Here in the middle of the NHL All-Star Break, I find myself in a familiar place as last year – we’re 51 games into the Blackhawks’ season, and I’m about to talk about how they should probably tank. No, really, click this link and I literally wrote about the tank last year at the same 51 game mark. Funny how these things have a way of, erm, working out. At least I get another chance to use that ridiculous photoshop I made last year.
When I did this last year, I was basically contemplating an impossible. The Blackhawks were probably a bit too far out of the running for last place to make a true run at it, and even then they ended the season with the 7th-best lottery odds and actually ended up getting jumped and ended up picking 8th. They did address the main need area of the blue line with their pick of Adam Boqvist, and his ceiling appears to be rather high.
This year, the potential for “tanking” is much higher, because the Hawks are a measly two points ahead of the last place tie between the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils. The problem is there are five other teams who can make that claim as well, and three others that are only six points ahead of the Sens/Devils. That being said, our local idiots have played at least one more game than every other team below them in the standings, and three more than the Devils (who boatraced them last week, lest we forget), so the case for them being the worst team in the league and the front runner for the last place sweepstakes is not a hard one to make, though Detroit has a case as well considering they’re tied with the Hawks through 51 games played themselves.
The situation is eerily similar to last year as well. If I wrote the following today, it would still apply , but I assure you that this cut and paste from the article referenced above:
The Crawford situation has become a lose-lose for the Blackhawks. Crow’s health is obviously the most important thing, and you don’t want to rush him back and risk anything going wrong in the future because he is going to be the key to this team contending in the years to come. And we’re seeing how well things are going without him – you have two dudes who never spent significant time in the NHL trying each game to not play as bad as they did last game. So you don’t want to rush Crow back, but without him you’re up shit’s creek without a paddle.
Then you also have the question of whether Crawford coming back this year at all is really even worth it, even if you don’t rush it. We’ve already seen reports that he might miss the whole season, so it may not be a stretch to say that the Hawks bringing him back at all could be a form of rushing him back. And even if he does come back and squeeze you into a playoff spot, is it really going to be worth playing those extra games just to more than likely get bounced by Nashville or God forbid WINNIPEG? Even if your draft lottery odds are the longest shot, that’s better chance at the apparently generational talent of Rasmus Dahlin than zero.
Clearly Rasmus Dahlin is not available this year, but insert Jack Hughes – or Kaapo Kakko if that’s your fancy – in for him (and maybe remove generational, cuz Hughes is good but certainly no McDavid/Eichel/Matthews) and it’s current. The Hawks are in a really nasty spot with Crawford and it’s arguably worse this year than it was last year, because now we’re in round two of a serious concussion problem. He’s been skating already so there’s a decent chance he returns, but as the podcast crew talked about this week he probably isn’t giving you anything more than half of the remaining games if he does come back, and even then he hasn’t had the kind of season that would see him carry them back into the playoff hunt.
Who has that kind of season is Collin Delia, who’s posted a .923 save percentage in his 10 games this year, doing so behind a defense so bad that even with that impressive save rate he still has a 3.oo GAA. If Delia proves to ultimately be a franchise goalie, then him de-railing any kind of last place finish race would definitely be okay by me. That being said, we probably won’t really know quite yet if he is a franchise goalie, even if he does help them go on some kind of run and keeps them well out of last place this year. So that’s a bit of a Sophie’s Choice for us in the pro-tank crowd – do we prefer the potential franchise goalie plays bad to help secure a franchise 1C, or do we prefer Delia ruin our chances at a franchise 1C even if he won’t ultimately be a franchise goalie? If you have a firm answer to that, I envy you.
Further complicating things is the simple fact that you can’t coach a team to tank – though Coach Cool Youth Pastor running this man-to-man system with a roster not nearly fast enough to do it properly is about as close to doing so you’ll find. Despite the system, Colliton can’t convince Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews or Alex DeBrincat to stop being extremely good at hockey, and he certainly can’t tell anyone else not to try. Even if most of these players are not long for the roster if this franchise is going to return to competing, they’re still auditioning for NHL jobs either here or elsewhere and they owe it to themselves to play well. On top of that, a lot of this team is young and we still need to see what we have in them – Dylan Strome, Henri Jokiharju, and Delia are all examples of this. So we need them at their best.
So it comes down to if Stan Bowman is going to ultimately admit that everything he and McD have tried to force feed us this year about this team competing was just a bunch of bullshit. It’s kind of started already, but they’ll never come out and explicitly say “actually this roster sucks ass and we wanted it this way,” and they certainly won’t cop to signing shitty players in an effort to give Joel Quenneville enough rope to hang himself – which, based on what we’ve seem from this team since Q was fired in favor of CCYP, he didn’t even truly manage to do.
And if Bowman does decide to that he’s going to sell off what he can in order to maximize lottery odds, what does he really have to sell? Do you really think shipping Erik Gustafsson out of here is going to be the final straw that bottoms out this team? Has Chris Kunitz really brought enough to the table for this team to such when he leaves (the answer is no, they’ll actually get better with that)? If you can even convince Cam Ward to leave, and convince some team to take him, does that make the Hawks chances of winning the games he would’ve played that much higher?
So yeah – personally I think that tanking, in whatever form the Hawks might be able to do so, is the best way forward for this year’s Hawks. They have a decent crop of forwards locked up for the future, but there’s no 1C of the future here, so Jack Hughes is more than welcome. Even if you end up with Kakko, that’s an improvement for the future and he might even wind up as this year’s Patrick Laine.
The thing is, like last year, there is no clear and obvious way to go about “tanking” that really results in a tank, because outside of the unrealistic Kane trade that Rose talked about on Wednesday, you’re not shipping out much talent worth anything. So, like last year, we’re almost stuck hoping that the team ends up bad enough – and the teams below them string enough wins together – to have the Hawks end up with the highest possible lottery chances, and then we again hope and pray for the ping pong balls to favor us. It’s – still – the good ol’ hockey game.