By: Alex Patt
The Chicago Blackhawks have had a consistently inconsistent season. They go through stretches where they win some games, go through stretches where they lose some games and lately are doing the old win-lose-win-lose thing. The scoring one night puts up five plus goals, then goes through several games where the puck cannot find the back of the net.
The one scary trend that has stayed consistent all year round is the defense struggling. Unfortunately, the team has not had veteran goaltender Corey Crawford for a while. We have absolutely zero idea when he will be back and what is even wrong with him. Even with the defensive issues, Crawford would so often bail the team out and even steal some wins with his goaltending. Now the burdens fall on 32-year old rookie Jeff Glass and 24-year old Anton Forsberg, who had not shown consistency at all.
All this has resulted in a 22-17-6 record with 50 total points.
It is not a bad record, but it is not a great one. Totaling the ups and downs on the major scale the Blackhawks are pretty much an average team, probably a small step above. It still has elite talent in Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Crawford (when healthy) with a mix of young players and aging stars (Keith and Seabrook) that are showing their mileage. It was difficult seeing Brent Seabrook as a healthy scratch in Ottawa last week but unfortunately he had been really struggling. Both Duncan Keith and Seabrook are under contract until at least 2023 and are making a lot of money. This makes the salary cap issue a significant one.
This is such a difficult situation for the Chicago Blackhawks. They are sitting a point out of the second wild card spot and five points behind third-place St. Louis. So they are right in the mix, but the inconsistency of this team has had them right on the outside looking in for a great chunk of the season. They may spend a day or so in the second wild card spot, but they tend to fall right back out. It does not help that they are 5-7-2 in their own division on top of chasing down teams for a playoff spot.
At what point to the Blackhawks pick a lane? The Richard Panik–Anthony Duclair trade kind of applies for both this year and the future. Duclair is a promising young player with speed, but is on the last year of his deal. Panik was struggling and was taking up cap space, so whatever happens with Duclair, the Panik money is off the books. Still, what now? Is it worth going after the playoffs? What point do they cut losses and look ahead? Hard to say because of this difficult position.
Right now, the confidence in this team going on a long playoff run seems more doubtful than not. There is no telling of Crawford’s fate and the defense is having much trouble keeping up with quicker and younger teams. Scoring, who knows which team shows up. Yet it is hard to throw in the towel when you are still right there outside of the playoffs with a core that has accomplished so much in the past. It will probably a “wait and see” deal.
The trade deadline is March 1st, so a ways away. The next month an a half may tell what direction the Blackhawks need to take…or it won’t and they will have to make a decision. They could very well be stuck in this very position by that time as well. This is why this position is so difficult. It would honestly be more beneficial if the Blackhawks either go on a big winning streak and be in a playoff position or just lose a bunch of games. Either extreme would at least have a lane picked moving forward. Being mediocre will not.
A difficult road is ahead for the Blackhawks, going to have to see how it unfolds.