Having dropped 4 of their past 5 contests and now trailing the Colorado Avalanche by 7 points for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference playoff hunt, it’s a apparent the once-luxurious Blackhawks ship is sinking with the haste of a torpedoed ocean liner carrying 1,000 more people than it’s capacity allows.

For modern Blackhawks fans, 2017-2018 has been an unorthodox experience to say the least – almost alien in comparison to the grandeur of past, far more absorbing seasons. This opulence has molded our expectations. Our spoiled appetites, having grown accustomed to only the finest cuisines, are instinctively rebelling in the face of mediocrity.

Comparatively speaking, we as a fans have yet to acclimate our pain thresholds to the gut-punch of first round exits, let alone the prospect of missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs entirely. Cooperatively, we indeed expected regression in 2017-2018, but a lapse in the way of baby-steps. A full-on nose dive into the abyss normally reserved for the Colorado Avalanche, Buffalo Sabres and Edmonton Oilers is an idea even the most creatively pessimistic of us couldn’t have conjured. A plummeting so sudden and so steep and so debilitating that the phrase “chasing the Colorado Avalanche” has evolved from terrible joke to nightmarish reality.

Fan’s reaction to last season’s elimination at the hands of the Nashville Predators was the closest thing to how I’d imagine the general population would react to  news of a humanity-threatening asteroid striking Earth next week. The deepest, darkest, most desolate and crime-ridden back-alleyways of my imagination couldn’t even begin to fathom such a scene as the Blackhawks being eliminated from playoff contention. The only portrait my brain can muster lies somewhere between “The Purged” and South Philadelphia following the Eagles Super Bowl birth-clinching win on Sunday night.

I’m coming to terms with reality. Jim Morrison’s haunting but enchanting; eerie but prophetic; somber but enlightening “The End” echoes in my subconscious. The Blackhawks as we’ve grown to know them – the dynastic, borderline-magical and perennial ascendancy feared by all across the NHL –  are no more. It’s time to move on, to let old things die as Kylo Ren would monologue. It’s time to embrace the coming change.

As a fun, little interactive social experiment, I reached out to you, the fan, to gauge which direction you think the Blackhawks should head. Here’s what some of you came up with. I apologize if i wasn’t able to get to all your tweets or comments. There’s only so many hours in the day.

For one, if we’re in the midst of ushering in a youth movement here in Chicago, I think the last thing we’d expect the franchise to do is, well, move youth for big money – especially when the NCAA guys you’re referring to would likely translate to Dylan Sikura. The only logical incentive for the Blackhawks to make a power play for a guy like Matt Duchene is if they found themselves in immediate championship contention and one gun away from a run, which they very much are not. Besides, trouble seems to follow Duchene everywhere he goes. Look at Colorado since his departure and Ottawa (who also perceived Duchene as the one, missing piece) since his arrival. That’s no coincidence. The Senators, as you might recall, are a group that was one overtime goal from a Stanley Cup Final last year. Now they’re staring down a lottery pick in June’s draft. A locker room cancer, and an expensive one at that, is the last thing this club needs right now. As for the KHL guys, I like where your head is, but not for the players you mentioned. Makarov, whose, (correct me if I’m wrong) rights are still owned by Buffalo, couldn’t hack it in the Sabres organization and ran off to the KHL the second he fell behind prospects Linus Ullmark and Jason Kasdorf on Buffalo’s organizational depth chart. There’s nothing that spells Makarov being NHL ready. On the other hand, Nalimov’s rights are owned by the Blackhawks, but by all indication, the 23-year old has no intention of leaving Russia any time soon. If I’m looking at the KHL, it’s for talented skaters. I know the odds of discovering Panarin 2.0 are in the same equivalence as Bigfoot discovering the cure to Alzheimer’s but it wouldn’t hurt to invest in some cheap, low-risk, high-reward potential contributors. People also forget, Anton Forsberg remains very much in the fold to inherit the Blackhawks net at some point in the future. He’s still relatively young and exceptionally raw at 25 (apparent in his visibly inconsistent play this season) and if it wasn’t for the lack of goaltending depth on this roster, he probably wouldn’t have broken camp with the Blackhawks in the first place.

This is a pipe dream. Shea Theodore is, indeed, going to be formidable, core member of the Knights defensive corps for a long, long time which is why the idea of the first place Vegas Knights dealing him at the height of their meteoric emergence makes about as much sense as the Blackhawks trading Duncan Keith in 2009 – despite Theodore’s looming restricted free agency. Also, James Neal is the closest thing to a “face of the franchise” Vegas has. Not to mention his 21 goals, good for second on the team and tied for 6th in the NHL is essential to their (I still can’t believe I am saying this 45+ games into the season) high-octane offense and prospective Stanley Cup run. Even if the Knights sucked and Neal was available, I still wouldn’t want him at the present moment. Like Matt Duchene, you only make a move like that if you’re one piece away from winning. Again, the Blackhawks are not. He also makes too much money and is signed for another 3 seasons. And on top of all this, what GM in their right mind would take Hartman, Jurco and Gustafsson for James Neal and Shea Theodore? Try Alex DeBrincat, Ryan Hartman and a first at the very least. There’s a reason Hartman has been a healthy scratch a few times this season and Jurco and Gus have played in a combined 3 big league games, spending the vast majority of the 2017-2018 season in the AHL: They’re not very good.

