Listening to the Hawks Talk podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis started off the first segment with a question that every Blackhawks fan is dreading: Are the Blackhawks participating in a “silent rebuild?” There is no easy answer because there’s evidence showing they are and aren’t.
Chicago has made it a point in the past couple seasons that they want to get younger. They still have their veteran leaders like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. But they have a majority of young players like Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz, Dylan Sikura, and Vinnie Hinostroza looking to step up and participate in bigger roles.
Their actions in the two recent drafts also speak to more of a rebuild. They looked to keep their draft picks instead of trading for immediate help on the blue line. The selections of young defensemen like Henri Jokiharju and Adam Boqvist, the latter of whom isn’t NHL ready for another couple years, make it seem like the Blackhawks are done with the championship window, for now.
The team’s lack of urgency in free agency also shows that they are looking more towards a rebuild. Their three signings were indicative of that. They signed Cam Ward, a goalie that is meant as support in case Corey Crawford’s health diminishes; Brandon Manning, a defenseman from Philadelphia who appeared to take strides last year but is no way a top-4 option, and Chris Kunitz, a 39-year old winger who is in the twilight of his career.
Now yes, the Blackhawks don’t want to spend money on another long term free agent. But even in a market like this, those are the additions this team makes? After the season Chicago had, fans were clamoring and hoping that they would make more of a splash. Granted, the team could make moves later on, but this is indicative the team is looking more towards the future as opposed to the upcoming season.
On the other side, the team still has the likes of Toews, Kane and Keith. Even with the down year that Keith had, he’s still on a steal of a contract. With those three players, it’s hard to see Chicago throwing these years away. There are several analysts out there that still believe Chicago’s championship window is open, although they admit it’s closing.
They have young and talented players to support the likes of Kane and Toews. DeBrincat isn’t even 21 yet, Schmaltz turned 22 in February, and Sikura is only 23. They have the makings of a core 2.0, and that could improve by the time the defensive prospects are ready to play. Their farm system, once barren of defense, could very well see Jokiharju, Boqvist, and Ian Mitchell relatively soon.
Add in the fact that they are still high on Gustav Forsling, who just turned 22 himself, and this team could see a defense reminiscent of the Stanley Cup winning teams. The team is also expecting that Crawford, who missed 47 games last year with a mysterious condition, will be back and in top form. If that is the case, Chicago is set to be a playoff contender.
The Blackhawks are still talented. They still have the pieces in place to get to the playoffs. And as Vegas showed last year, any team can make it to the Final if they get hot enough. Just two years ago, these Blackhawks were the number one seed in the Western Conference. If they add an impact defenseman, Chicago could make another run.
Ultimately, I don’t think the Blackhawks are silently rebuilding. I think they’re just putting some stop-gap players in place before their next wave of prospects are deemed NHL-ready. They still have an electric Kane, DeBrincat could top 30 goals next season, Schmaltz is expected to take the next step and Toews could still rediscover that gear that made the NHL deem him one of the greatest 100 players in history.
The defense could hold over until those blue line prospects arrive, and this team will be back and making long runs again. There’s a lot of question marks, but this team isn’t quitting.