Blackhawks Week That Was and Will Be, 1/9: We’re ... No. 1?
A different Chicago team lands a No. 1 pick and a look back at the weekend’s Lukas Reichel Show
I realize that there are those who visit this space every week and are not Chicago Bears fans. But I also feel like that group is likely in the minority.
So, I probably don’t need to go into too much detail about the circumstances of the Bears’ last season, which ended with the Bears going 3-14 while learning that they’ve got the guy under center now — their version of Connor Bedard, if you will. After a hilarious set of circumstances on Sunday, the Bears now also have the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, which puts them in an incredible position to trade down for more picks.
Now, the Blackhawks situation is clearly different because they do not have their Bedard yet but hope to acquire him by following the same route as the Bears. This presents a bit of a conundrum for someone who despises this method — yes, the flag’s still waving on that hill which will probably be a gravesite soon. Despite all that, though, as the Noon window of NFL games on Sunday wound down and the Houston Texans pulled off a crazy comeback to secure Chicago’s No. 1 pick, I found myself cackling like a madman on the couch, enjoying every second of what was unfolding.
But ... why? What was so great about the Bears being crowned as the worst team in the league and being rewarded with the No. 1 overall pick? It took a few minutes to get there but the answer became quite obvious. Despite the obvious disdain for the methodology, there’s one clear truth here: it represents the best-case scenario for that team’s present situation. Combining the guy they have at QB with a boatload of cap space and now the No. 1 draft pick puts the Bears in a position for a quick turnaround by next season.
Now, quick turnarounds aren’t as easy in hockey because of the nature of the NHL’s salary cap and player contracts. Plus, the Blackhawks aren’t pursuing a one or two-year turnaround — it’s a multi-year process that hopefully leads to sustainable, long-term success. For right now, though, they want the same thing the Bears just secured: the No. 1 overall pick. And even as someone who hates that this is the path the organization chose, it’s also undeniable that landing the No. 1 pick remains the best-case scenario for this season.
The best-case scenario: when was the last time the Hawks finished a season anywhere near there? It’s probably the final Stanley Cup win in 2015, right? They were bounced in the first round each of the next two seasons with a valiant effort in 2016 and an embarrassing display in 2017. Then, a season was undone by goalie injuries. Then the Jeremy Colliton era. Then whatever the hell last season was. It’s closing in on a decade since the overall sum of what happened during a Blackhawks hockey season was anywhere near something like a best-case scenario. Landing the top spot in the draft immediately ends that drought.
Will it all have been worth it? Will the misery of this season be justified in the end if that’s where the Blackhawks end up? Judging from what just happened with another team in town, should the Blackhawks pull all of this off, there will only be one thought in reply:
The Week That Was
Tuesday, Jan. 3: Lightning 4, Blackhawks 1
Yeah, that seems about right.
Friday, Jan. 6: Blackhawks 2, Coyotes 0
Think we’d all feel better about the Hawks current situation if there were more games like this one. Not necessarily games that they won, just games where they didn’t spend the whole night chasing the puck because they never have it.
Sunday, Jan. 8: Blackhawks 4, Flames 3
As LBR mentioned in the recap, the Hawks were soundly outshot, out-attempted and out-chanced in this game but still won because Alex Stalock stood on his head. That seems like it’ll be the only path to victory for this team for the rest of the season.
A Branch in the River
The main thing that’s made this season so disheartening — forget the losses, we knew those were coming — is that nothing that’s happened on the ice this season has mattered to the Blackhawks’ big picture. There may not be any of these guys left when the team expects to be good again. No players have suddenly taken massive steps forward to spark a debate on whether or not they deserve more consideration. No young players have really jumped off the screen during the first few months of the season.
And then this weekend happened.
More to the point: Lukas Reichel showed up and looked like a first-round pick for the first time in his still extremely young hockey career — he’s still 20 years old, after all. But Reichel was excellent against the Coyotes on Friday and turned that solid play into a three-point game against the Flames on Sunday.
Finally, there was someone on the ice in a Blackhawks sweater who could actually be around in two or three seasons that looked like a legitimate piece of the future puzzle. There may have been moments here and there with some other prospects but Reichel walked into the lineup this weekend and quickly informed the organization he wasn’t going back to Rockford with his play. And the organization has agreed:
Richardson says Reichel will remain with the Blackhawks even when Kane returns.— Scott Powers (@ByScottPowers) January 9, 2023
This is what it’s supposed to look like when a player who’s going to be around for the long-term receives a longer look at the NHL level. Anyone who watched these last two games cannot deny what Reichel put on display over the weekend. There will need to be more prospects who look like that in order to get this thing fully headed in the right direction. And it may not come in their initial NHL debuts. It may require a few promotions and demotions just like it did for Reichel. But, at some point, there needs to be a flash at the NHL level that is undeniable.
We got one over the weekend. We’re gonna need more — a LOT more. But one can suffice for now.
The Week That Will Be
Thursday, Jan. 12 vs. Colorado Avalanche
Already dreading what Nathan MacKinnon and/or Cale Makar will do to the Blackhawks defense in this game.
Saturday, Jan. 14 vs. Seattle Kraken
We’re just about halfway through the season and the Kraken already have 10 players with 20+ points and 17 in double digits. Chicago has three and 10, respectively.