I know the folly of taking the Hawks at their word. Their pronouncements from on-high have gotten weirder and less sensical as the team’s fortunes have slipped, and even more so now that less and less people are paying any attention. This is an organization that still considers itself the cream of the NHL, and yet when it came time for the most coveted free agent in recent history to hit the market the Hawks weren’t anywhere close. To be fair, John Tavares wasn’t ever going to sign with the Hawks over the Leafs, if only on emotional reasons, but for the Hawks to not even to be in the room says a lot. And whether they’ll tell you this or not, they missed out on other targets too, though as we know the rest of those targets sucked and maybe the Hawks are lucky they didn’t have the cap space or the attraction. Ian Cole was not going to make you run to the closet and sweat through the beloved sweater in July in pride, to be sure.
Still, if we take the Hawks at anything resembling face value on what they say, which is that they will ring the changes if the Hawks don’t bounce back from last season’s what-have-ya, then it’s hard to see how Quenneville is going to survive the season. Again, that’s if you take them at face value, and I’m not here to tell you that you should.
While McDonough and Rocky have hit all the notes about last season being unacceptable, along with Stan Bowman, and McDonough has pulled his noted and solo trick of bullying his employees to let everyone know just how very red and angry he is, Stan Bowman has continued along a path of a “rebuild on the fly.” All of his quotes about what the Hawks are doing at least reference keeping powder dry for next contracts to Schmaltz and DeBrincat, and what he hopes for Sikura and Ejdsell and whoever else. He continues to push Forsling as a solution on the blue line, and as you saw at the draft they took the biggest project–though most talented player– available at that spot. The Hawks have steadfastly refused to discuss Saad or Schmaltz in a trade, keeping an eye on two or three years down the road when those players have to do the heavy lifting. Either they can’t and the Hawks will suck or they become something more and the Hawks will…only kind of suck.
Everything that’s been done has been with an eye on the future. You wouldn’t do that unless you had assurances from the higher-ups that you’ll be able to see the plan through, whatever that plan might be. If a GM was trying to sit on two chairs at once, building a team to at least be competitive if everything broke right at the moment while maintaining players and hope for the future, any team that fired said GM and brought in someone else to either tear it all up or carry out the same vision with a different set of eyes would be a team that didn’t actually have a plan or organization. That very well could be the Hawks, but they at least want you to think it’s not them.
Let’s put it this way, a GM truly on the hot seat and having his job dependent on what happens this year, and maybe even just the first half of this year, would probably act with just a touch more urgency than Cam Ward, Chris Kunitz, and Brandon Manning. Just a hunch.
So where does that leave Quenneville? We know the easiest lever to pull for any organization when things go pear-shaped is to fire the coach. Rarely does it have a huge effect, though there are examples of that, but it shows you’re doing SOMETHING. Even with a coach who draws as much water as Q. Sometimes it’s just rearranging the chairs, but sometimes it provides a lift to the players who can at least hear something different when they arrive at work.
And really, what’s Q going to do here? You forget that even before Corey Crawford went down last year, the Hawks were clinging to the last playoff spot or even the chase for that like it was a tiny crimp. They were barely .500. On Dec. 22nd, they were 17-12-5, tied with Calgary for the last playoff spot and fifth in the division. A juggernaut this was not. So if we get to Christmas again, even with a healthy Corey Crawford and one who can put up THOSE numbers after missing half of a season, and that’s where the Hawks are again is that enough? Barely scraping for the last playoff spot? You wouldn’t think so. And they could be worse than that. I can sit here and say right now there are three teams in the Central assuredly better than they are right now, and Colorado, Minnesota, and Dallas could very well be and the first two finished miles ahead of them last year. Even if the Hawks were running 4th in the Central at Christmas next season but entrenched in a wild card spot, is that enough? Is “wild card” synonymous with “One Goal?” It’s an improvement, barely, but it’s not a resurgence.
I mean… I guess the team ahead of Crawford is a little better than last year’s? It is if Schmaltz and DeBrincat take a step forward (and are deployed correctly). It is if Dylan Sikura is something more than just getting to play with Adam Gaudette in college, and/or EggShell’s AHL playoff performance portends to something more. It is if Brandon Manning isn’t just a thug, and if the Hawks can finally conjure something from Gustav Forsling or fit Jokiharju on the roster. But again, that’s a lot of ifs.
What’s more likely, all that happens or Jonathan Toews’s aging curve continues the wrong way, as does Duncan Keith’s? Brent Seabrook continues to move around like Pizza The Hut? Forsling and Gustafsson prove to be nothing more than third-pairing bum-slayers and Q doesn’t find room for Jokiharju and he gets sent back to Portland? Sikura has a rough rookie season? And most of all Crawford isn’t Crawford, or isn’t even there?
You know which is more likely, even if only 50% of it happens. So either the Hawks mean what they say, and Q is out on his ass before 2019 hits, or they’re just whistling dixie, Jerry Angelo.
It wouldn’t be much of a hit anymore. A mid-season whacking (and who doesn’t love a good mid-season whacking?) would only see Q on the books for another season and a half, and that’s something an organization constantly in the mood to tell you they’re still not profitable would consider, especially when it’s the highest paid coach in the league.
Basically, we’ll know if the Hawks mean what they say come the Holidays, or it’s likely that we will.