Fair warning, everything that comes next in this post is almost certainly fantasy. It’s what the Hawks should do, but almost certainly what they won’t. You know the truth, I know the truth, but the truth hasn’t found purchase in the barren wasteland of the Hawks’ braintrust in a long time. While the Hawks have lost five straight, they will use their effort last night–which was very good–and the unlucky nature of the defeats to Boston and arguably Minnesota as justification that the results will turn around sharpish and they’ll be back in it.
And on the surface, the Hawks can make that argument. They’re six points back with two games in hand on the Yotes and one on the Flames, who just happen to be next up on the schedule. And with as bad as the West is, and with the amount of teams in this jumble, it’s kind of hard to just fall out of it. It’s also nearly impossible to climb into it.
But you don’t need an archeological team to get beneath the surface to see the truth. The Hawks are in last, and they’re two points behind the Wild who very well may be giving up in that they’ve already traded Jason Zucker. This is a team that had to go 12-6-0 just get to get back into the bottom of the conversation of the playoffs. But this isn’t a team that wins 12 of 18. This is a team that wins 12 of 23, as they now have done. That’s who they are.
Right now, the Coyotes are on pace for 89 points. The Hawks are on pace for 83 (EIGHTY-THREE). The Hawks would have to play at a 101-point pace to get to 89, which might not be enough. And I guess, if you were the most cock-eyed of cock-eyed optimist, you could say they already played at a 101-point once for six weeks there. Do you honestly think they have it in them again?
And by every metric, the Hawks are where they should be. They’re one of the worst defensive teams in the league. They’ve outscored what they have created, though they’re built to do that. What’s going to get better here? Certainly not the goaltending. It can’t. Maybe DeBrincat has a two- to three-week binge in him. Maybe the power play binges for no reason other than the sense of humor of the gods. But how much can that rise above the horrific defense? How is this team going to leap over four teams?
So here’s the question the Hawks’ front office has to answer, though we know how they will: While there is value for the younger players to play in games that matter and have stakes, does that matter more than what they can gather long term by selling at the deadline? It’s clear it would not. Long-term, the Hawks are still at least a winger short (likely two) and two d-men short. If they want to say Ian Mitchell is one of those d-men, I’ll take it, but you still need one more. And none of those answers are in the system. The pipeline…she be dry.
So what can the Hawks do here? If you were to separate out Erik Gustafsson, Robin Lehner, possibly Corey Crawford, maybe Drake Caggiula, maybe Olli Maatta and think what you could collectively for all of them…maybe a 1st round pick, a 3rd or 4th round pick, and a prospect or two. The last of which probably won’t amount to more than a couple lottery tickets, but you need lottery tickets. And an additional 1st rounder could be combined with the Hawks’ 1st rounder to acquire an actual piece at the draft. You never know how that will shake out. Or you just use your two first rounders and maybe you get something for 2021-2022. Or maybe you package your first rounders to get into the top five. I don’t know, but what I do know is it gives you options you need.
Because if one summer trade and one free agent signing get you another winger and d-man, and you can solve your goaltending without breaking the bank (i.e. some combo of Talbot, Markstrom, Crawford, Halak, Murray, Greiss, Khudobin, who are all free agents and not all will be ewxpensive), now you’re ready to do more than just scrape in as a wildcard and get your brains beaten in by the Blues.
Maybe if Colliton finally has the mobile blue line–which it would be with Boqvist, Mitchell, Murphy, Keith, and acquisition to come–his high-pressure system has a chance, if you’re determined to stick with it. That’s a discussion for another time.
The biggest frustration with the Hawks over the past couple seasons, distilled down to its essence, is a complete lack of vision. Everything is made up on the fly. In the summer of 2017 it was we have to get younger and faster. So in came Saad and Murphy, out went Panarin and Hjalmarsson. And then that just stopped. Strome isn’t fast. de Haan isn’t fast. Maatta isn’t fast. Gustafsson isn’t fast. Koekkoek isn’t fast. And suddenly it was about blocking shots and being gritty. And all of it has left the Hawks spinning their wheels.
Now’s the time to show you have vision. Yeah, the playoff spot is visible, if you squint. But trust your fans to see the big picture, because they do. They’re dying for the Hawks to see it as well.
If Keith gets pissed off at another lost season, so be it. Is he really going to be a part of your next very good team at 38? Would Kane? Well, there’s your chance to really reset everything. There is opportunity here, if you only see it that way instead of the end.
Where does the vision come from, though? Do you trust Stan to do the sell-off much less the final touches of a rebuild which he hasn’t gotten right yet? Does McDonough know this? Does he have the balls to fire Stan now and get someone in to do this job? Is it too late? Will Stan follow instruction? Will he even get it?
This is the frustration, because we’re pretty damn sure these questions aren’t even being asked in those offices, much less being answered. But it’s time now. You’re done.
Or you can continue to chase this playoff spot you won’t get. Lehner and Crawford can both walk. Seabrook wants back in. You have no prospects. Maybe Mitchell doesn’t want any part of this. Where are you then?
The answer is clear to us. It’s time they see it.