I’m trying to come to grips with what exactly “forcing Seabrook’s hand” means. Seeing that this isn’t Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and Don Corleone and his right-hand muscle Luca Brasi aren’t there to ensure that either Seabrook’s signature or brains go on the contract, I don’t think such a thing as forcing a player’s hand exists in professional hockey. And on the topic of Scott Darling, he’s won 9 of his 29 starts this season, recorded a save percentage of .892 and owns an 3.02 goals against average. All three of these rank statistically as either the absolute worst in hockey or among the worst in the NHL among starting netminders. For as bad as Anton Forsberg has been, he hasn’t been any worse than Scott Darling – who might I add, is making over $4 million a year for the next three seasons and not even a single, full year into his contract has already forfeited his starting crease to 33-year old veteran Cam Ward. On top of all this, find me a General Manager willing to carry two goalies earning over $4 million each in the salary cap era and I’ll show him the front door to a respected mental institution. And before anyone says “trade Crawford” make sure you research the meaning of a “No-Movement Clause” before I recommend running your head through the closest wall. If you proceed in this command in reverse order you’ll be too woozy to read or comprehend its meaning.

The only way this would be feasible is if Seabrook, Toews or Kane were moved before Panarin hits free agency at the conclusion of next season. Otherwise the money and, more importantly, the term Panarin will likely seek in free agency will be insurmountable with the Blackhawks current predicament. It is also likely that after a series a bridge contracts, The Bread Mad, as I previously mentioned, will seek out a long-tern contract. Quite frankly, he has earned that security. No one is arguing against that. The problems resides in the fact that he’ll be 28-years of age at the time of his next contract and I’m willing to bet Stan Bowman will forever think twice before gifting players in twilight years of their 20’s long-term deals. In other words, don’t count on it.

If you can move Keith now, you do it immediately in my opinion. He’s only going to grow more and more unappealing with age. And while his contract seemingly lasts until the end of eternity, his cap hit is relatively low enough for teams to accommodate him without much hesitation because the reality is that there are far worse defenders out there making more money per year than Keith currently is. Keith’s hit ($5.5) is pretty much the going rate for an above-average defenseman these days. That said, if you’re dead set on moving him, I wouldn’t want big name money back. If you’re moving Keith, it’s to alleviate his cap hit – not replace it – while adding pieces for the future. And while Pacioretty is only signed for another year, he’d likely be the primary chip of what you’d be getting back. If I’m moving a franchise icon like Duncan Keith, it’s not going to be for a rental winger. I need a top prospect or draft picks. Plus, from the Montreal Canadiens standpoint, the average age of their defensive corps right now is about 30-years old. It’d be absolutely mind-boggling to want to add a 34-year old with five years remaining on his contract to that already geriatric fold. And then the dark cloud looming over all is Keith’s total no-movement clause. He’d be nuts to want to get involved in that ever-worsening, Marc Bergevin-manufactured shitshow in Montreal.

Embrace the tank, people! The Blackhawks should have one goal for the remainder of the season and that goal goes by the name of Rasmus “Connor McFenseman” Dahlin, the surefire #1 pick in June’s NHL draft. I was never one to commit to the idea of purposely losing for the purpose of draft gain until I saw this freakshow’s performance in the World Junior Championships and now I’m to the point I think I’d donate a kidney to see him donning an Indian-head sweater. In all seriousness, though, how batshit insane and borderline-nuclear do you think the rest of the league would become if the Blackhawks, who currently possess the 9th best lottery odds, landed the #1 pick in this summer’s draft? The league offices would burn for days and Gary Bettman would be tried by a pitchfork-wielding lynch mob in goalie masks for collusion.

This. And then lets not forget trading Alex DeBrincat for Andrew Shaw, Henri Jokiharju for Brandon Mashinter and then, only after cutting Crawford, giving Antti Niemi a 5-year, $25 million contract.

This pretty much hits the nail on the head. For as hard as it would be to trade Duncan Keith, it’ll be ten thousand times harder to move Brent Seabrook. The stars would literally have to align in such a cosmically-anomalous way that many ancient cultures would likely interpret it as a sign of the coming apocalypse. I detailed just how complicated such a scenario would be in an article I authored last summer. 

