to trade someone like Boqvist or Harju as part of a package for a real D-man.

This shouldn’t be hard. The Hawks need better, faster, NHL-ready D-men. Byram is that. Pick him.

Why the Hawks Shouldn’t Pick Byram

More than anything, the Hawks shouldn’t pick Byram for Byram’s sake. As the years have gone by, it’s become clearer that good defense is born-on-third-Bowman’s clitoris: He can never find it, always looks in the wrong spot, and the things he does when he thinks he’s found it cause more agony than ecstasy. But man, oh man is he going to brag about even getting in the area code.

Re-signing Jan Rutta. Trading Rutta for Koekkoek, then re-signing Koekkoek. Not (yet) capitalizing on the Myth of Erik Gustafsson. Bragging that Brandon Motherfucking Manning was just about to enter his prime. And that was all just last year! You look at just some of these moves and wonder whether Bowman even remembers how the Hawks won all those Cups. It wasn’t with bloated and middling-at-best D-men. Yet, that’s his refuge of late.

The last successful D-man that they’ve brought up through their system was Hjalmarsson. The last successful D-man they even fostered was Nick Leddy. Is this a fate we want for a rising star like Byram?

More seriously, you can maybe make the case that the Hawks have a logjam at defense and that Byram might not have room to fit. Disabuse yourself of that notion, because it’s horseshit. The “logjam” is Seabrook; Forsling; Koekkoek; Dahlstrom; a fading Keith; and a bunch of defensive maybes in Boqvist, Beaudin, and Harju. Byram could walk into camp and break that logjam up in one or two sessions. But you watch Stan & Co. make that argument when they draft someone other than Byram and continue trotting out this Eric the Clown blue line next year.

Verdict

Unless the Hawks made the Maatta move as a table-setter for someone like Dougie, it’ll be a huge disappointment if they don’t take Byram. He’s a gifted skater with proven offensive skills who is good at worst at playing defense. This Core isn’t getting younger, and if the Hawks want to squeeze one more Cup run out of it, they need fast D-men who can push play and hold their own in their own end. Byram is that guy right now, and he’d be the only one with those credentials on the Hawks for Game #1 if they take him.

Pinning your hopes on an 18-year-old D-man. Just slap us sideways and call us the Sabres.

Everything Else

So, as the season is about to wrap up (in a most unpleasant fashion no matter how it goes) and we can really get our teeth into the offseason, Scott Powers is here to give you, the people, some nuggets. They’re not…great nuggets.

The headline is that the Hawks have called the Jackets about Ryan Murray. Murray is an RFA this summer, and he can go completely unrestricted next summer if he were to sign a one-year deal. Which is probably what he wants to do, but that’ll be a hard sell to any team.

Murray had a pretty decent season last year, one for which he was finally able to stay in one piece for. At least for him. 56 games is an avalanche of efforts for him, but yeah, he’s got health issues. He’s been around six seasons now, if you can believe it, and has only gone the route once. And that 82 game season is the only one he’s managed more than 66. That’s generally the headline with Murray, something will fall off of him during the year.

Murray racked up 28 assists and 29 points, both career-highs. His metrics from this past season look pretty good, as he was +0.72 Corsi relative and +3.6 xGF% relative. The caveat is he spent a good portion of the season with Seth Jones. There is no Seth Jones here. However, Murray’s numbers don’t crater away from Jones, and Jones and Nutivaara’s (his other main partner) do go down without Murray. It’s perfectly in bounds to say that Murray is a fine player.

The thing is though, he helps your middle when the Hawks don’t have a top. They probably think they do, but they don’t. If you’re going to give up any kind of assets for a d-man who is made of balsa wood, why not just commit money to the one with red bursting crotch dots who is a top pairing player? There are more than a few guys who can do what Murray does that don’t involve giving up picks or prospects and then paying them. Fuck, Henri Jokiharju is supposed to do what Ryan Murray does and he’s already here and cheap. And if he can’t after a training-wheels season, then you better get his ass up outta here while other teams are still bewitched by his promise/have blind scouts. Connor Murphy basically already does what Murray does, and even better he’s now got the same health issues.

I understand why the Hawks might think they need a player like Murray. He’s stable in his own end. He’s big, but not immobile. And that certainly can’t hurt. He’s an upgrade on whatever they have now, but that’s hardly saying anything. But he’s not a puck-mover. He doesn’t pick up the Hawks’ pace, and the Hawks need that. He doesn’t get them out of the zone. They may think that Boqvist is going to do that one day but they also seem pretty damn determined to make sure that isn’t this day.

