Summer 2023 setting up to be crucial moment in Blackhawks’ franchise trajectory

July 2023, which already looked significant for the long-term future of the organization, became even more monumental and internally recognized this week when Jeremy Colliton signed his contract extension.

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Stan Bowman, Jeremy Colliton and numerous other core members of the Blackhawks face expiring contracts in summer 2023.

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The Blackhawks without Duncan Keith might be difficult to remember.

The Hawks without Stan Bowman might be difficult to fathom, as much as some Chicagoans long for the day.

Come July 2023, though, the Hawks might be without both of them. And Patrick Kane. And Jonathan Toews. And Jeremy Colliton.

A date that already looked significant for the long-term future of the organization became even more monumental and internally recognized this week when Colliton signed his contract extension as Hawks coach up to that exact same point.

Now the Hawks’ president and general manager, head coach and three lifetime-tenured, core players are all staring at the exact same end date.

Some of those five might depart — or be traded or fired — before then, and some might sign new contracts keeping them around beyond then. But for now, that seemingly distant summer has been set up as the ultimate judgement day for the Hawks’ current era.

For the players at least, time is quickly catching up regardless of their contracts. Only Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron has been with his current team (since 2003) longer than Keith and Brent Seabrook have been with the Hawks (since 2005).

But come July 2023, Keith will turn 40, Seabrook will be 38, Toews 35 and Kane 34. They’ll all be well within or nearing the typical retirement-age range.

Technically, Seabrook is under contract until the summer of 2024, but it seems unlikely he’ll last anywhere near that long.

The Hawks might reach the point of 100% turnover from their final Stanley Cup-winning team — meaning every player from 2015 will no longer be on the roster — around that time.

Also around that time, the Hawks’ current young core will be universally into or approaching their primes. Dominik Kubalik will be on the verge of his 28th birthday, Dylan Strome will be 26, Alex DeBrincat 25, Ian Mitchell 24, Adam Boqvist almost 23 and Kirby Dach 22.

While the Hawks’ definition of who qualifies as “young” has expanded greatly to accommodate 2021’s older-than-it-should-be roster — and by that definition, everyone on the above list besides Kubalik would still be considered young in 2023 — recent studies have actually indicated the NHL prime age to be around 24.

So the Hawks should know by then if their current youth movement has actually won them a Cup, or at least is making them a playoff contender again.

In other words, they’ll know if the plan Bowman tightly fastened himself to in the fall of 2020 succeeded or failed. Bowman loosely acknowledged that last week.

“We can be looking for those players to play bigger roles in the coming months and years,” he said. “In conjunction with that, your team needs to then start moving forward. If you have a lot of young players in your lineup, and they start to progress and show they’re NHL contributors, it should translate into better performance for your team. That’s ultimately what we want and what we need.”

And Colliton, of course, is as tied to Bowman as Bowman is tied to his plan. Colliton himself is rather tied to the plan, too, considering his strengths with communication and prospect development are regularly touted to explain his present role.

Come 2023, Hawks chairman Rocky Wirtz and CEO Danny Wirtz could justly blow up the organization if things have gone awry. Everything has been perfectly set up, financially and contractually, to make doing that extremely easy.

Or they could double-down on this current administration if things have gone well. In that case, Dach will probably have aptly replaced Toews, DeBrincat would have exploded into a Kane-like playmaker and Boqvist and Mitchell would have evolved into a Keith- and Seabrook-esque first pair.

So perhaps things won’t look too different at all. Perhaps nearly everything will be different. Regardless, we should know by July 2023.

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