Stan Bowman looked paler than usual. The Predators, a lowly eighth seed, had swept his top-seeded team, the mighty Blackhawks, in a first round-series.
‘‘I’m completely disappointed,’’ the Hawks’ general manager said. ‘‘It’s unacceptable to be where we are today. I’m frustrated; I’m angry. This was a tough, tough loss for us all to take. Standing here April 22 is not the way we expected our season to end. And it’s a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves.’’
It was as if Bowman had borrowed from the Bears’ biennial “we must be better, we will be better’’ speech after a miserable season. But the Hawks had the best regular-season record in the Western Conference, racking up 50 victories and 109 points.
There’s no doubt change is necessary. Something tells me the firing of assistant coach Mike Kitchen on Monday won’t be enough change to calm the masses. But I keep coming back to a thought I had immediately after the Predators dispatched the Hawks in four games, the first time an eighth seed has swept a No. 1 seed in league history:
It’s hockey. Weird things happen. Often.
That thought flew in the face of what we heard from the angry pitchfork-and-torch crowd, which wanted Bowman’s head on a platter.
No one who has watched hockey for a significant amount of time can look me in the face and tell me that the same result would occur if the teams played again in a best-of-seven series. Or could tell me that the Hawks wouldn’t win the series if a sequel were ordered.
Hockey is capricious. The NHL playoffs make capricious look like a conservative business suit.
The postseason isn’t a game of what-if, though, and the only thing that matters is that the Hawks lost and lost abysmally. Hence, the civic handwringing. If there were any more gnashing of teeth in Chicago, we’d all be down to our gums.
But there has been a fair amount of overreacting going on. I’m not talking about the people who, having watched the Hawks score a mere three goals in the series, immediately called for Corey Crawford’s ouster as goaltender. Those are the people on the edge of things, sanity being one of those things.
I’m talking about those of you who believe a large overhaul is needed. Bowman seemed to be nodding to that crowd when he hinted at definitive offseason action, though he was extremely light on specifics.
I hope his fuzziness means he’s leaving room for a cool-down period, when the emotions of having been swept won’t be so raw. Otherwise, what are we talking about here? Breaking up a team that had 109 points in the regular season? Knee, meet jerk.
The Hawks haven’t won a Stanley Cup since way, way back in 2015, so the phrase “end of an era’’ is being thrown around a lot these days. I’d still take my chances the next few seasons with a core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Artemi Panarin and Crawford.
I saw two things in the Nashville series: The Predators looked faster than the Hawks, and the Hawks looked like they left their adrenaline rush at home. Is the former the result of the latter? Were the Hawks worn down by the time the playoffs started? Is there a need to find some faster players?
Or — and I keep coming back to this — is what happened to the Hawks simply the result of a fluky sport, where one day you’re on top of the world and seven days later you’re wondering why the little black disk refused to go in the wide-mouthed goal?
This is why you don’t make decisions a week or two after a series like the one the Hawks just spit up. Cooler heads and all that.
The Hawks need to take a hard look at their aging defense. That seems obvious. But the core is still very good. If you break it up, you had better be right. You could be breaking up a group that has another Stanley Cup title in it.
I didn’t hear the complaints I’m hearing now about the Hawks when they were en route to 50 regular-season victories. I heard what sounded suspiciously like loud cheering. In fact, there was still talk of a dynasty in progress.
One bad series changes all that?
The Hawks need tinkering, not tearing down. If you agree with that, you’ll be happy to know that severe salary-cap and contract issues likely will preclude wholesale changes. If you believe major alterations are necessary, you’re probably in for an offseason of indigestion.
I’m hoping for less change and more Pepto-Bismol.