Better Luck Next Year: The Chicago Blackhawks did their job
They were supposed to be bad, and oh man have they been bad. But have they been bad enough?
Welcome to Better Luck Next Season. As each NHL team gets eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, and then the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we will take a look at what went wrong, what went right, and what sits ahead for them. The Chicago Blackhawks were the third team to be eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention this past week, and you have to give them credit for one thing: They matched expectations. This team stinks. By design.
In the summer of 2022 the Chicago Blackhawks set out on one of the most blatant front office tank jobs in recent NHL memory, rivaling that of the Tim Murray era Buffalo Sabres.
It is not hard to understand why this happened. Nor should anybody really blame them for it.
Their Stanley Cup winning core had either retired, moved on to other teams, or flat out lost its ability to carry a roster or be the foundation of a serious contender. That is to say nothing of the managerial incompetence of the late-stage Stan Bowman era that only accelerated the franchise’s decline into NHL mediocrity. Their only playoff appearance in the previous five seasons was in 2019-20 when they won a preliminary round series in the return to play bubble, upsetting the Edmonton Oilers as the 23rd ranked team in the NHL. In any normal season their playoff drought would be heading into its sixth year.
The team has also not actually won a playoff series since its Stanley Cup Final win in 2015, wining only seven total playoff games in the eight years the since then. And I am being generous and including the bubble preliminary round in there.
It has been a bad team for a while.
But now it was time to be a truly terrible team because there is a franchise-altering prize sitting out there in the 2023 draft class named Connor Bedard.
Nobody associated with an NHL team will ever admit to tanking, and it can not be emphasized enough that players DO NOT TANK. Those guys are playing for jobs, NHL futures, and most of them are not going to be around when the prized draft pick becomes a star and franchise player. So what the hell do they care about draft position? They don’t.
But front offices can strategically position rosters to be bad for their best chance at draft position.
So this past summer Chicago did not tender qualifying offers to restricted free agents Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome (both very good, useful players) and allowed them to become unrestricted free agents, losing them for nothing.
They traded Alex DeBrincat, a two-time 40-goal scorer still in the prime of his career that was still under contract for one full season and under team control for two more seasons, for three draft picks, only one of which was in the first-round.
They traded Kirby Dach, a recent No. 3 overall pick, for a top-15 pick.
That came after dealing a 23-year-old Brandon Hagel at the 2022 trade deadline for a collection of draft picks and prospects.
At that point it became a matter of when, and not if, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane would also be on their way out.
On paper, this was the worst roster in the league to start the season. It has mostly played like that.
What went wrong for the Blackhawks?
Honestly, what can possibly go wrong in a season where the only expectation anybody has for your team is to be bad? Other than perhaps not being bad enough.