If NHL season resumes in full in July, Blackhawks won’t have much to play for

Momentum is growing for the NHL season to resume in July, but unless the playoff field expands, the Blackhawks’ motivation could be low.

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The Blackhawks may end up playing out their season after all, but it won’t be an exciting stretch run.

The Blackhawks may end up playing out their season after all, but it won’t be an exciting stretch run.

Jim Mone/AP

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, when hundreds of potential scenarios for eventually resuming the 2019-20 season sat on the NHL’s desk, one idea to expand the playoff field piqued a lot of interest in Chicago.

The rationale was that if the league went straight into the postseason whenever hockey returned, bubble teams like the Jets and Blue Jackets would be unfairly denied opportunities to battle for spots down the stretch.

To resolve that injustice, the NHL mentioned potentially expanding the field. The most likely scenario was 10 per conference, but there were whispers of 12 as well —and, lo and behold, the Blackhawks ranked 12th in the West when the season stopped.

The thought that this mediocre-at-best Hawks team —six points out of a real wild card spot, with mere 3.4 percent playoff odds (per Moneypuck) —would get automatically inserted anyway was absurd but exciting.

That was weeks ago, though. Now, there’s growing optimism that the NHL will resume its season in July at one common, neutral location per division —most likely Minnesota for the Central Division —and conclude the regular season in part or full before beginning the playoffs.

That would result in the Stanley Cup being awarded in September, per a Wednesday AP report, and the 2020-21 season probably starting late. Nonetheless, it seems like the most thorough and developed plan yet.

For hockey in general, it’s great news. For the Blackhawks, though, it’s arguably disappointing: it will likely equate to much ado for a few weeks of largely meaningless games, then a return to the same nothingness that has filled April.

The real drama with the Hawks franchise right now lies off the ice, where John McDonough’s Monday firing opened up endless possibilities for the front office.

On the ice, there are approximately zero possibilities: no chance of making the playoffs, no chance of tanking for a top draft pick (barring another lottery miracle).

Corey Crawford, Malcolm Subban and Slater Koekkoek would be playing for new contracts, and Olli Maatta and Zack Smith to avoid juicy potential buyouts. And that’s about it.

Simply having hockey back at all would be rejoiced by the whole league, and the Hawks’ resident hockey nerds —Patrick Kane and Dylan Strome chief among them —would surely enjoy even watching the playoffs.

But as far as motivation to endure another training camp, an unavoidable quarantine away from family and friends and the physical bruising of several weeks of games, the Hawks would be sorely lacking.

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