Many hockey fans know the story of the Chicago Blackhawks and their ascension from the depths on the hockey underworld. They went from not being on TV and playing in front of 5500 fans per night to a perennial contender with the longest sell-out streak in the history of the NHL. However, over the past couple of years, the Blackhawks haven’t been the team they once were.
2016-2017: The Beginning of the End
The Playoff Run That Wasn’t
In the offseason following a playoff defeat at the hands of division rival St. Louis Blues, the Blackhawks traded away more assets. Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell were sent to the Carolina Hurricanes for a couple of draft picks. Teravainen, affectionately called Turbo by his teammates went on to be a top-line forward while Bickell retired the next year following being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Andrew Shaw also hit the road and was sent north to the Montreal Canadiens for more draft picks.
The Blackhawks gloated a defending league MVP and Rookie of the year duo in Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. They had 6 players score over 20 goals that year: Kane (33), Panarin (31), Artem Anisimov (26), Richard Panik (22) and captain Jonathan Toews (21). They finished 1st in the Western Conference and won the President’s Trophy.
The assassination of Julius Caesar began in Nashville when the empire was at its peak. The unit marched into Nashville with confidence and left a week later with mellow drinking songs to the tune of two sweeps and one overtime loss. The Blackhawks scored 0 goals combined in Games one and two at home. Then they traveled to Nashville and lost 2-3 in OT in Game 3. Game 4 was an unceremonious 1-4 loss, ending the series. Just like that, the unbeatable team of superhumans was beaten. They had lost their foothold on the rest of the league.
2017-2018: Pushing the Panic Button
The 2017-2018 offseason was the Blackhawks panicking after a playoff sweep that never should’ve happened. Panarin was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Brandon Saad, brought back after being traded two years before. Niklas Hjalmarsson was shipped to the Arizona Coyotes for Connor Murphy, who has been one of the most consistent defensemen the team has had in recent years. Veteran winger Marian Hossa announced he would not play due to a skin condition he suffered from his equipment.
These questionable trades led to a free fall from 1st in the Western Conference to 13th. They went 33-39-10 and did not qualify for the postseason.
Team President John McDonough announced that coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman, this empire’s version of Bruno would return for the following season.
2018-2019: Coach Q’s Exile
2018 was an improvement from the previous year for the Blackhawks. Both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane posted career highs in points. Alex Debrincat put up 41 goals in his second NHL season. However, this team was plagued by bad defense and ended up finishing with a record of 36-34-12, 10th in the conference.
In the midst of a November losing streak, Bowman and Quenneville were reportedly involved in a power struggle that ended with Quenneville losing his job. The Blackhawks had lost three straight games. Under new head coach Jeremy Colliton, they lost three more (one in OT). They followed this up with two wins sandwiched between an overtime loss. Then the growing pains began to kick in and they won one of their next three and went on an eight-game losing streak that extended into December.
In the following months, the Blackhawks actually had a momentary chance to make the playoffs. They went 9-4-0 in February following the All-Star break. The powerplay was kicking into high gear and the offense was hot. The Achilles heel of the team, the defense, was obsolete because the offense was playing like a well-oiled machine and could not stop scoring…until it did. After a couple of costly losses in late February, their fate was signed, sealed and delivered.
They finished 9-6-3 in the final 2 months of the season, an admirable effort but it was too little too late. Then, they looked again to the next year and vowed to be better.
2019-2020: Somehow Getting Worse
The Blackhawks entered the 2019-2020 season with optimism. They had acquired defensemen Olli Maatta and Calvin De Haan. They acquired Andrew Shaw to add some much-needed toughness to the lineup. Rookie standout Dominik Kubalik is in the middle of a 30 goal season and a run at the Calder Trophy. Their problem still lies in the defense. They brought in goaltender Robin Lehner as a complement to Corey Crawford before trading him at the deadline. De Haan was injured just a couple months into the season and his loss was costly. Rookie defensemen Adam Boqvist entered the fold early. He went through various growing pains as the season progressed.
At this point, the team has character and remains optimistic. With less than 20 games left, they sit at the bottom of the Central Division 6 points out of a playoff spot. They’re hopeful they can put a run together. The Blackhawks look to be equipped with a new core of Kubalik, Debrincat, Boqvist, and newcomer Ian Mitchell. Mitchell hasn’t joined the team yet but may make his debut in April, at the very end of the season. The optimism isn’t unwarranted and there’s still a little bit of hope. The future seems bright even without a playoff berth this year. Hockey’s Roman Empire may have one last stand in the very near future.