It wasn't too long ago when the Blackhawks were at the top of the mountain in many regards in the NHL and even in all of pro sports. They won 3 Stanley Cups in 6 seasons and made it to the Conference Finals twice under legendary head coach Joel Quenneville.
Jonathan Toews was arguably the best captain in the league. Patrick Kane cemented his reputation as Show Time. The defense was anchored by the Big 3 in Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Corey Crawford was a championship-caliber goalie.
Don't forget about significant contributions from three-zone wingers Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. The role players were even top notch such as all-terrain agitator Andrew Shaw, shutdown extraordinaire Marcus Kruger, and clutch performer Bryan Bickell.
How far the mighty have fallen, right?
One perspective is that championships are cyclical with peaks followed by valleys. Last month I wrote about the new franchise direction
and how it's being reconstructed to be more sustainable to avoid those valleys and stay indefinitely at or near the peak.
It's pretty clear that the Hawks still have work ahead of them to climb back up the mountain. But the positive is that they may not be as far off with seeds of hope sprouting this season that are acting as harbingers of excitement for being a perennial contender again.
So with that in mind, here are some thoughts to ponder and debate:
1) Remember when the Blackhawks could beat teams any which way whether with speed or finesse or braun or hard work or sheer willpower?
The franchise is rebuilding via a much-needed youth movement and foundation of work ethic and compete level. These elements are paying dividends. Yes, there is much progress to be made -- especially with team defense -- but even greater ROI is theoretically on the horizon.
2) Remember when Kane was considered the best winger in the game?
Kane says don't ever count him out. If this were a full 82-game regular season, he would be on pace to shatter his career high in points (110) by at least 10 points. He isn't in the rearview mirror of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews, and Mitch Marner.
3) Remember when Toews had the determination to carry the team to victories and championships?
While he may be out of commission for now to persevere through an undisclosed ailment, Toews is still revered by his teammates and had never really lost his mettle and moxie even prior to this season. When he's at full capacity to rejoin the team, he's still a born leader.
4) Remember when Keith was criticized for not being on the same wavelength with the new direction of the team?
At least what is perceived in media images, videos, and interviews, Keith seems to be loving the team atmosphere after a few years of frustration. As a result of his renewed enthusiasm, the Hawks are the benefactor as his play is starting to reflect his revival.
5) Remember when the blueline was consistently able to flip the ice?
Adam Boqvist, Ian Mitchell, Nicolas Beaudin, and Lucas Carlsson are showing at varying levels this season that a mobile defense is coming back in style. Wyatt Kalynuk, Alec Regula, and Chad Krys could be the next candidates to provide the depth needed to roll a full set on D.
6) Remember when the bottom 6 could annihilate opponents making them pay at both ends of the ice?
Even though the prospect pipeline has a dearth of top 6 talent, there is an abundance of options to field a killer bottom 6: David Kampf, Matthew Highmore, Brandon Hagel, MacKenzie Entwistle, Andrei Altybarmakian, Evan Barratt, Tim Soderlund, and Landon Slaggert.
7) Remember when there was a dependable goaltending duo consisting of an all-star starter and capable backup?
When Crawford was the constant, he had some solid partners like Ray Emery, Antti Raanta, and Scott Darling. Going into this season, goaltending was a question mark. Increasingly stellar play by Kevin Lankinen and Malcolm Subban have alleviated that concern.
8) Remember when the system prospects were rarely ranked in the upper echelon of the league?
Rankings don't matter. What's more important is that the Hawks prospects who are matriculating to the big club are ready to play as impact players, not treading water or sinking but swimming with some showing that they could soon do laps around the competition.
9) Remember when head coach Jeremy Colliton wouldn't amount to anything given he had zero track record coaching in the NHL?
Being the successor to the second-winningest coach in NHL history wasn't a good position to begin with but this season Colliton has the Hawks not only on the same page as a team -- from veterans to youngsters -- but competing for a playoff berth in a tough division.
Carlsson is skating again in practices but is still technically on IR due to a strained groin. He looks to be on his way to full recovery soon which will beg the question of what to do with him.
In an interview a few days ago, Colliton admitted that 12F/6D is the best lineup format to accomplish what the coaches have in mind for the team. If that's the case, Carlsson becomes the reserve:
Keith - Mitchell
de Haan - Boqvist
Zadorov - Murphy
Taxi squad: Bowey
Could a veteran like Calvin de Haan get a breather with a more intense schedule this month, especially this week with 3 games in 4 nights against the Lightning? If so, enter Carlsson.
But if Carlsson still isn't ready to go, yet a veteran needs a maintenance day, that's Bowey's chance to slot in and continue to prove that he can bring value and contribute.
According to a Rockford news source
, the Blackhawks are reportedly set to buy the IceHogs from the City of Rockford. The Hawks affiliation agreement with the Hogs is set to expire next year.
See you on the boards!