ST. PAUL, Minn. — Brent Seabrook is 32 years old, with more hard miles on him than maybe any player in the NHL. With a $6.875 million cap hit, he has been largely a third-pairing defenseman this season.
Duncan Keith is 34, a physical freak but one who has finally appeared to have lost a step. With a $5.538 million cap hit, he’s signed through the 2022-23 season. Jonathan Toews is 29, the consummate leader and all-around forward but mired in the worst offensive season of his career. With a $10.5 million cap hit, he’s on pace for 54 points.
Patrick Kane, well, he’s still very, very good.
But while the Blackhawks are very much a team in transition, those players will be a part of that transition. There will be no tear-down, no further dismantling of the most accomplished group of players in franchise history. Asked if the core four were still untouchable, general manager Stan Bowman said Saturday night that the team has no plans to move any of them.
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“I don’t know if you can ever say definitively on anything, but that’s not at all our focus,” Bowman said. “If anything, we’ve got to try to get their games back. If some of them were nearing 40 years old then you might say, maybe their best years are behind them. But I look at these guys, they’re still young guys. They’re still in the prime of their careers. Maybe not the prime, but close to it. They’ve got a lot of hockey left in them.”
Bowman said the same thing about this season’s Hawks, who entered Saturday’s game trailing the Minnesota Wild by eight points for the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. A playoff run seems far-fetched at this point, but Bowman hadn’t shifted his focus to the offseason just yet.
“We’ve got a lot of ground to make up,” he said. “So that’s the focus. We’re not really looking at a bigger-picture focus because we’ve still got enough games here where we’ve really got to get going.”
Bowman was all about the big picture last April, when he fumed about the Hawks’ first-round flameout against the Predators. He said change was on the way, and he delivered. But those changes haven’t panned out.
Artemi Panarin is an offensive dynamo in Columbus, while Brandon Saad has one assist in his last 13 games. Niklas Hjalmarsson might have a short shelf life given his punishing style, but his absence is sorely felt in a patchwork defense that can’t seem to defend anyone. Lance Bouma and Tommy Wingels haven’t made much of an impact. Cody Franson is in Rockford.
Throw in the three struggling core members and Corey Crawford’s nearly two-month injury absence, and you get a colossally disappointing season. But Bowman expressed no regrets, and pointed to how much younger the Hawks have gotten — and how well those younger players have played — as cause for optimism.
“We were an older team,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a part of a group that was just trying to hang on to the past. We’re trying, in the process of competing for the Cup also, to rebuild this group so that we can be positioned for many years to come.”
One pressing question is whether Bowman — and coach Joel Quenneville — still will be around for those years to come. Team president John McDonough is not the type to make rash decisions, but he also was steaming after last season’s flop. Crawford’s injury gives Quenneville and Bowman some cover, but it’s a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business, and a third consecutive long summer could bring consequences.
But Bowman isn’t thinking about his job security. There’s too much else to consider these days.
“We’re all evaluated,” he said. “I can’t speak for what other people are thinking. I’m here focused to do my job until they tell me they don’t want me to do my job anymore. I don’t think you can think about it, because it doesn’t help you at all.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.