But you don’t get where you want to go by shopping in the middle. You get high end and then fill in below. The Hawks don’t have high end. They don’t have it anywhere, at least not proven. It’s not Keith anymore. It’s not Jokiharju, at least not proven. It’s not Boqvist, at least not proven. Either go big or go little but finding the middle is how you end up in the middle.

There isn’t a suggestion that this deal is close. And there isn’t a suggestion why the Jackets would even consider this unless Murray has made it clear he wants out (which is the trend around there). Losing their best forward makes their strength on the blue line all the more paramount, so unless they’re turning Murray into forward help I can’t see it. And the only forward help the Hawks have to move is Saad, and the Jackets have seen that movie and weren’t all that enamored then.

There’s a long way to go on this. It’s a defensible move, but it isn’t an inspirational one. My fear is that the Hawks don’t think they need an inspirational one, when it is clear that they do.

-Powers also adds to the rumble that the Hawks are going to take Alex Turcotte, which we probably should have all just accepted once you found out he was from here. Look, if the Hawks think he’s a genuine #1 center in waiting, and more of a sure thing to be that than Byram is to be a #1, then you can do that. And then you wait the year until he’s here, because while I wouldn’t bet on Jonathan Toews repeating that season, he’s still going to be productive. You don’t need the help at center the way you do at defense now.

I think I’d rather Byram, and we’ll dive into this during draft week. While the Hawks’ drafting generally gets good marks, remember it’s been six years since their 1st round pick made a serious impact (our dear sweet boy Teuvo). No, I’m not counting Ryan Hartman fuck you. Boqvist appears to be a major project. Jokiharju is an anything. The one before that was three years previous and it was Schmaltz and he ain’t here no more. You can’t miss on a #3 pick.

If you’re suspicious because of how the Hawks lust after local players, I’m not going to stop you. Turcotte’s scouting report is glowing as well. So are Byram’s though, and he could be here next season. He also creates flexibility via trades of your other prospects. Turcotte does not.

Getting itchy.

Everything Else

I guess at this point of the offseason, all we can really do is take the stuff Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers write, and others, and comment. We’re still three weeks away from anything interesting happening, and a month away from the draft when we’ll get some real answers. So here’s Lazerus’s piece from yesterday at The Athletic that’s essentially an interview with Marc Kelley, the Hawks director of amateur scouting. I sort of wonder if Kelley won’t be allowed to talk ever again.

The main debate we’ve had here about the Hawks #3 pick is whether or not they can add another d-man at that spot, and specifically Bowen Byram. He’s the only d-man mentioned in the discussions. Every other player around there is a forward. And the Hawks have sort of projected this idea that they already have too many d-men in the system and they’re all so precious and they just can’t figure out what to do. Which leads one to worry the Hawks will reach for a forward that won’t be worth that third pick, that won’t be here soon anyway, and whatever the Hawks do to improve for next year is going to have to be through trades and free agency. Or worse yet, they’re not all that concerned with improving next year.

Kelley seems to go against the grain on all that. First, there’s a comparison to Paul Coffey about Byram from Kelley, which isn’t a name you just toss around (though if Paul Coffey were a player today and was a Hawks, a large section of Hawks fans would hate him including the two in the booth. This is my fear/excitement about Karlsson. BUT THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED). But here’s a money quote for you:

“If you feel that a defenseman is going to project out to be that No. 1, then you go that route,” said Kelley, who was careful not to reveal his cards and say Byram was necessarily that guy. “With all these defensemen we’ve drafted, it’s not our plan that they’re all going to play for the Blackhawks. The defensemen we’ve taken have all held their value, or increased their value. That’s what you’re looking for.”

So there’s a couple things there. One, he’s basically saying that if the Hawks think that Byram is going to be a true foundational piece, then they’ll take him. Kelley recognizes you don’t get a shot at this very often, and if one comes around you don’t miss. They’re obviously not going to say what they’re going to do, just in case they scare some team behind them that HAS to have a guy into trading two top-liners for the Hawks pick or something ridiculous like that. I don’t know if Byram is that guy. A lot of scouting reports seem to suggest he is. You’ll never know for sure until he gets here, obviously.

Second, Kelley for the first time makes it clear that the Hawks know they’ll never get all of their prospects on the blue line onto the UC ice, and even seems to relish how adding Byram opens them up to trade possibly one or two more of them. If that’s the route they go. We can debate all day which d-man should go (Jokiharju), but while they’ve hinted at it before around the edges, this is clear that something will happen. And very well may happen this summer.

Which is fine. Jokiharju’s or Boqvist’s value are probably still high as they can be. Maybe the latter has to prove he won’t drown at the professional level, but we’ll get there. Still, I was encouraged by something someone in the front office said. When was the last time that happened? This is why he’ll be silenced forever I’m sure.

