By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) Eight teams in the NHL have fewer points than the Chicago Blackhawks. Eight teams in the NBA have a lower winning percentage than the Chicago Bulls.
That perceived symmetry is a problem for both teams, though, for different reasons.
It wasn’t supposed to fall so quickly off a cliff like it has for the Blackhawks. After entering a five-day break just having been embarrassed by the Detroit Red Wings, 4-0, and emitting a generally listless feeling among fans, Patrick Kane scored on the New York Islanders at the United Center a mere 61 seconds into the first period Saturday. And then the Blackhawks lost 7-3.
In the middle of it all, there was a power outage in the stadium that was too brief to be an apt metaphor for what the Blackhawks have become this season.
“We look every day,” coach Joel Quenneville said afterward of the standings. “We put ourselves in a terrible spot going into the break. And then coming out of it, we know we have to have a great run here. So, we got to move up significantly in our play, in our consistency and our predictability.”
The problem is the Blackhawks are consistently outmatched on the ice and predictably slow when their bread and butter used to be their speed. Also, the goalie play can’t lift the rest of the team up without Corey Crawford, who’s still out indefinitely with vertigo or post-concussion symptoms or the bends or something.
On the flip side, the Bulls have managed to overachieve so far this season. They’ve pulled the rug out from all of us who assumed — and hoped — they would contend for the NBA’s worst record. Instead, they’re a genuinely entertaining team if still not worthy of the postseason.
The Bulls handled the Hawks in Atlanta easily Saturday, perhaps not aware that the opponent was doing the tanking thing properly while Chicago was only too happy to make ping pong balls evaporate months from now as the organization looks to draft another piece in the rebuild.
Refusing to accept their role as a league punching bag, the Bulls have fans at an uncomfortable crossroads. Which is more important: Getting the best draft pick possible or seeing a core of Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine show themselves as a viable future? Both scenarios seem unable to coexist, and while Markkanen was a No. 7 overall pick — a spot the Bulls could find themselves in for the next draft that’s rich with talent — there’s still a letdown feel to them maybe not selecting in the top three.
“It is strange,” Justin Holiday told the Sun-Times. “I’ve never been a part of a fan base where some of them get angry when you win. But at the same time, as angry as the fan base may seem, the ones that come to that game want us to win. I’ll continue to say that.
“If that was the case, then what’s the point of supporting us? What’s the point of cheering for us to do well? Like I said, they enjoy winning. Every person in this world enjoys winning, regardless of how bad they want a draft pick or something like that. When it comes to that game, us having a chance to win, they want that. You can hear it.”
OK, trade him. No place here for a winning attitude.
Maybe getting the ball rolling on trading some veterans would help curb unwanted wins. The Bulls are taking calls on Nikola Mirotic, Robin Lopez, Jerian Grant and, yes, maybe Holiday ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and it’s almost certain at least a few of those names will be moved.
It’s still weird, though, that the Bulls are on this uptick so quickly while their stadium-mates, the Blackhawks, have shown that getting swept in the first round of last year’s postseason by the Nashville Predators was less fluky random streaky hockey than many of us wanted to reassure ourselves. In the winter doldrums between Bears season and baseball, we Chicagoans have two teams filling time by playing themselves out of their respective desired goals.
Is it too much to ask that the rebuilding hoops team put on a proper tanking and the model hockey franchise not flush itself so suddenly? I need something to warm me on these cold January and February nights. Markkanen blossoming too quickly and Gar Forman and John Paxson getting to backpat themselves on what appears to be a Jimmy Butler trade that wasn’t a fleecing as we initially thought doesn’t do that. The Blackhawks being not only severely underwhelming but also between a rock and a hard place on how to move forward doesn’t do that either.
Satchel Price of Second City Hockey noted that they can’t even really be sellers in a time in which the championship window has been boarded up:
But who would the team realistically trade? Kane, Crawford, Jonathan Toews, Artem Anisimov, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp and Brent Seabrook all have full no-trade clauses in their deals, so they would need to want out of Chicago.
What are your other options to sell? You don’t want to move young guys like Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat, and Gustav Forsling who will still be on their ELCs in 2018-19. The Hawks need those cheap cap hits. RFAs like Ryan Hartman, Anthony Duclair and Vinnie Hinostroza might be trade candidates, but it’s also firmly possible the team plans to re-sign all of them to affordable deals in the summer. They’re probably not worth that much, anyway.
In that case, you’re left with middling options like Lance Bouma, Tommy Wingels, and Michal Kempny. Maybe the team can recoup some low-round draft picks for those guys, but it won’t be anything that meaningfully moves the needle heading into the following season.
At least the Bulls can trade their way into more of an intentional suck, though when Dunn returns from his concussion, he, Markkanen and LaVine plus whomever is left will still find a way to be competitive and better than some of the bottom feeders. At least this team is playing for coach Fred Hoiberg, unlike veteran squads of recent past. And does that then means he’s your coach of the future, too? Has this been enough to trust him? To trust Forman and Paxson a little more?
Is it also time to move on from Quenneville on the Blackhawks bench? Sacrilege, I know, but he was brought in when general manager Stan Bowman could tell the Blackhawks were about to be special. He isn’t the coach for any sort of youth movement, if that’s what the team decides to do after this season.
At least one winter Chicago team could have followed the plan. Why is that so hard?
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for 670TheScore.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.