Everything Blackhawks: A Love/Hate Story

                For the better part of the past ten years, the Chicago Blackhawks have led us (the fans) on a journey that can only be described in one word; legendary! For any fan, it was also known as the Quenneville era. Ten years of superstars, amazing hockey and three Stanley Cups, we have so much to reminisce and be proud of. However, now we are drudging through a season that is painful to watch and at times, unbearable.

Before we dive into what’s going on in the current Chicago Blackhawks universe, let’s take a look back on some of the best moments in the Quenneville era.

Nothing is more iconic of the Quenneville era than the Blackhawks playoff runs. The 2010 Stanley Cup run was filled was nail biters, overtime and a myriad of ridiculous plays. The first defining moment came on June 6, 2010; the day the Chicago Blackhawks won their first cup in 57 years. Of course, it could be none other than “Showtime” Patrick Kane, who ripped a puck far side past Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Michael Leighton with 15:50 left in the overtime period. Just thinking about that shot gives me chills and a HUGE wave of emotion. What a huge win for the city of Chicago.

Of course, the Blackhawks weren’t done making Hawks fan’s blood pressures go through the roof. Look to 2013, when the Blackhawks beat the Bruins to win their second Stanley Cup. Bryan Bickell, remember him? Well, if you don’t, let me give you a refresher. Bickell tied the game with 1:16 left on the clock after captain Jonathon Toews found him in front of the net. Chills. Again.

If you ask any Hawks fan what 17 seconds means to them, they should have a simple response. Maybe one of the greatest moments in Chicago sports history. 17 seconds after Bryan Bickell became a hero in Chicago, Dave Bolland found a loose puck rebound and buried it to give the Hawks a 3-2 lead and their second Stanley Cup victory. More chills and another HUGE wave of emotion incoming.

Lastly, the third Stanley Cup the Hawks won came in 2015. It marked the first Stanley Cup home win for the Hawks since 1938 and the third Stanley Cup in 5 years, Chicago had no problem celebrating until the early morning. A defensive game all around, the Blackhawks won by a final score of 2-0. The moment came with 2:47 left in the second when my favorite Blackhawks player, Duncan Keith, broke the 0-0 tie. I remember getting out of my seat and celebrating like no one ever had before. Amazing goal, amazing player. Right then I think I knew that it was going to be a Hawks victory. Of course, no Stanley Cup game would be complete without a Patrick Kane finisher to put the game away with 5:44 left in the third.

Needless to say, I could reminisce all day about the miraculous playoff runs for the Blackhawks and probably cry all day, but it’s time to move forward as our current Blackhawks team is in a bit of a pickle.

The Blackhawks currently sit in sixth place (out of seven) in the Central division and things are looking all sorts of a mess. A trade of Nick Schmaltz, although warranted, doesn’t make the Hawks a playoff team. The good news from that is that Dylan Strome has come in and ignited something for the Hawks. In four games, Strome already has three points (2 G, 1 A) and looks to be helping in any way he can. Brendan Perlini has yet to tally a point for the Hawks and may just be a body to get through the season. If Strome can continue to play well, he could be a staple for the Hawks in the coming years. He’s just 21 which means he’s got nowhere to go but up. Perlini is only 22 and a first round pick in 2014 and can become a solid player in years to come as well.

The big issue with the Hawks is their defensive play. You can’t have aging players like Brent Seabrook on your top line and expect to get anywhere. He’s too old, too slow and only plays half the ice when he wants to. The occasional amazing play keeps him notarized throughout the league but otherwise, he’s playing like Michal Rozsival, old and tired. It’s sad because the only viable defenseman we currently have is Duncan Keith and he’s 35 this year. He has had to make up (as best he can) for the Hawks lack of other NHL caliber defensemen. Let’s look at that second line.  Erik Gustaffson is a pile of garbage. The man belongs in the AHL and nowhere near an NHL roster. He can’t play defense which is the position he is supposed to play. I have rarely seen him in position and he rarely makes plays in the defensive zone.

How about something positive? Henri Jokiharju. In the first bit of the season, before the wheels came off, Jokiharju was playing well in all aspects of his game. He was getting increased ice time every game, he was playing well in the defensive zone well and doing what he does best in the offensive zone, creating offense. He has since run into some of the growing pains that an NHL rookie experiences in his first few seasons. Of course, it was expected to happen. As the NHL shifts to a more offensive game, incoming defenseman are at a steeper learning curve and that’s what we’re seeing with Jokiharju right now. Currently, Jokiharju has no goals and 10 assists on the season. He came close to his first goal a few weeks ago, but Jonathon Toews tipped the puck on the way to the net and was given credit. Give it a few years and watch him grow in an absolute stud on the Chicago blue line.

In order for the Hawks to right the ship, they need to move some pieces. That all starts at the top. I’ll be the first to admit, I would love to see the Hawks make the playoffs again, but that’s likely not happening this season.

