Blackhawks Beaten By The Team They Once Were As Cup Window Closes

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The Chicago Blackhawks’ 2017 postseason run ended on 4/20 and it’s safe to wonder whether we were all hallucinating when projecting this team for a deep Stanley Cup run.

With Thursday’s 4-1 defeat in a do-or-die Game 4, the Blackhawks proved they were probably more of a mirage than anything else. The question we have to ask now is what were we smoking?

The same Blackhawks that won the Western Conference comfortably and the same team that finished with the second-most points in franchise history looked like a team that couldn’t get out of its own way against a younger, hungrier Nashville Predators team.

Granted, Nashville was a sleeping giant, a preseason Cup favorite and a team that shouldn’t have been a wild-card team. But they were, and they dominated.

The Blackhawks looked like the old dogs, the type of team these very Hawks (albeit in different form) used to beat up on in past runs. When they beat up on Western Conference foes it was because they were the spry, swift and more talented team.

But the Hawks just aren’t that team anymore. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are 28. They aren’t old, but the mileage, age and past reliance from Joel Quenneville is adding up. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are 33 and 32, respectively, and these playoffs proved they are no longer the same players they once were.

General manager Stan Bowman elected to add seasoned experience on the blue line, but it never panned out and bit them hard against the fiery Preds. Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya both flopped in their return seasons to The Windy City, thus proving again that nostalgia is sometimes the worst thing in sports.

The youngsters that instilled hope — Nick Schmaltz, Tanner Kero and Ryan Hartman — were clearly overcome by the postseason. Role players such as Richard Panik, Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin flopped incredibly and combined for 2 total points. A team that had six 20-goal scorers during the regular season mustered up three goals in four games.

A bad run? Yes. A hot team? Absolutely. Were the Hawks maybe not as good as we thought they were? Most likely.

So where do we go from here? Well, that’s the greatest question. Even if the Hawks didn’t get swept, there was probably little chance they had the defensive prowess to overcome the feisty Predators three more times. The Hawks were overmatched on the blue line, plain and simple. And that’s where Bowman needs to start next.

For starters, Michal Kempny and Gustav Forsling better start the season with the big league club and stay there. It’s fair to say you could’ve gotten similar production from Kempny as you would’ve Oduya, who was the equivalent of a traffic cone.

But maybe the Blackhawks need to try and say goodbye to one of its franchise defenders. That means a possible trade for Seabrook, and maybe even Keith. The only problem is both contracts are gigantic. Seabrook certainly isn’t worth the whopping $46 million he’s due over the next seven years. Keith might have more value, but still has six years on his deal.

Chicago also needs to hope this is the worst it’ll ever get collectively from Schmaltz, Kero and Hartman in the postseason going forward. If not, there could be greater problems at hand. The center depth was also exposed in the faceoff circle and finding a guy who can win an occasional draw besides Toews might be a wise investment.

But with cap constraints limiting Bowman per usual, the Blackhawks simply might not have any other choice but to add young talent and hope it comes to fruition quickly. If not, Chicago’s Stanley Cup championship window might be slamming shut.

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Matt is a sports journalist from Chicago who has covered the NFL, NHL and college sports during his sport writing career.