Just over a week into free agency, it appears that the Blackhawks’ roster is largely set for the 2017-18 NHL season.
With training camp a few months away, all that’s left for us to do is imagine what the next hockey season is going to be like here in the Windy City. But instead of another point-by-point analysis of what the next season could be like, we here at Second City Hockey are going to give you an idea of what the best- and worst-case scenarios for the Hawks might sound like.
To do that, we’re going to peer into our crystal ball, flashing ahead to the end of the 2017-18 season and follow a conversation between a pair of Hawks fans as they reflect on the season that transpired. We cannot confirm or deny the number of Miller Lites each one consumed.
To the future we go …
(We catch up with our two Hawks fans, Pat Arnold and Carl Wollarski, as they walk down Madison Street, in the direction of the Ashland Avenue Green Line stop after the final game of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.)
Pat: Can you believe they did it again? Fourth time in eight seasons.
Carl: It’s crazy. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know how they did it again. And they beat the Penguins to do it. Guess we know who the team of this decade is, don’t we?
Pat: I guess everyone writing the Hawks off after back-to-back first-round exits are eating their words right now, aren’t they?
Carl: It all started when they traded for Brandon Saad, ya know? I liked Artemi Panarin as much as anyone, but he didn’t contribute in enough parts of the game. Saad was everything we remembered. And more.
Pat: Guess that’ll silence the Jonathan Toews haters for a while, won’t it?
Carl: Yeah, he and Saad and Panik on that top line looked like the Saad-Toews-Hossa line from 2015. Their Cup-clinching goal was textbook. Saad gained the line with speed and worked the puck to the point. Then Toews deflect the point shot, which meant Matt Murray couldn’t handle it, and Panik was there to bury the rebound. Thought the roof was going to blow off the UC when that goal put ‘em up 3-1 in the third.
Pat: And speaking of that Saad/Panarin trade, Patrick Kane certainly didn’t miss a beat without Panarin on his opposite wing, did he?
Carl: Nope. Another season among the league leaders in virtually every offensive category. He even teamed up with Alex DeBrincat to re-create that slick behind-the-nt, blind backhand pass which DeBrincat one-timed into the goal for the series-clinching win over the Nashville Predators.
(Pat and Carl grab a burger at the Billy Goat before turning north on Ashland. On the street corner is Vice Sports columnist Dave Lozo. He’s yelling ‘TOEWS IS STILL OVERRATED’ at anyone who’ll listen. No one does.)
Pat: I think the real story of the season was the young guys, though. We knew Toews and Kane and Saad were good.
Carl (nodding approvingly): It was crazy how much better Ryan Hartman and Nick Schmaltz got in their second seasons with the team. And how about DeBrincat?
Pat: Can’t wait the for the rest of his career. Once he got called up from Rockford in January they paired him up with Kane and he never looked out of place.
Carl: I have to be honest though, Pat — I really thought the defense was going to be the downfall of this team. I didn’t see any way the Hawks were going to replace Niklas Hjalmarsson.
Pat: I don’t think Connor Murphy is as good as ole No. 4 yet, but it was an absolute steal for the Hawks to get him in a deal where they traded away a 30-year-old defenseman. And there just be might futures for Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling in the NHL, too. Solid depth guys. Always thought Forsling had some offensive upside and it was his agility on the blue line which opened up a lane for the shot which led to Panik’s rebound goal in Game 6 of the Cup final, too.
Carl: Plus Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were still good enough to get the job done, which was good enough for me.
(They enter the train station. Jim Belushi is sitting in a corner, clutching what he believes is the Stanley Cup. It’s a trash can.)
Pat: I can’t believe he got on the ice again.
Carl: But it was great when Lance Bouma knocked him out.
Pat: It was also pretty great watching Corey Crawford finally win the Conn Smythe Trophy that he should’ve won back in 2013. And maybe 2015, too.
Carl: One day he’ll get the respect he deserves. One day. He was the best goalie in the Western Conference — again. And he’s been that way for multiple seasons now. Remember that diving save he made on Crosby in Game 6? Post-to-post in a flash.
Pat: Four titles in eight years, man. They’ve got the lead on the Penguins again. It’s the best team of the decade. They’re on the best run that any team has made in any sport in the salary cap era.
Carl: They might be back in the hunt again next year, too. Toews, Kane, and Keith may not be getting any younger but Hartman, Schmaltz, DeBrincat and a bunch more are young enough to help offset that problem.
(Their train arrives and the doors swing open as Pat and Carl step inside.)
Pat: And the celebration’s just getting started. Yet another parade this week. I can’t wait.
Carl: You’re forgetting about the best part, Pat.
Pat: What’s that?
Carl: The White House trip.
Pat: I almost forgot!
Both: PRESIDENT HOSSA!
(Train doors close.)