Be ‘pros,’ not cons, say Blackhawks, facing a second half without much else to believe in
But as they board flights and skate in enemy arenas, the Hawks might as well be a team of ghosts.
In a season gone bad for a team gone bad, a simple practice drill went bad.
‘‘No, it’s over! It’s over!’’ Blackhawks interim coach Derek King shouted as players continued mucking around despite the puck having changed possession from the guys in the Black jerseys to the guys in the Red ones. Or was it the other way around?
It hardly seems to matter.
‘‘What are you doing?’’ King said, arms up in a plaintive shrug.
What are the Hawks doing? On Tuesday at Fifth Third Arena, they shook off an All-Star break worth of rust in preparation for a road swing through Edmonton, St. Louis and Winnipeg to start the second half. Lots of games left, folks. Nobody is conceding anything.
That’s the company line, anyway, and the Hawks are sticking to it.
‘‘Believe in ourselves,’’ King said. ‘‘That’s the big thing: believe. Believe in it. Have some hope. Let’s be good pros and see where it goes.’’
Maybe the pros know something the rest of us don’t. To an amateur-hour analyst, it seems as though the season already went off a cliff, and that means there’s no going anywhere anymore. As they board flights and skate in enemy arenas, the Hawks might as well be a team of ghosts.
They have 16 victories in 46 games, the fewest by a Hawks team since the 2005-06 season. Their crowds are the puniest they’ve been since around that time, too.
Do you realize how long ago we’re talking about here? So long that top three scorers Kyle Calder, Mark Bell and Tyler Arnason — a who’s-who of ‘‘who?’’ compared with the core that soon would replace them — still were kicking around and cashing checks at the United Center. So long that defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith were mere wet-behind-the-ears rookies. So long that Trent Yawney was the ill-fated coach and old man Bill Wirtz had yet to hand the keys to the jalopy to son Rocky.
That’s where the Hawks were back then. Whether they’re better or worse off now, you’re free to debate among yourselves. The Hawks still have 11-plus weeks of games to get through — talk about staring into the abyss — so they might as well at least try to pretend there’s lots left to play for.
‘‘The only thing you can do is work and stay optimistic and put your best foot forward each day,’’ defenseman Connor Murphy said.
Even when you’re 14th out of 16 teams in the Western Conference standings? Even when you’re a team that can’t put the puck in the net to save its life? Even with captain Jonathan Toews — speaking of not scoring — still out with a concussion and unable to join the team for at least the next three games? Even with an interim general manager, Kyle Davidson, and an interim coach expressing hopeful things about a future everyone around them plainly can see they might not be part of?
‘‘I’ve been in the positions before, as a player, where I’ve been out [of the playoff race] earlier,’’ King said. ‘‘December, I’ve been out of the playoffs. And it’s just miserable. So learn from that. On the coaching side, let’s not make it miserable. Let’s still compete and win games and keep ourselves in the hunt until somebody says, ‘OK, you’re done.’ Then we’ll live with that. But right now, we’re still in the hunt and we have hope.’’
If only, right? If only Toews were back to his old self. If only Kirby Dach would produce and there were no worries about Dominik Kubalik regressing. If only that awful 1-9-2 start to the season hadn’t happened and the trade deadline March 21 were further in the distance. Maybe then there would be something resembling hope to reach for.
And for all that’s wrong on the ice, there’s still so much bleakness off it. There’s still the lingering stench from Rocky Wirtz’s shameful town-hall tantrum last week that proved to many he ought not to be anywhere near efforts to build an organizational culture that will protect the next Kyle Beach rather than endanger him.
How many more shoes will drop that threaten the Hawks’ recovery from a giant sexual-assault scandal? Additional lawsuits related to vile ex-video coach Bradley Aldrich and the Hawks’ craven cover-up reportedly are coming. And now we learn that D.J. Jones, the longtime head athletic trainer at American Hockey League affiliate Rockford, was fired for sexual harassment.
Where’s the bottom? Is there a bottom?
Oh, and one last thing: How much longer until the Hawks are under ‘‘controversy’’-sized pressure to change their name and logo to something inoffensive to Native Americans? Isn’t it inevitable? Easy answer: Yes, it is. We can talk about this now or table it for later. Either way, it’s coming.
That, you can believe.