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Mid-Season Blackhawks Mail Bag Blog: Let's Have A Discussion Amongst Friends About How Things Are

1182018 standings

45 games in and our beloved Blackhawks are in last place. One of the oddest and most frustrating years the Hawks have had…maybe ever. The Hawks are on their bye week so it feels like a good time to take a deep breath and answer some questions about the short term and long term future of this team. Thanks to everyone who sent in questions

1182018 Mail question 1

I got a LOT of questions about Crawford replacements. Here’s the deal…look at the standings. They’re in last place. Your rental goalie options at this point are probably Robin Lehner in Buffalo, Petr Mrazek in Detroit, Cam Ward in Carolina(might not be available), and maybe Raanta in Arizona. That’s it. I personally don’t think it’s prudent for a last place team to give up an asset for a rental goalie who isn’t even guaranteed to be an upgrade over what they have now. This team can still get in the playoffs with Glass and Forsberg in my opinion, but it’s not like Lehner/Mrazek/etc is going to take you to a Cup. I think the Blackhawks only viable option is to ride out the year with what they have and hope Crawford can comeback at some point and play well.

01182018 seabrook

Besides Crawford the most common question I get is about Seabrook and I wish you guys would stop asking. Seabrook isn’t going anywhere. He has a full NTC and I’ve been told that he would exercise it if the Blackhawks did try to trade him.

I also want to say something else….he is not as big of a liability as people say. He’s nowhere near what he was 5 years ago, clearly. But he’s still a very capable 3rd pair NHL defensemen. When the coaches give him appropriate matchups and minutes he’s been an effective player. Let’s not get a bad contract and bad player confused. People did the same thing here with Brian Campbell the first time around. No, he’s not worth $6.875, but that’s not his fault. If he were making $4M nobody would talk about Seabs being a liability. It’s up to Stan to fix this mistake by making the rest of the group that much stronger. The heart and engine of this Dynasty started with Keith and Seabrook playing together as the perfect shutdown pair. They’ll eventually be paired together consistently again…in the third pair. That’s just the harsh reality of time. I like Murphy, Forsling, Oesterle, and Rutta. Jokiharju looks promising, as do Chad Krys and Ian Mitchell at the college level. They’ll need two of those guys to emerge as TOP flight defensemen before their ELCs expire if the Hawks are going to be legit contenders again. Forsling is on his way. We’ll see how the other guys develop.

01182018 RFA

It’s weird to be in full out panic mode about the current team and also sneaky optimistic about the next 3 years, but that’s where we are with the Blackhawks because they’re such a young team in a lot of ways. The 2018-19 Blackhawks will likely look a little different and maybe deeper than the current group. I think the only guy they’ll lose next summer is Rutta. Rutta is a UFA and he’s 27. He will look to cash in big time and the Blackhawks will likely be forced to let him walk simply because of all their other pending free agents. I think the Blackhawks will move Anisimov somehow next summer and then resigning their RFAs shouldn’t be an issue with the Cap going up, Hossa’s money, and Anisimov’s money off the books. So then your team looks like this, theoretically

Saad-Toews-Hinostroza

Hartman-Schmaltz-Kane

DeBrincat-Hayden-Sikura

Wingels-Kampf-Duclair

That’s a pretty deep, fast, balanced and skilled team. Obviously I have Hayden playing center because I’m obsessed with that idea even though he hasn’t played center in sometime. I imagine that line being able to mimick the look Kane has when playing with Anisimov. Hayden parking that thicccc ass in front of the net while Sikura and DeBrincat wheel around the perimeter with the puck setting up chances.

On defense, the Hawks are pretty well set. Keith, Seabrook, Forsling, Murphy, and Oesterle are all under contract for next season. I expect them all to be back. Then the Blackhawks need to have some development from their other young Dmen to make this work. I don’t think its impossible to have a guy like Jokiharju in the mix next year. We’ve seen more and more young NHL dmen make the jump as teenagers. Sergachev in Tampa, Girard in Colorado, Chabot in Ottawa. and Provorov in Philly. The common trait with those guys is high-end skating, which Henri definitely has.

01182018 question

This is a tough question because I think on an individual basis the guys have played about as expected. I said earlier in the year that this team has a lot of talented pieces, but maybe the pieces don’t fit together. This team is in a weird transition period where they have some older guys who are cornerstone pieces that are in decline and then a TON of young players who don’t quite play as consistently as you’d like, but that’s to be expected.

So I guess the answer is probably Stan Bowman. I have not and will not ever blame him for paying Toews and Kane $10.5M per year. The Seabrook contract, the Anisimov contract, the Weise for Danault trade, prioritizing Bickell over Leddy and being forced to trade Teravainen for nothing. It’s tough to justify some of these moves. I think the Hjalmarsson for Murphy trade looks very good right now, and I’m fine with the Panarin for Saad trade, but man the window is closing and they’re forced to have young guys in BIG roles instead of easing them in. Hindsight is 20/20, and the team has talent, but maybe the timing for their young talent and the decline of the other older guys is just like two ships passing in the night sort of thing. Its so hard to win the Stanley Cup, the margin for error is so small in the Salary Cap era. It feels like Stan Bowman started taking a long-term view last summer for the first time, and by doing so he actually shortened the window because by the time the younger group is ready to really step up, the cornerstone of the defense won’t be able to play at a high enough level.

last two

Let’s finish with these two because it’s been kinda doom and gloom and critical and that’s just not me. It doesn’t feel good.

Obviously–worst case scenario is missing the playoffs all-together. If that happens its the end of an era. I think Joel will be out even though he has some big money remaining on his deal through 2020 and I think there’s a chance Stan would be out too. I think Stan would stay, have the chance to hire his own coach, and I think that coach would be Jim Montgomery from Denver.

–Best case scenario…this team makes a run. Crawford comes back and the young guys bring it consistently every night and this team can go. I really truly believe that. We’ve seen high level play this year at times. I think they can get there again and do it consistently. The Blackhawks better come back from vacation ON FIRE because its a tough schedule the next month starting with NYI, Tampa, Toronto, and Detroit before heading to Nashville.

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If this team is going to make the playoffs I think we will know by February 11th. I think they will. To borrow a phrase, all they got is all they need. Time to just bring it every night and go on a run.