Blackhawks’ team has worsened, but stability, outlook have improved since last Christmas

At this time last year, the Hawks were in disarray in almost every area. This year, they’re sitting last in the league standings, but at least there’s health, normalcy and a logical long-term plan.

SHARE Blackhawks’ team has worsened, but stability, outlook have improved since last Christmas
Patrick Kane celebrates a goal with the Blackhawks’ bench.

The Blackhawks’ record ranks last in the NHL this Christmas, but there are reasons to believe in a brighter future.

Paul Beaty/AP

At this time last year, the Blackhawks were in a state of disarray in virtually every area.

COVID-19 outbreaks within the Hawks and around the NHL had extended the league’s typically three-day Christmas break through half of December. The Hawks had five games postponed and didn’t play between Dec. 18, 2021, and Jan. 1, 2022.

The public fallout from the sexual assault scandal was still fresh, and the steps the organization would take to prevent anything similar from ever happening again were still unclear. The two lawsuits had just been settled on Dec. 15 and 22.

Kyle Davidson was still an interim general manager, and Derek King was an interim coach. Disgraced ex-GM Stan Bowman’s half-baked attempt to rejuvenate the Hawks had gone ridiculously awry as they sat 27th in the standings with an 11-15-4 record and didn’t own a first-round pick.

One Christmas later, their record is even worse — they’re last in the league at 8-20-4 — but everything else is better.

It still might not be an ideal situation, but at least there’s a clear plan, a sense of normalcy, some gradually forming stability and a number of reasons for long-term optimism.

COVID-19 has been a non-factor this season, partially because of revised protocols that only require testing symptomatic players. Jonathan Toews and Jason Dickinson are the two Hawks who have missed games because of illness, and neither had COVID.

The Hawks have two full-time mental-performance coaches — A.J. Sturges and Peter Kadushin — on staff to provide resources for players and foster a healthier locker-room culture. CEO Danny Wirtz and business president Jaime Faulkner also have implemented more progressive, inclusive policies for the front office.

Davidson has settled into the GM role, and his scorched-earth rebuilding plan — embraced by some fans, resented by others — is going according to plan.

The team’s prospect pool has already improved from one of the league’s worst to the middle of the pack, and that’s solely because the forward group remains weak; their defensive and goaltending pools are both well above average. And it’s only going to get better.

If the season ended today, the Hawks would have a guaranteed top-three pick (and the best chance at the No. 1 pick), another first-round pick from the Lightning, two second-rounders and two third-rounders in the 2023 draft. They likely will add even more to that collection, especially if Patrick Kane approves a move.

Salary-cap flexibility has also become a major strength. The Hawks have just $37.7 million in committed salary for 2023-24, the lowest in the league. That flexibility will allow them to weaponize cap space to acquire more picks and prospects in the short-term and to afford to keep core players and sign top free agents in the long-term.

And with coach Luke Richardson, still in the early stages of his four-year contract, the Hawks seemingly have the right man behind the bench. Richardson has deftly managed a difficult job so far thanks to his communication, patience, positivity and wise strategic decisions; the losses are almost certainly not his fault.

Those losses are still tough to swallow. And looking around the league, it’s easy to identify plenty of franchises in much better situations than the Hawks.

Top teams like the Avalanche and Lightning, up-and-coming contenders like the Stars, Devils and Hurricanes — whom the Hawks visit Tuesday to begin their post-Christmas schedule — and prospect-stocked, late-stage rebuilders like the Red Wings and Sabres probably wouldn’t agree to switch places.

But there are some floundering, directionless teams — the Flyers, Sharks and Coyotes arguably top that list — that probably would agree to switch places. Indeed, the Hawks no longer lead the league in degree of disarray.

And compared to Christmas last year, that is an improvement.

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