Everything Else

God bless our friend Scott Powers. Here, even in this nuclear winter of Hawks news while the playoffs go one without them, he’s got seven thousand words on Hawks prospects, some of whom might even matter! I need to take whatever it is he’s taking.

Anyway, the meat of this stuff is right at the top, and concerns Bowen Byram. Scott does something I do a lot, which is to look at players drafted in the same or similar position that play the same spot. That list of first d-men taken certainly makes you sit up straight when you see names like Heiskanen or Makar, and then make your asshole itch when you see Gudbranson or Reinhart get mentioned, though some of this is varied based on the depth of forwards in the draft as well.

Let’s go one better than Scott, and just go through any d-man taken in the top three picks the past few years: Dahlin, Heiskanen, Ekblad, Ryan Murray, Gudbranson, and Hedman in the past 10 years. So that’s possibly three franchise-turners in Dahlin, Heiskanen, and Hedman (Heiskanen is the only reach there but he sure looks like he could be). One just below that in Ekblad, and then two whiffs in Murray and Gudbranson. And even Murray found some use this year.

No one would say Byram is a reach at three, and every projection you read says he’s a future #1 d-man, and could even be ready to play in the NHL next year. He’s certainly more certain and projects out better than anything the Hawks already have. But Powers goes on to note the wealth of other prospects the Hawks have on the blue line, the ones they already have signed, and says the Hawks might skip over him because of that.

Which I think is horseshit.

Look (say that like Terry Boers), if the Hawks think Alex Turcotte has the hands to take the torch from Jonathan Toews one day to anchor this team from center, then I or no one else could have complaints. He might be that. We wouldn’t get the immediate satisfaction of seeing him, because he’s going to Madison for a year (lucky boy), but long-term that could be just as good of a pick and prospect. Fine. If he’s higher on their board than Byram, you do that.

But if Byram is highest on their board, you take him and you worry about the rest later. That “wealth” of defensive prospects puts you on the radar for any big piece you want to trade for (say, what’s up, PK? You like Italian beef?). Having too many prospects or players for a position is a better spot to be in than not having enough. It’s not like any of these guys are on the cap yet anyway.

And none of the prospects the Hawks have are projected to be all-world, do-everything ass-kickers for the lord. They may become that, or combine with Byram to be that. But that’s built on more hope than it seems to be with Byram. There are no sure things after the top two picks, but Byram certainly is close enough.

We’ve run over this again and again, but you can’t talk about this without discussing what the Hawks already have locked in for next year. You know the list: Keith, Seabrook, Murphy, Jokiharju Gustafsson. And you know what we’ll say. Seabrook shouldn’t even be a consideration. Saying he has to play and play a lot simply because of his salary is doubling the mistake. Maybe the Hawks are doing this, and they would never say it publicly, but maybe they know that Seabrook is the #7 next year, and not just the number on his back.

Here’s another thing. The Hawks aren’t the only team badly needing defensive help, and there’s only one true difference-maker on the UFA market, and you know that by now. There’s one or two more that might help a team, but spending in the middle of the market is what gets you in cap hell. So a few teams are going to miss out on Erik Karlsson, and I’m willing to bet you could sucker them into Erik Gustafsson in a hurry. That points total is going to be the light that blinds some GM to his faults. He’s only going to be here one more year anyway, then be far too expensive for a glorified Lubomir Visnovsky. You were a dogshit team with him popping off for 65 points anyway, so what’s the difference here? I’d make the bet that Jokiharju can do most of the stuff he did on the power play with a little prodding. Byram or Boqvist certainly can, if they prove ready from the off.  You can do something here.

If you were to take that tack, you only have three spots locked up for next year, and fuck Jokiharju could play himself out of one just like he did this term. You never know. That’s plenty of room for an actual prospect or two to take a dive, not Gustav Forsling or Carl Dahlstrom. It’s also enough room for an acquisition. And it probably saves your cap space for help at forward.

There, I’ve done it. I’m so smart.

It would be a mistake for the Hawks to draft for need when they may not have another swing at a pick like this for a while (and when they do, it won’t be this front office taking it). They also need to have a frank discussion of what they really have, not what they want us to think they have. There’s a lot of ways to screw this up, but there’s a lot of ways to get it right too.

