It’s been a turbulent few weeks for the Blackhawks. But even that might be selling it short. At 0-7-2, the Blackhawks have been as bad as they can be, and the idea of seeing this team play any games beyond the regular-season is hard to imagine at this point. Yet, just a few weeks ago, we talked about an improved Blackhawks roster that might have a legitimate shot at making the postseason.
According to FiveThirtyEight, the Blackhawks have just a seven percent chance of making the playoffs (down from 35% at the start of October!) and are projected to finish the season with 74 points. While The Athletic’s season simulations have the Blackhawks projected to finish with 76 points, they give Chicago just a three percent chance of making the playoffs. The projections have written the Blackhawks off after just nine games, and quite frankly, the eye test would tell you that the machines are probably right.
Save for flashes here and there; the Blackhawks have been playing a lifeless brand of hockey, one that won’t inspire many to believe that they can defy the odds and turn things around this season, which puts them in a peculiar situation.
Marc-André Fleury’s name was mentioned this weekend as a potential trade target for the Edmonton Oilers by The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman. If the Fleury can play like the version of himself we saw on Saturday night in St. Louis, the Blackhawks might be wise to listen to teams looking for a veteran goaltender for their Stanley Cup aspirations.
There is, of course, the issue of whether or not Fleury would want to be traded or even continue to play if he was traded. Fleury has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, meaning that he has a list of 10 teams to which the Blackhawks could not trade him to this season. Edmonton is probably not on that list, and likely the same goes for legitimate contenders. Fleury was hesitant to move his family across the country this summer after the Blackhawks acquired the veteran netminder from the Golden Knights, but seemed to embrace the move by the time training camp rolled around.
But even if the Blackhawks did entertain offers for Fleury’s services at some point, what kind of value could they get back? Nugent-Bowman assessed Fleury’s value to the Oilers, in particular, like this:
“Given Fleury’s age (37 in November) and contract status, it shouldn’t cost the Oilers a ton to acquire him. However, given their cap constraints (more on that later), they’ll need to come close to making the money work. If they’re dumping Koskinen in the deal (and, remember, he has a partial no-trade clause, too), they’ll almost certainly have to add a sweetener.”
I’d say I wouldn’t plan on getting much back for Fleury, but the addition by subtraction could help pay off in next year’s draft. The Blackhawks dealt their 2022 first-rounder to Columbus in the Seth Jones deal, but they put top-two protection on the pick, so if the Blackhawks were to stay this bad for the duration of the season, they have a shot at a top-two pick in the ’22 NHL Draft.
Silver linings? I suppose. Still, it’s only November 1, and the Blackhawks have another 73 games to play and landing that top-two pick might be just as much of a longshot as making the playoffs are for Chicago.
The team is saying all the right things to the media. They’re talking up the roster, their teammates, and their coach; but also admitting that our eyes aren’t deceiving us, and the results just haven’t been there. But, aside from the players severely underperforming their potential and expectations, there’s another caveat to this whole mess: Jeremy Colliton.
We don’t know what the future holds for Colliton, a Stan Bowman hand-picked hire from day one who has completely lost the confidence of the entire fan base, and at this point, I wouldn’t be shocked if the front office felt the same way. But, for what it’s worth, Scott Powers said this weekend that according to one of his sources, Colliton is not going anywhere at this point, if for no other reason than the organization is still reeling from the blowback of the Jenner & Block report last week.
“the dust has to settle on many fronts for the Blackhawks before they can really do anything else. It also sounds like the Blackhawks’ leadership realizes the past week was taxing on everyone within the organization. The source wasn’t making excuses, but they did believe the analytics would even themselves out over time and that it was still worth noting that they are without Patrick Kane, Henrik Borgström, Jujhar Khaira and Riley Stillman due to COVID-19 and Tyler Johnson, Caleb Jones and Wyatt Kalynuk due to injury.”
The on-ice product isn’t the priority inside the building right now, which means Colliton might be around for a while, if not for the rest of the season. That’s where this all becomes a big fat question mark. There’s no hockey ops department outside of the interim GM Kyle Davidson. The head coach is likely one foot out the door. The organization is (rightfully) taking knock-out punch after knock-out punch in the public relations side of things.
I would love to sit here today and say without any hesitation that there’s one clear-cut direction that the Blackhawks should take at this point. But, still, the reality is, for as bad as the first nine games of the season have gone, there’s a lot of time left between today and when we can start to definitively say that the Blackhawks should do one thing or another. It’s going to be an unsettling case of wait and see for the Blackhawks for the time being. Hopefully, the Wirtz’s are working on rebuilding their hockey operations department so that someone is in place to steer the ship when the time comes to pick a direction this season.