Chicago sports fans are all too familiar with the “rebuild”. The Cubs seemed to be an eternal rebuild for the better part of 108 years (albeit with a few strong teams scattered in). The White Sox, notice they are not being excluded here Pat Sajak, have been stuck in a rebuild vs reload cycle since their 2005 title. The Bears have been attempting to rebuild since their Super Bowl XLI loss to Peyton Manning and the Colts. The Bulls started their rebuild-which has taken shape much faster than most expected – with a draft day blockbuster trade of Jimmy Butler to the Tom Thibodeau Minnesota TimberBulls (shout-out Big Cat). Of the four major sports teams, only the Blackhawks have gone without a “rebuild” over the last several years. Up to this point, Stan Bowman and Co. had become masters of retooling on the fly, of piecing together the right supporting cast to compliment the often-dominant core. That was until things changed this season.
Enter the unannounced rebuild of the Chicago Blackhawks.
The 2016-17 season came and went with the Hawks cruising through the regular season and entering the playoffs with the highest point total in the Western Conference. Then it all went so horribly wrong. A 4 game sweep at the hand of the Nashville Predators in which the Blackhawks were outscored 13-4. The press conference following the end of the year, saw an emotional Stan Bowman declare that changes had to be and would be made and that the performance was unacceptable. This was expected and most Hawks fans figured the looming offseason would see additions of some strong role players that would help the team return to making another deep playoff run. That was exactly the approach that the front office took in bringing back Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and going young on the defensive side. As the year has progressed, the outlook for this team has gone from the cheerfully optimistic, to missing expectations, and now the realization that they are just flat bad.
As we stand today, the Blackhawks are 24-25-8 and sit 12 points out of the final playoff spot in the West. Bowman stated at a recent presser that the Hawks in fact would not be buyers at the upcoming deadline. This is the first time in 9 years the organization approaches the trading deadline with any approach other than adding pieces for a Stanley Cup run.
What does this leave as the alternative?
One that was unexpected and unannounced prior to the season as most, if not all the aforementioned Chicago versions have been. This was not planned. This was not prepared for. Rather the Blackhawks and their fans have seen the window for championship contention slammed shut. Closed so quickly and forcefully in fact, that there are even several members of the city’s media throwing around the idea of moving Johnathan Toews. Such an idea would have caused organized protests in years past yet now it’s a thought that doesn’t even cause pause.
The Blackhawks run of dominance surely appears over. For the first time there is talk from management about having to reconvene over the off-season and determine the path of the franchise. A few short months ago everything seemed primed and ready for another strong season led by the veteran core and aided with the new and younger supporting cast. The current state has me wondering if guys like Toews and Kane will be wearing different jerseys in the coming years.