We’re all painfully aware of what the Blackhawks are trying to do right now. Their “one goal” for the season is to exit in the best position for the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery. Next year’s draft is loaded with players most believe will be future stars in the NHL. And teams at the bottom, like the Blackhawks, view the cream of that crop as their ticket back to the promised land.
But in service of that goal, sometimes I do wonder … Are the Blackhawks bad enough?
After the draft when I was at the Blackhawks’ development camp and the signings of Max Domi, Colin Blackwell and Andreas Athanasiou were announced, a couple of us asked ourselves that question in the media room at the Fifth Third Arena.
Now this week, The Athletic is writing up their season previews for every team in the NHL with their preseason report cards. And, though they’re predictably damning of the Blackhawks’ summer start of the rebuild under new general manager Kyle Davidson, they actually question if they’re too good for the bottom of the barrel.
They open their analysis with what many have thought:
[Stan] Bowman is gone now, with Kyle Davidson presiding over what, by the draft, had become one of the most bloodless, blatant tank jobs in recent history.
However, painting Davidson as the iceberg that sank the Titanic isn’t quite right. This boat was taking on water well before the changes in the front office. And someone needed to honestly, transparently see what was happening and do something about it.
As we’ve discussed at length previously, Bowman said the Blackhawks were rebuilding a couple years ago and then, with cap space for the first time in a decade, spent like a drunken sailor trying to throw an expensive collection of bandaids on a massive hole.
In the wake of the trades of Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach, the remaining pieces of the core — Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Seth Jones — have unique individual grades and situations in the assessment of The Athletic. Kane and Toews are entering the final years of their respective deals; Jones is starting his big eight-year deal now. And all three own a no-move clause. So the Blackhawks are starting the year with three relatively good pieces.
But that could change if/when one/two/three of those pieces is no longer in Chicago.
On paper, it’s not the league’s worst core, but in due time it will be. No Kane, no Toews and maybe even no Jones will make sure of it. The fact that they’re close to being the worst core even with those guys is a pretty damning indictment of what’s left – and why a scorched earth rebuild is necessary.
The crew at The Athletic has the Blackhawks ranked 30th out of 32 teams. That isn’t the worst; it is, however, a good shot at the top pick. And we’ve already made the case for fans to be excited about a number of players who will be available if the Hawks don’t wind up at the top of the draft and land Connor Bedard — and, even with the league’s worst record, the top pick isn’t a guarantee thanks to the lottery.
So what do we think about the Blackhawks this season? What are we watching and why do we care?
If you’ve watched the Blackhawks as long as I have, this isn’t a completely new script. In case you’ve forgotten, the Blackhawks needed back-to-back top-three picks to land Toews and Kane in the draft. The difference this time is the front office is telling us they’re going to be bad.
Yeah, there are more fans now griping about the departures; the bandwagon a decade ago was accepting any and all wanting to join. And that’s a good thing. The empty United Centers before 19 and 88 arrived were brutal to fan in. Having Red Wings fans make more noise than Blackhawks fans when they were in town sucked. But that was reality.
The Blackhawks were bad, and they didn’t show any signs of coming back. The fan base had reached apathy, which is worse than being pissed off. Chicago has always been a hockey town and that was gone before Rocky Wirtz took control of the team.
We cannot ignore the renaissance. And the fan experience at games today is a completely different world than it was when the rink was empty. But the success came at a price over the span of a decade.
The job Bowman did to try to keep the team in the playoff picture didn’t work for half of a decade and now the organization is in a place nobody wanted them to be in.
The Blackhawks have a plan. And they’re trying to execute it. And while many in the media are going to blast them for burning it down, it was — still is — necessary. As the new season begins, it’s time for us to afford the new front office the same luxury of patience to see how things play out as we have given other front offices in the past.