Since the end of the second period on Sunday night, when the Red Wings scored four goals to take a commanding 5-1 lead, I’ve felt like Inspector Finch from V for Vendetta: staring blankly at a screen for hours on end, retracing every step that’s brought us to this point and asking out loud to no one in particular: “Would you really want to know?”
What if the Blackhawks have been wallowing in mediocrity for so long that they’ve punted on any chances of contending for the next decade? What if the net result from the moves made by team president and general manager Stan Bowman over the last five or six years is so deep into the negative that it’s impossible to be salvaged?
Or, simply put: what if this version of the Chicago Blackhawks has been assembled so poorly that, in both the short-term and long-term, there’s no reasonable way out?
Would you really want to know?
I’m not here to definitively tell you they are that way, but this particular picture has been working its way into focus more and more over the last 10 days. After losing its first six games against opponents excellent and not, Chicago is now staring down three games in four days against Toronto, Carolina and St. Louis: three times that will be heavy favorites. This horrendous start may have already dug the Blackhawks a hole it will not emerge from this entire season — and it’s not even Halloween yet.
The long-term picture doesn’t feel much better right now. Seth Jones is under contract until 2030 and hasn’t been on the ice for a Blackhawks goal at 5-on-5 yet — although he’s been on the ice for 10 from opponents. Alex DeBrincat may be one of the team’s best players but it’s still hard to place him into the category of a player who can take over a game by himself like, say, a Patrick Kane. Jonathan Toews is back and that’s great but he’s already 33 and won’t be getting any younger. Dominik Kubalik and Connor Murphy and Brandon Hagel can be good players but probably won’t ever be great ones.
As for prospects? That cupboard is starting to look quite bare once again. Adam Boqvist is gone. The majority of the prospects remaining are closer to the range of middle-line/pairing futures without much top-line potential. Kirby Dach is still young, of course, but after a while it’d be nice to have something more concrete to point to than merely potential — something like the hat trick scored on Sunday night by Lucas Raymond, Detroit’s No. 4 pick in the 2020 draft (one year and one pick later than Dach).
All of the other fixtures from the team’s glory days are gone. Yes, Toews and Kane are still here, their contracts will be up in the summer of 2022 and they do have the option of taking their skills out of town if they wish, but we can cross save that discussion for later.
This might be where the Blackhawks are: with a group of veterans that are NHL caliber but, perhaps, without enough quality to suggest that Cup contention is on the short-term radar. And while there are some prospects with exciting futures, it’s hard to imagine those reinforcements are adequate enough to fortify the crumbling foundation that currently exists at the NHL level.
So, I ask again: if this team has no present hopes of competing for a Stanley Cup and a similarly bleak outlook in the future ...
Would you really want to know?