By Tim Baffoe–
(670 The Score) If you live or work within the city of Chicago, you’ve likely seen one of those signs that tries to brighten the eyesore of perpetual construction on streets or sewers or sidewalks: “Building a New Chicago.”
We’re used to every other block of the city being torn up in some way at seemingly all times in order to perfect a city that’s in a perpetual state of cosmetic surgery. We’ve also grown used to our sports franchises being in some state building anew. The Cubs did it to World Series perfection. The White Sox seem to be pointing up in their plan despite what their ballpark sponsorship would suggest. The Bulls finally accepted reality and went with a rebuild — and are managing to be unintentionally fun while doing so. Even the city’s favorite and most disappointing child, the Bears, is in the throes of … something different.
For the last 10 years, the asphalt and concrete that never remained cracked in this town was the Blackhawks. General manager Stan Bowman built a roster that in the 2008-’09 season made the playoffs for the first time since 2003, which was the first time since 1997 before that. The Hawks have been in the postseason ever since, accumulating a mere three Stanley Cup titles along the way while annually Bowman navigated major trades and salary cap tightropes while keeping the team elite.
As it stands, 2018 won’t see the Hawks in the postseason. They have a 1 percent chance of making the playoffs, while their odds of winning the draft lottery are more than six times better. After being the top seed in the Western Conference last spring, the Blackhawks have had quite the cliff off of which to fall.
Cliffs aren’t a thing in Chicago, and they aren’t expected in sports. The closing of a championship window is supposed to be more gradual than what the shock that is these Blackhawks has slapped us upside the head. You could sort of see that there were issues when a top seed gets swept in the first round, but it’s as though in the offseason the team’s brainstem dissolved and this is a functioning hockey team like a human vegetable is still a person.
Much of the central nervous system is goalie Corey Crawford, and his absence since Dec. 23 has been as devastating as most feared. The Hawks waived his call-up replacement, 32-year-old rookie Jeff Glass, on Wednesday after Glass was playing like, well, a 32-year-old rookie. But the goalie issue hasn’t been the only hole in the boat. The Hawks have scored an average of 1.8 goals per game since Jan. 10, the only team in the NHL under 2.00 in that stretch. They’ve lost seven in a row, and the atrophy of the season has led to apathy.
Between losses to the Arizona Coyotes and the Vegas Golden Knights, Sam Fels of Faxes from Uncle Dale said of the team’s recent pattern of deflating in games:
“It’s not that they looked lifeless for the whole game, but as soon as something went against them … it all goes out of them. The air just escapes, there’s no life, and you get everyone saying this team has quit on its coach, it’s quit on its season. And it’s hard to judge that because of the things they’re battling against via talent level and goalie, but it’s something we’re not used to seeing from the Hawks.”
Now Bowman sits in a strange position. He’s obviously not buying at the trade deadline because there’s nothing that can be acquired right now that’s getting this franchise another ring. So modern sports logic dictates that if you’re not making the postseason and not in the middle of an upward trend, you sell, right?
If Bowman opts for that route, don’t expect any major names to be cleared from the books. Nearly all of the team’s major salaries are connected to no-movement clauses, and Bowman isn’t likely to trade the likes of Brandon Saad or Connor Murphy after making such a big deal of acquiring them last offseason. Players like Lance Bouma, Michal Kempny and Tommy Wingels could be available, though.
Bowman has also mentioned the possibility of a traditional hockey trade — a deal that helps both teams, similar to the Panik-for-Duclair swap. The Blackhawks are probably in need of another top-four defenseman, and that will likely be a priority for Bowman heading into next season. They have an abundance of young, skilled forwards.
None of that is terribly inspiring at a time when Hawks fans could use some sort of jolt. That’s not to say that Bowman should make a move just to make a move. It’s simply to point out that we don’t really know how best to repair this thing, which might be more troubling than the cliff.
The bulk of what was once the league’s best core — Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith — is no longer stellar. Bowman has been trying to get younger, which might be more of a blood transfusion than a rebuild. The latter of which would mean ditching the players who won the Cups, and that’s not happening soon.
And then there’s confronting the real possibility that Chicago’s winningest coach since Phil Jackson might get fired for this debacle. Bowman has fired enough of Joel Quenneville’s assistants already, right?
Maybe this is a roster that’s just a healthy Crawford away from stabilizing a mix of young and old with some sexy addition in the offseason. Or maybe we’re in for the start of putting a “Building a New Chicago” sign next to the ice to distract from some longer-term ugly construction.
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.