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Blackhawks Rebuild Report: The End of an Era in ’17-18

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In the Blackhawks Rebuild Report, Chicago Hockey Now takes an in-depth look at different elements of the Chicago Blackhawks rebuild. All contenders eventually fall into the rebuild cycle of some kind. But these stories are designed to track how the Blackhawks expedited this cycle with a series of poor decisions, and an inability to fix what was broken.

Starting with the 2016-17 season, which started the fall, CHN now looks at 2017-18 and how the Blackhawks would miss the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

The Blackhawks 2017-18 Season

All of the gambles Stan Bowman made failed. It’s the simplest way to explain a complex season. Aside from Marian Hossa walking away because of his skin disorder due to his equipment, Bowman’s trades and signings backfired. The loss of Hossa took away one of Chicago’s best two-way forwards and consistent scorers. Even in his last season where he clearly was slowing, he tallied 26 goals. But other notes of interest:

  • Chicago went 33-39-10, its first sub-.500 season since 2006-07. It would also be the first time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs since 2007-08.
  • The Blackhawks scoring and goals against went from top-third in the league to bottom third.
  • Alex DeBrincat’s rookie season resulted in 52 points and 28 goals. It was the high point of a low season.
  • Bowman couldn’t help himself and brought back a Blackhawk of Glory Season’s Past: Patrick Sharp. In 70 games, he had 21 points (10-11) but at least it wasn’t on a bloated contract.

Chicago was able to tread water until the middle of February when an eight-game losing streak plunged them deeper into the loss column. A five-game losing streak in late March secured the Blackhawks first losing season in over a decade.

Seasons like these would become the norm, and less the anomaly. It would slowly resign Blackhawks fans to the fact that the era of contention was over and that maybe Bowman was part of the problem.

The Aftermath

Bowman declared a first-round exit wasn’t acceptable in 2017-18. Vowing changes, Bowman actually made the team worse, where it plummeted from the best team in the Western Conference to the bottom of the Central Division. It would earn them the eighth pick in the NHL Draft, and they would take Adam Boqvist, who Bowman would trade three years later for Seth Jones in one of his final panic moves. The 29th overall pick he acquired for Ryan Hartman (a rare win) looked less impressive later when it never panned out.

But the real head scratcher of all was that then team president John McDonough would declare Bowman’s job safe. This is the moment where the organization missed the mark. The McDonough piece is best saved for another day, but this was an example of someone misreading a massive problem. He may have been there for three of the Stanley Cup wins, but he was not with the organization when it was being built into contender status. Somewhere along the way, McDonough assumed he was a hockey man when in fact, he was simply great at marketing.

In reality, Bowman crippled the organization by trading Niklas Hjalmarsson and Artemi Panarin. Bowman completely overvalued Brandon Saad, who he acquired for Panarin. The latter, meanwhile, had 82 points with 27 goals. His point production was three times better than Saad’s. The rest is history. While Hjalmarsson was beginning to slow, it was still a hit to the blue line.

Every Blackhawks fan knows how the next several seasons would go, but what the 2017-18 season showed is that the glow was off of the team. Contending no more, they had to make a choice as to whether it was time to tear it down or try to “rebuild on the fly.”

McDonough didn’t want the rebuild, and so they would press on.  All the failed season showed was that there was no interest in doing what was necessary. No, the Blackhawks would continue on, hoping that maybe things would turn around with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane still around.

It would be yet another miscalculation that would continue the organization’s downward spiral.

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