I would also like to be the first to say goodbye to Stan Bowman. Bowman is the man that negotiates the contracts for the Blackhawks and he has clearly screwed the pooch. If you need an example, look at Brent Seabrook’s contract. WOW. Enough said for that. Brandon Saad’s contract was inherited but that’s not an excuse. He’s an obvious waste of six million dollars a year. Jonathon Toews and Patrick Kane deserve their contracts of course, but all these huge, non-moveable contracts Bowman made are screwing the Hawks roster depth. Simply put, he’s got to go. They should have kept Quenneville and got rid of Bowman, simple as that.

Next, after Bowman get’s excused, so does Jeremy Colliton. Nothing against Colliton, but he came to a team that was already dead in the water. He is trying his best to resurrect the dead in a sense, but he’s going to be a casualty of a team that may be entering a rebuild. With Bowman and Colliton gone, the Hawks can find a middle-aged coach that can bring valuable experience and a new vibe in the Hawks locker room. Hopefully, that can include a GM that is more money friendly.

Next, say goodbye to the following players:

Brent Seabrook- Meet your new assistant coach?

Erik Gustaffson- Goodbye. Nobody wants you here.

Artem Anisimov, Alexander Fortin, Brandon Saad, Marcus Kruger, David Kampf, Chris Kunitz, Jan Rutta, Cam Ward, Anton Forsberg

                That’s a rough clear up of the roster at the end of the season. Of course, we can hope the Hawks make some more trades throughout the season to help clear some cap space, but we’ll have to wait and see about that.

                For the past few seasons, while the Hawks clear the bottom half of the roster and start over again and again, the offense has had to rely mainly on Patrick Kane. He has next to no help and it shows game in and game out. I know it seems crazy to do a mock depth chart this early, but the roster should look more like this come next season:

Line 1: Patrick Kane, Jonathon Toews, John Hayden

Line 2: Alex DeBrincat, Dominik Kahun, Dylan Strome

Line 3: Brendan Perlini, (center), Andreas Martinsen

Line 4: TBD

                The top two lines should be able to provide goals and offensive firepower and the third line should be the hustle and agitator line. The fourth line is TBD because the Hawks should have a completely new one come 2019-2020.

                With John Hayden providing the hustle, it will allow Kane and Toews to be more dynamic. If you’ve watched the Hawks at all this season, you may have seen John Hayden, or as my girlfriend calls him, “Dreamboat” flying around the ice, making plays, fighting off defenders and playing solid defense. Also, he has no problem stepping up to the plate if anyone messes with Kane, which is an added bonus. The second line consists of potential, with DeBrincat, Kahun and Strome all labeled as snipers or playmakers. It would be odd to see Kahun at center but that is his official position and if he works at it, he could become a solid second line guy. That being said, the Blackhawks need depth down the middle of their lineup. Anisimov was only good with Kane and Panarin on his line because they were able to skate around everybody and he only needed to sit in front of the net. Kampf and Kruger are obviously not cutting it. They need a respectable center for at least the second line to be able to compete with some of the powerhouse teams.

                Of course, we know all about the defense. It needs a complete rework. Of course, the Hawks have a lot of bright young talent in the system that need some refining before they’re ready to compete. For now, we’ll work with the assumption we’ll see some of those guys next year:

Pair 1: Henri Jokiharju, Duncan Keith

Pair 2: Connor Murphy, Brandon Manning

Pair 3: Adam Boqvist, Brandon Davidson

Rotational guys: Gustav Forsling, Ian Mitchell, Nicholas Beaudin

                It’s quite possible we won’t see Adam Boqvist next year because he needs to bulk up in a big way in order to not get pushed around at the NHL level, but the pool is stacked for the Hawks and things are looking bright. I believe that Duncan Keith still has one or two more years left in the tank while the Hawks wait on the youngsters and then hopefully, the Hawks will keep him in the organization in a different capacity.

                Lastly, the Hawks future goaltending is almost as exciting as the future of the defense. During the preseason, we saw Collin Delia, Alexis Gravel, Kevin Lankinen, and Matt Tomkins. It’s very crowded at goalie but with Forsberg and Ward potentially departing, Delia and Lankinen would be next up. Corey Crawford will play until he can’t anymore, that much is obvious. However, the Hawks will need to groom someone behind him in the coming years and Delia is the next man up. Delia saw two NHL games last season and did not disappoint. With little help in front of him, Delia played well last year and he should be able to parlay that into a potential starting role once Crawford is gone. Here’s how it should look come 2019-2020:

Starter: Corey Crawford

Backup 1: Collin Delia

Backup 2: Kevin Lankinen

                Alexis Gravel could also make a push for that “second” backup spot. That would mean a starting gig in Rockford and a call up in case of injury, but Lankinen has had more experience and will probably get first crack at it.

                With a lot of potential changes coming, the Hawks will look to make something of this season to keep fans interest until they can become a Stanley cup contender again. The Hawks will take on the Anaheim Ducks, Las Vegas Golden Knights and Montreal Canadiens this week. Strap on those brain buckets boys and get ready for a bumpy ride for the rest of the year.