Interesting. Of all the replies on here, Tony was the first to mention Patrick Kane’s name. Before I begin talking about Kane – I’ll discuss a potential Kane deal below, under Ed Gomoll’s comments, I have to note that it is funny you mention Brandon Saad as well because, truth is, I was having the same exact thoughts just last night. He very well may be the Blackhawks’ most tradeable asset. He’s still only 25 – though it seems like he’s been around for decades, he’s relatively affordable – $6 million isn’t cheap but it has basically, by default, evolved into the standard price for young, top-six forwards and most importantly, he is seemingly the only Blackhawk of noteworthy value who doesn’t possess any sort of no-movement clause. Should the Blackhawks move on from what many angry fans are deeming an experiment that has gone horribly wrong? I guess it all depends on what you’d get back. If we truly are aiming at a youth movement here, it simply wouldn’t make much sense to deal a 25-year old who is still very much in the prime years of his career. Personally, I’m a firm believer that Saad’s best days are ahead of him. Not to mention, the Blackhawks re-acquisition of Saad, who has never been a particularly formidable regular season performer to begin with (he’s on pace for about 47 points this season which would leave him 6 short of his career high), was more-so about addressing the team’s recent playoff woes. Aside from his goal-scoring numbers being down, his performance has actually been, well, pretty standard Brandon Saad. His possession analytics are, as usual, off the charts, his defensive prowess is as reliable and efficient as ever and his netfront presence is as disruptive as it’s ever going to be. The kid just can’t finish his scoring chances. It ain’t from lack of effort either, as his 145 shots on goal rank among the upper percentile of NHL skaters. It’s that measly, glaring, grotesque 9% shooting percentage sparking the uproar and hyperbole from Artemi Panarin apologists – who probably aren’t aware themselves, at least at the time I am writing this, that Saad has more goals, a better +/-, and relatively similar possession numbers to Panarin this season. Simple people like shiny things. Panarin, though a disappearing act quite frequently himself, made up for for his absences with flashy, highlight-reel dazzlers. Saad’s work in the trenches isn’t as cinematic or noticeable and therefore doesn’t garner the acclaim it deserves. All in all, it’s far too early to just give up on a snakebitten 25-year old. Though, if the package was lip-lickingly irresistible, I’d probably reconsider. You’d just first have to ask yourself, “does what you are getting back have better potential than what you’re giving up?”

Onto the subject we’re all waiting to hear about, Patrick Kane. Personally, I would move Kane in the blink of an eye, but only if offered a haul that would literally rejuvenate the entire Blackhawks farm system overnight. Think of it in terms of the White Sox trade of Chris Sale. If I’m moving Kane, I’m getting back 2, perhaps 3, absolutely no-brainer, potentially franchise-altering prospects to go along with draft picks. And for those of you thinking, “who the hell has that to give up?”, my answer to you is “exactly”. Remember when I detailed how complicated it would be to trade Brent Seabrook? Multiply the tediousness of that ordeal by about 50. The same goes for Jonathan Toews – who, in actuality, would be much, much harder to trade than Kane – who, himself, would be nearly impossible to deal. Still with me here? Take the hoops you’d have to jump through in order to move Seabrook, light them on fire, add razor blades to the edges, close your eyes and jump. This is the best metaphor I can think of in regards to how complicated trading Kane would be. Anyway, let’s examine these leaps and bounds. First, there’s the preliminary requirements:

1. A team needs to have $10.5 million in cap space over a 5 year period to accommodate Kane’s cap hit

2. That team must ALSO possess and be willing to separate from multiple franchise-elevating prospects and first round draft picks.

3. Patrick Kane must be willing to waive his total no-movement clause to be traded to this destination.

You see where the dilemma lies here? I don’t think there has existed a team in NHL history that can fulfill these very demanding and complicated stipulations all at once. It’s like saying I want a girlfriend, but only on the pretense that she is a supermodel, billionaire, has the same taste in movies, television shows, and music as myself and, oh, she must also possess an encyclopedic knowledge of sports. It just isn’t going to happen. Plus, if you traded Kane, fan-bros across the city would literally riot because, “I just bought this Kaner jersey, bro.”

I fundamentally agree with virtually everything stated in Frank and Matt’s tweets above. Although I’ve found myself especially critical of Joel Quenneville in the past – mostly nitpicks regarding his lineup decisions – firing one of the greatest coaches NHL history solves nothing, especially when there exists no available replacement out there you can consider an upgrade. Each of their points pretty much hammers home what my approach would be: patience with the younglings and slow but careful changing of the guard from one core to the next. The day the success of the Blackhawks doesn’t rest of the shoulders of aging vets Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford or even Toews or Kane is the day the Blackhawks will find themselves back in pantheon of the NHL’s elite.

Up for some more hockey talk? Follow me on twitter @BForanNHL