Everything Else

We spend a lot of time here trying to figure out where the Hawks want to go and how quickly they want to get there. After a day of pondering in initial response to the Hawks getting the #3 pick, which I assumed  only upped the urgency and if they can’t take a player who can help next year they have to trade it, now I’m not so sure. That’s certainly A solution, but is it THE solution? We have spent two seasons now trying to figure out what the Hawks want to do, how they want to go about it, while navigating what we perceive are the forces and what actually are the forces influencing their decisions.

Maybe they don’t even know?

We can say there are two, opposing sides pulling at the Hawks. One is their ONE GOAL URGENCY, which means you have to get as good as you can as fast as you can, in service to your Four Horsemen Of The Cup-acalypse and a fanbase that really has only known winning aside from the “hardcore” who aren’t really going anywhere but do include the construction workers yelling at McDonough outside his office window. It’s that feeling that causes them to utter words like, “Unacceptable, urgency, accountability.” It makes them say them, it doesn’t make them necessarily live up to them.

On the other side, you have the pretty rational urge to try and build a team for the next wave. A team that can stand on its own with Toews and Keith only being contributors instead of pillars (it’s hard to see anytime soon where Kane won’t be the latter). That the Hawks have to find a way to give a team to DeBrincat and now Strome and Boqvist and whoever else ends up being here.

We have spent a lot of time saying that there are so few avenues to getting a #1 d-man or center. That whatever “rebuild” or “retool” they want to embark on is pointless until you can find a way to either or both of those. And the main way is having a top three pick. Well, look at that.

So what do the Hawks balance here? Maybe they look at it and think to themselves that Dylan Cozens or Alex Turcotte is the future #1 center that can take the torch from Toews in three years. And while that might not help you next year, it helps you for more years down the road. They may not get another chance to find that player. Certainly not an easier one.

While Boqvist, Mitchell, Jokiharju, and Beaudin all seem to have their problems, promise, ceilings, and floors, it’s pretty much agreed that if things progress as they should, Bowan Byram is a #1 d-man in the future. He has it all. And maybe Stan Bowman sees the most surefire heir to Keith’s reign. We know development curves for d-men are longer, and you have to live with some shit for a while, but again, that sets you up for longer. Again, this might be your best and/or only chance to get that player.

So how do you weigh that?

For the Hawks front office, things have gotten easier. Because Seabrook’s and Keith’s play this year, along with Keith’s attitude on the ice, means they have less influence. Or they should. You don’t have to “sell” to them, because if they throw a bitch about a continued rebuild, Seabrook should be bought out anyway and Keith doesn’t really have to be here.

So essentially, on the players side, you’re only selling this to Toews and Kane. Maybe they have enough pull between the two of them to say, “No, we’re not waiting around for another season, and certainly not another fucking two years.” And maybe that puts the brakes on any plans. Should it? I can’t really answer that. Is working in their interests best for the team in five years? 10?

Is there a push from outside the organization? Again, it’s hard to say that. The building is still full, even if they’re eating through their beloved waitlist. It’s hard to know how much longer that will last, and while there were some scatterings of open seats earlier in the year, there wasn’t anything resembling a mass exodus.

There isn’t a press baying for heads and blood. There aren’t column inches being devoted to changes the Hawks must make, riling up an already twitchy fanbase and poisoning the atmosphere in the arena. None of the columnists care. Do columnists even exist anymore? And the fanbase isn’t twitchy.

I’ve been of the opinion that the Hawks were either lying or incompetent. That their proclamations of being a playoff team were either being undercut by a front office actually trying to rebuild the roster on the fly using that as cover, or they really thought this was a playoff team and they have no idea how to build one. Maybe the answer is both? Or none? Maybe they’re trying to thread that needle of doing both? Maybe they don’t have any idea which they’re doing? Maybe they keep making half-measures toward one side or the other, which only leaves them stuck in the middle, moving toward neither?

Which makes this third pick fascinating. Because it’s something definitive either way. It also could be their chance to actually thread this needle and do both. For example: they could take Byram or Turcotte or Cozens, and then none of them would be here next year. A week after that, they could splash some cash for a free agent or two, package a couple of prospects for another, and improve the team for the now while really building it for the later. And this is what feels like is the most likely route.

There are a lot of ways that can go wrong, of course. You could spend on the wrong free agent or two. Make a bad trade, and leave your future depth in rubble. The kid you take at #3 just never makes the leap, or makes it at all and you look at them like the Coyotes looked at Strome, except deservedly.

What’s been so frustrating for some Hawks fans, clearly not all, is that there just didn’t seem to be any direction for the team. They said one thing, did another, and then said something else. But I haven’t Occam Razor’d this until yesterday. The most likely explanation is that they just don’t know.

Well now they have a key. They can do one, they can do the other, or they can attempt both. At least maybe they’ll pick one now. Maybe.