By: Tristan Angulo
To say that the Chicago Blackhawks are in a precarious situation is, at best, an understatement.
It has been truly a Jekyll and Hyde season. Uncertainty on the availability (or unavailability) of the team’s best player in Corey Crawford. A lack or perceived lack of identity from its core players, with the exception of Patrick Kane and Crawford, has plagued this team for the better part of the first 50 games. For the first time since 2008, the Blackhawks are in danger of not making the playoffs.
Usually around this time, this fan base would argue about seeding in the playoffs, if the Hawks are better suited to face this team or that team in the first round. This time around, everyone is on pins and needles. Nobody cares who they’ll face in the first round, as long as they get to the first round. And with good reason. The Nashville Predators (yes, they of the first round shellacking from last year) made it (limped in, some would argue) as an eighth seed in the West and made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. The Los Angeles Kings were also an eighth seed when they won their Cup in 2012.
So there. Just make it to the playoffs. Then, anything can happen. That’s one argument.
On the other side, there are those who think that maybe its better if these Blackhawks, at their present iteration, has no business making it to the playoffs. There’s too much uncertainty with regards to whether or not Crawford will be able to return, or what mental state he will be in. Will he be the Crawford from before his second stint in IR, arguably the team’s best player? Will he be able to carry this team to the finish line?
Or this team, for that matter? Do they have what it takes?
Last year’s sweep by the Preds has put into question this team’s vaunted “switch”… their ability to face adversity head on and eke out victories from the jaws of defeat. During the preseason, everybody argued that the last post season was an aberration. The Hawks will be back. They are too good not be back. But, as this season’s first 50 games has proven, they are as fragile as ever, prone to mid-game collapses. They’ll start flying in the first period and somehow not show up at all for the next 40.
So there’s that argument. That Stan Bowman should at the very least stand pat at the trade deadline, maybe even become sellers. That this team, even if Bowman goes all in with a trade or two, does not have what it takes to survive the rigors and attrition of the playoffs, to the detriment of the future of the team.
In an interview during the All Star break, Kane said that the Blackhawks will need to win 23 of the then 33 games left in the season to make it to the playoffs. As it stands today, they won game one of 23, beating the Preds 2-1 Tuesday night, arguably on the back of backup goalie Anton Forsberg. They currently stand four points out of the last wildcard spot, currently held by the Minnesota Wild. They need to leapfrog the Wild, the Anaheim Ducks, the Colorado Avalanche and the Calgary Flames.
So today, I start the Playoff Watch. From this day, which is game #51 against the Vancouver Canucks, I will be not just recapping games, but will be keeping a close eye on the games of those four teams currently above us on the standings, any changes in the standings, really.
This year has proven that there are really a few things that we can control as fans. We don’t know which Hawks team will show up at any given game. We also don;t know how Bowman will act a month from today at the trade deadline.
But it ain’t over til game #82 is played.
It’s gonna be a tense ten weeks.