We found out recently that the Blackhawks season was over, when they lost 15 of their last 20 games, but now it’s official. By trading Ryan Hartman for what amounts to an extra first round pick, the Hawks have officially sent up the white flag, declared no mas and will next announce that they will shut down any rehab or comeback by goalie Corey Crawford for this season.
I thought that they could hang around the playoff picture a month ago, but am glad that the season has become lost for the Hawks. The balance of power in the league has dramatically shifted to the Western conference with it’s inclusion of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, and the way the expansion draft worked out for them. Las Vegas was more than competitive this year as teams league wide, looked to slash payrolls, by making available a slew of overpaid stars from which the Golden Knights could choose. Some of that talent was also flipped in trades to improve system depth and gather draft picks for the future. Now the league may have created a monster if not their next dynasty, in allowing Las Vegas to resemble an all-star team.
The fortunes of the league, or lack of it to be exact, is what has cost the Blackhawks any future glory or team of the decade status. When Toews and Kane were signed to matching mega contracts it was believed that the NHL, would continue to grow as a sport and get bigger television contracts going forward. It has not, and the league has had to shrink their allowable salary cap space for each team several times, since the Hawks won their first cup in this era, nearly a decade ago. So while the core of the Hawks has been well paid, the lack of television ratings and contract revenue from major networks has forced the Hawks to sell off valuable young parts of their franchise. What is left is largely untradeable, expensive contracts of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Jonathan Toews, and a mix of young talent that just hasn’t jelled under the impatient eye of head coach Joel Quenneville.
Now that the Hawks have surrendered this year, Quenneville can start to focus on his young players development, reduce the playing time of his stars and start to find cohesiveness to match the talent that GM Stan Bowman believes he has put in place. It will also give the Hawks the opportunity to see if current backup goalies Berube and Forsberg, could be goalies of the future. If they are not, then look for the Hawks to draft one of the top collegiate goalies out of the frozen four, and the best player available with the pick Nashville gave up for Hartman.
Moving on… to the Bulls, Chicago’s other winter team.
Bulls fans have been talking about tanking since before the season started. With up to five, maybe as high as eight, possible franchise players being eligible for the draft this year, getting into the lottery and being non-playoff performing has been the more desirable trajectory for at least 10 teams in the NBA this year.
Expected to trade most, if not all, their veteran players, the Bulls traded just Nicola Mirotic, but received a first round pick for him. It’s possible that both of the Bulls picks, theirs and New Orleans, end up in the lottery. If the New Orleans pick doesn’t, the Bulls will have enough assets and bargaining chips to move into the top 5 if they desire. If the Bulls pick alone, ends up in the top 5, the Bulls will probably stand pat and select the best players around their developing young core of point guard Kris Dunn, shooting guard Zach LaVine, and power forward Lauri Markkanen.
If the Bulls play their cards right, they might be the next championship contender in the Chicago. That’s a topic for another day.