As Blackhawks’ core readies for make-or-break season, a new member is inducted
On Thursday, Alex DeBrincat became a true member of the Hawks’ core. On Friday, that core will begin a crucial season to try to revive the team.
PRAGUE — The longevity of the Blackhawks’ five-man core — Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford — has become practically unrivaled in sports.
A combined 61 seasons with the Hawks, zero with anyone else. Fourteen Stanley Cup rings. Countless bruises and breaks endured along the way.
But while the names are the same and the innate skills and personalities are, too, there’s no denying the core isn’t what it once was. It’s not 2010 — or even 2015 — anymore. Asked recently whether he was looking forward to the regular season, Keith said he didn’t have the energy for anything other than to ‘‘get through the practice today.’’
Age is catching up to the Hawks. It’s showing. They know it, and general manager Stan Bowman knows it, too.
That’s why the core unofficially inducted a new member for the first time in a long time Thursday.
The three-year, $19.2 million contract extension the Hawks gave to winger Alex DeBrincat, a 21-year-old sniper only two seasons into a promising career, proves it: a hefty $6.4 million cap hit, the fourth-highest the Hawks will have next season, and a 2023 expiration date, the same as Toews, Kane and Keith.
‘‘We’ve had a group of guys that have stayed together and done the heavy lifting year after year,’’ Bowman said. ‘‘You can’t have a core of 10 or 12 guys; it’s not possible. But the way Alex has broken into the league, I think nobody doubts him anymore.’’
DeBrincat joins the veteran five just in time for a 2019-20 regular season that appears destined to be the turning point in the future of this core.
A third consecutive season of missing the playoffs would raise serious questions about the viability of the Hawks — at these ages, with these fitness levels, with this much money devoted to so few guys. Failure this season might hasten the end of the core, even if the breakup doesn’t truly occur for another year or two.
A revival season, on the other hand, would indicate that this group still has it, that the Hawks have the ability to retool (with players such as DeBrincat) on the fly, that maybe the core isn’t dead yet.
After arguably the most active offseason in the NHL, the ingredients are there to make the latter scenario a reasonable bet. But that would require this hodgepodge cast of aging stars, journeyman role players and ultra-young coaches to put it all together, which is no foregone conclusion.
Well, perhaps one thing is: It’s going to be a fascinating journey.
‘‘It seems like a restart for us,’’ Kane said at the start of training camp. ‘‘We had our little run there, had a couple of down years. Now it’s, like, hopefully we can pick it back up.’’
The Hawks’ quest begins in the regular-season opener Friday against the Flyers. They will be playing in Europe, just like they did in fall 2009.
That season was a turning point for the Hawks, cementing the core. A decade later, those players are hoping to remain the core.
Sure, they’ll get some help: DeBrincat is one of them now, and fellow pending free agents Dylan Strome, Robin Lehner and Erik Gustafsson might or might not join them. Plus, the depth on the roster has been bolstered.
But this is a make-or-break season for Kane, Toews, Keith, Seabrook and Crawford. It’s the last gasp for the 2010s Hawks — and not just because the calendar is about to flip.