It’s been 19 days since the Blackhawks drafted Adam Boqvist with their first pick. It’s been 10 days since they signed Cam Ward, Brandon Manning, and Chris Kunitz. It’s been at least a week since any new flareups of the Hawks discussing a trade for Justin Faulk. And until someone of significant carriage traverses into the Convention to reach out a taint-damp hand to low-five the only player who can save the Hawks by himself, we won’t be able to confirm that Corey Crawford is even alive, let alone fit to play hockey.
While it is the doldrums of hockey summer, what the Hawks haven’t done stands at odds with all the scowling and growling about how things need to change and the unacceptability of quick-ending or absent playoff runs over the past three years. The dearth of activity is mostly in line with what the rest of the Central has done so far, save the Blues, but the Hawks were never really in a position to do as others have done this offseason.
But what it is that they can do now? They were spurned by John Tavares, and even if they had been allowed into the room in the first place, can you see the Brain Trust signing Tavares for more money and a higher spot on the depth chart than Jonathan Toews? Erik Karlsson—however unrealistic it is to hope for him—is still out there, but what would it take for Ottawa to even consider that? Are you comfortable shipping DeBrincat and Schmaltz out as part of that deal? The Hawks likely don’t have enough to offer even if DeBrincat and Schmaltz were both part of the deal, but if they did, would it worth it, especially if Karlsson wouldn’t want to re-sign?
The last big rumor we heard on the Faulk front was that Tom Dundon—who is working hard to establish himself as Not a Moron™ with his acquisition of Dougie “Don’t Call Me Yancey” Hamilton—wanted Brandon Saad in return, which the Hawks declined. So, we have an idea for what Dundon would want for Faulk as it stands, and it doesn’t look like he’s willing to sell short on him. The Hawks don’t have anything close to a player comparable to Saad (who would have thought that large, fast, 25-year-old, two-way wingers would be hard to come by?), so what can they even offer that’s in the same ballpark? Can you justify trading Schmaltz or DeBrincat for Faulk? In a perfect world, you’d jettison Wide Dick and Sikura. But given the original asking price of Saad and all the reports that say that the Hawks prefer to keep Anisimov, that seems vain (and maybe undoable, since we don’t know which 10 teams Arty has on his no-trade list).
Of course, all of this is probably moot if Cam Ward takes the lion’s share of starts. The continued silence around Crawford is a huge cause for concern, even when the Hawks go back to their boilerplate, “We expect him to be ready.” They’ve been expecting him to be ready since January, so the song remaining the same doesn’t really tell us anything.
And that’s where you might start to get itchy. The Brain Trust has been pounding their fists on the table about how things are going to change, but the only changes they’ve made so far include signing two guys who are old enough to use their ages as a basis for a calendar and a REAL HARD-WORKING defenseman who doesn’t move the puck and whom not even the Flyera wanted. As the summer churns on and the Hawks sit stagnant like an above-ground pool in Naperville during divorce proceedings, it becomes more and more likely that those were the changes they wanted to make. That’s a terrifying idea for next year.
I get that the Hawks have no obligation, and probably no desire, to keep any of us abreast about what they are or aren’t doing. It might be possible that they know for sure that Crawford will be OK and just aren’t telling anyone for HOCKEY REASONS. They might believe that this team as constructed is a playoff team. If I squint, I can maybe see it. But that requires Saad to show that last year’s shooting percentage was an anomaly. It requires Toews to dig himself out of an offensive decline that’s gotten worse over each passing year. It requires DeBrincat, Schmaltz, and Vinnie to further elevate their offensive games, and for guys like Sikura, Ejdsell, and Hayden to prove they belong in the NHL.
And then there’s the defense. Without a puck mover like Faulk or Karlsson, what is this D-corps supposed to be? Past a pairing of Keith–Murphy, which is by no means guaranteed in the first place, you’re working with what, Gustafsson–Rutta and Manning–Seabrook? That’s a whole lot of borderline 2nd pairing guys at best, AHL fodder at worst. It’s possible, and perhaps necessary, that Jokiharju can make the leap to the NHL at the tender age of 19, but even if he does, is Q going to use him?
There’s still some time and opportunity for the Hawks to make a splash at a puck-moving defenseman, which they desperately need as Keith’s engine starts to falter. Whether they can make a trade for one of them with what they have is becoming increasingly doubtful. But if they don’t, the silence that we want to interpret as calculated trade scheming must be viewed as the silence of men without answers whose asses will be one big blister if this year is a repeat of last year. And because no one from the front office can or will clarify exactly which direction the Hawks are going in, all we can do is assume that we’re in soft rebuild mode and hope that guys like Jokiharju, Boqvist, Schmaltz, and Top Cat are a core they can build around.
They told us change was coming. It might already be here.