CHICAGO (MCT) — With enough force to draw a 10-minute misconduct, the best sports marketing department in Chicago consistently hammers us with how we should define the Blackhawks.
Not 101 points.
So when Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman urged everyone Wednesday to focus on the last six months rather than a second straight first-round playoff exit, it struck me as inconsistent — like everything else about the 2011-12 Hawks.
“You have to look at the whole season, not just the ending,” Bowman said. “This is what you’re measured on, your playoffs. But you can’t throw out 101 points.”
You can if the pursuit of one goal still guides every hockey decision.
Indeed the Hawks enjoyed a good year overall. But, given expectations, it wasn’t good enough for Bowman to sound so comfortable embracing the status quo on a day the Hawks should have been preparing for the Predators. Like his team’s play too often, Bowman’s message lacked the necessary urgency.
The Hawks aren’t like the White Sox or Cubs; making the playoffs no longer qualifies as success. I came to the United Center interested in hearing Bowman address how to fix what went wrong instead of how to process what went right. I hoped to hear more resolve than rationalization from the pro sports GM suddenly under more pressure in the city than his four peers.
Bowman stopped short of fully endorsing goaltender Corey Crawford but appeared more bothered by the defense in front of Crawford than the guy who gave up two soft goals in overtime. He scoffed at the need for a second-line center and supported moving Patrick Kane there full time over finding an outside alternative to let Kane stay at his natural position.
He used the word synergy to describe a relationship with coach Joel Quenneville that was tested, among other times, during a nine-game losing streak. He overstated the importance of injured winger Daniel Carcillo, whose absence had little to do with the most pressing issues.
Of most significance, Bowman seemed more unwilling than Quenneville to tinker with a core group on a team that has struggled maintaining its edge since winning the Cup.
“It doesn’t make sense to trade one of those (players) to get the same part back,” Bowman said. “We know these players. We’ve won with these players. They have a lot of character, a lot of ability. They’re young. They’re proven winners. That’s something very valuable. It’s not something we’re fixating on.”
Start fixating, before a championship window regrettably closes.
Forget secondary moves. From one of the NHL’s best nucleuses, I would begin gauging trade interest in Duncan Keith or Patrick Sharp. Keith hasn’t been the same player since 2010 yet would bring more in return than Brent Seabrook, whose big body is what the Hawks need more of anyway. Sharp simply is more tradable than Marian Hossa and worth dangling because Jonathan Toews and Kane remain untouchable. Kane disappeared against the Coyotes but carried the Hawks in Toews’ absence and he’s 23. Toews epitomizes Chicago hockey.
Bowman should lean toward shaking up the roster with a bold move because something’s missing. Firing an assistant coach because of poor special teams won’t dramatically alter a team whose mentality continues to mystify us — and itself. A team this talented shouldn’t be making tee times this early again.
Separately and subtly, Bowman and Quenneville mentioned the same potential cause for why the Hawks have developed a tendency to look like contenders one period and the Blue Jackets the next.
In speaking generally about seeking a better team game, Bowman identified a key as, “getting them to be more committed to play responsible hockey.” Quenneville used similar language after accepting his role in the failed power play but added, “players have to absorb some responsibility as well because they’re the ones who execute it.”
Could irresponsibility — bad focus or approach — be partly responsible for two straight first-round ousters?
A more appropriate word might be complacency, which longtime teammates might not recognize in each other. Call it whatever you want but Quenneville sounded like a guy who knows what he doesn’t have.
“Every year is a different sort of mix and team chemistry is something going forward that should be a concern,” Quenneville said. “When I say a concern, a priority.”
Prioritizing chemistry sometimes requires taking calculated risks. We know Bowman has the brains to make a payroll fit under the salary cap. We will find out if he has the boldness to make the Hawks roster worthy of winning another Stanley Cup, the one and only goal that matters.