It was clear entering this season that Chicago Blackhawks head coach Jeremy Colliton was one of the coaches on the hot seat.
And, in the midst of an organizational sexual abuse investigation that sent GM Stan Bowman packing his bags and leaving, the heat on Colliton increased every day – until Saturday, when the team fired Collition and decided to go, on an interim basis, with former NHLer Derek King as their bench boss.
But if anyone thinks getting rid of Colliton is going to result in immediate improvements for the Hawks on the ice, they should have a Kit Kat and have a break. Chicago’s lineup is not deep, at both forward and defense. They’re depending on too many 20-25-year-olds to get them in the win column on a regular basis. And unless Blackhawks management has more tricks up its sleeve, there’s a very good chance the Hawks are going to remain where they are now – at or near the bottom of the Central Division, better than the colossally awful Arizona Coyotes, but not by much.
In many ways, the Blackhawks are going through the same competitive trajectory as fellow Original Six franchise Detroit – they win a few Stanley Cups, but then Father Time, in collaboration with the Salary Cap and the Injury Bug, interjects and slowly strips away their talent. They hang on desperately to the cornerstones (Nicklas Lidstrom, Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk), but they eventually have to say goodbye to them, and they don’t find adequate replacements. Extensive roster change happens, but their win total drops in almost every season. Before long, they plummet to the bottom of the standings, struggle to get out of the death spiral, and begin contemplating the trading of players they’d consider untouchable only a few years earlier.
That’s basically where the Hawks are now. And that brings us to the status of Chicago star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Nobody is saying Kane or Toews should be calling their real estate representative and preparing to sell their homes, but given the urgent need for improvement in Chicago, all options should be on the table for Bowman’s successor, interim GM Kyle Davidson. The Blackhawks already have dismantled the roster to a notable degree: they traded defensive star blueliner Duncan Keith this past summer, and they’ve been without Brent Seabrook since the 2019-20 season.
But wait, there’s more: Chicago has not found a player who can give them what forward Marian Hossa gave to them in the glory years. They don’t have a replacement for D-man Niklas Hjalmarsson, who has been gone from their lineup since 2017. They don’t have someone at the level of former Hawks star forward Patrick Sharp, and they don’t have a savvy blueliner like Brian Campbell. Yes, it’s true they now have defenseman Seth Jones. But as we’re seeing this season, Jones is not a one-man team transformation machine. He has wobbled thus far as a Hawk, but he hasn’t had the assistance and/or familiarity he had in Columbus.
One-player-by-one-player, bit-by-bit, the Blackhawks have been chiseled away into a shell of their best teams. They do have players they shouldn’t be trading under virtually any circumstance – Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach, for instance – but Chicago now is at a point where honesty, however painful, needs to rule the day. And that includes looking at potentially moving Toews and Kane.
A team on the precipice of a long Stanley Cup playoff run might bite on Kane or Toews, and their $10.5-million-per-season contracts, which expire at the end of the 2022-23 campaign. Sure, they’d have a cap issue in that 2022-23 season, but they just might figure it will be worth it. That’s on Davidson, or a permanent Hawks GM replacement, to work out. We’ll need another couple months to see the standings shake out and buyers and sellers will come to the forefront. And that’s when Davidson should act.
Could both Kane and Toews give a team the shot in the arm they need, and be worth the cap space for one more year? I think the answer is yes. It will take guts to be the guy forever known as the guy who traded Toews or Kane, but in the long run, a proper trade of either star will bring back the young talent that’ll propel Chicago back into the legitimate Cup contender mix.