The Blackhawks are on their hottest streak of the season and have a prime opportunity to keep piling up points. But the more they win, the more complicated their decisions become as they near the trade deadline.
The Hawks were five points out of the second wild-card spot after beating the Wild on Saturday, which is a small marvel considering how dismal they were early in the season. They’ll be looking for their fifth consecutive victory when they visit the Oilers on Tuesday.
While it has long been assumed the team will aggressively try to sell leading up to the Feb. 25 deadline, the lure of a playoff berth might be too much to resist for general manager Stan Bowman and an organization that prides itself on a winning culture.
Should the front office hold off and see how far the team can take this run?
“I can never really comment on those questions, whether we’re at the top of the standings or at the bottom,” Jonathan Toews said. “My job is to try to help this team win.
“Regardless of our situation, we’ve got to keep creating that belief in ourselves in the locker room that we’ve got the crew here that can put points on the board every single night. That’s our focus in the room. Anything aside from that is not really anything we can control or worry about.”
Coach Jeremy Colliton and the players have held firm on that approach, but they aren’t the deciders. Sneaking into the playoffs is somewhat arbitrary, and it won’t change the reality that this team is mediocre at best.
With standards elevated over the last decade and Toews and Patrick Kane still in their prime, that’s not good enough. The Hawks need a significant overhaul to get where they really want to be, and that likely will guide them at the trade deadline.
They are already exploring whether they can escape the massive contracts of defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith. Keith carries a $5.5 million annual salary-cap hit through the 2022-23 season, and Seabrook’s is $6.9 million per year ending with 2023-24.
They’re franchise icons who were vital in winning three championships, and they’re certain to have their numbers hanging from the United Center rafters. Neither seems inclined to waive the no-movement clauses that came with their extensions, and why would they give away power they earned?
Keith said Friday he envisioned playing his career for the Hawks when he signed a 13-year, $72 million deal in 2009, and Sportsnet reported Seabrook told the organization he intends to keep his no-trade clause in place.
Much can change over the next three weeks, however, and desirable destinations could entice them. Plenty could happen with the Hawks in that span, too.
The playoffs look like a long shot now, but one more good week might be all it takes to put them in the mix because of how top-heavy the Western Conference is. That would make it harder to sell. Or maybe it goes the other way, and it starts to sink in for Keith and Seabrook that the rest of the season will be meaningless and their ice time increasingly will be given to younger players in the name of development.
For now, as Toews said, there’s no choice but to press on and see what happens.