But it’s only fair that we examine the other end of that scale, and tread lightly in the direction of the worst-case scenario for the upcoming NHL season. It’s back to the crystal ball we go to check in our friends Pat Arnold and Carl Wollarski in a much, much different world than we visited on Wednesday.
Once again, I cannot attest to how many beers they may or may not have consumed. But one thing I can tell you about this gaze into the future: it’s not pretty.
Let’s get this over with ...
(It’s about 8:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, with Pat and Carl as the only two patrons sitting at the bar at their favorite neighborhood tavern. Behind the bar, you can almost hear Pat Foley sign off for the season as he says, ‘We hope you enjoyed the broadcast in spite of the outcome. Jets 2, Blackhawks 1 in the final game of the Chicago Blackhawks’ 2017-18 season.’)
Carl: All they had to do was win! Win one damn game! One damn game to make the playoffs! And they couldn’t even do that.
Pat: Remember when we thought first-round playoff exits were terrible? This is worse. Way worse.
Carl: What the hell happened to this team?
Pat: How much time ya got?
(The bartender hands Pat and Carl each a fresh pint, shaking in his head as frustration as he glances at the TV. ‘I think you guys are going to need a few more of these,’ he says.)
Carl: I thought bringing Brandon Saad was going to fix a lot of what was wrong with this team.
Pat: Unless he’s got a time machine for Jonathan Toews, I don’t think he’s going to be enough. And I guess Richard Panik’s 20-goal season last year was the exception, not the rule.
Carl: Patrick Kane spent the first half of the season looking for someone to pass the puck to and then the second half of the season trying to do it all by himself. Neither strategy worked. He barely cracked 60 points this year.
Pat: Yeah, he just wasn’t the same without Artemi Panarin on the other side. And the Hawks spent all season rotating a cast of characters on his opposite wing. Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman, Alex DeBrincat … none of ‘em worked. Not one. A new career-low point total for him. He’s not going to slump like Toews now, is he?
Carl: Uhh, no? Maybe? I don’t know. I’m baffled. I thought Kane was regression-proof but now even he’s hitting a wall.
Pat: Remember all those young guys who were supposed to help carry the load? About that …
Carl: Let’s see … Hartman struggled to get to double digits in goals, Schmaltz spent more time in Rockford than in Chicago because he looked lost, and the 15 guys they signed in free agency to fill out the bottom six were all worthless. Even Patrick Sharp’s handsomeness couldn’t save the third and fourth lines.
Pat: It was even worse on defense. We knew Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were getting up there, but I think they aged 20 years in the last offseason. Connor Murphy looked more like Deron Quint than Niklas Hjalmarsson. I think we can send Michal Kempny, Gustav Forsling, and Jan Rutta back to Europe for good.
Carl: But don’t worry, they just announced another one-year deal for Michal Rozsival and Jordan Tootoo!
Pat: (chugs his beer, orders another)
Carl: And Corey Crawford looked average for the first time in years. Anton Forsberg wasn’t any help. They even tried Jeff Glass in the backup role for a bit, but he was even worse than Forsberg.
Pat: So let’s recap: They’ve got $21 million committed to two players in massive slumps from which they may never emerge. Their D corps is anchored by about $12 million in two players whose bodies are betraying them after an ungodly amount of games over the years. And now their goalie is feeling his age, too. Did I miss anything?
Carl: They all have no-movement clauses.
Pat: Oh holy f—(chugs his beer, orders another)
Carl: Yeah. (chugs his beer, orders another)
Pat: Any good news?
(Carl gestures to the ‘Breaking News’ chyron on the TV as Pat Boyle begins: ‘The Blackhawks just announced that interim coach Kevin Dineen has been relieved of his duties, along with the rest of the team’s coaching staff.’)
Carl: I don’t think that’s what you meant.
Pat: Are you surprised, though? They fired Joel Quenneville after the Hawks struggled out of the gate. And that undefeated homestand in mid-January was followed by three months of mediocre hockey that saw them slide out of a playoff spot. This was the worst season in a decade. You knew jobs were going to be lost because of it.
Carl: What do they do now? All their stars are old and none of their younger players are progressing like we thought they would. We’re screwed, aren’t we?
Pat: There’s only one place for us to go from here.
Carl: Where’s that?
Pat: The bottom of a bottle of Malört.