Remember that giddy parade and assembly of joyful citizens in downtown Chicago to celebrate the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup?
It was just a year and a half ago, mid-June. It was hot and sunny, and it felt like school had been let out forever.
Confetti floated, music blasted and a million souls swore allegiance to Chicago’s ‘‘organ-eye-zation.” Jonathan Toews raved. Duncan Keith had no teeth. Patrick Kane was insane.
The Hawks were beginning a dynasty, and Chicago was to be the new Hockeytown. OK, that title has gone to Detroit, so this would be Hockey City.
Can a onetime first-place team lose so many games that it falls behind, say, Colorado and Calgary and Minnesota and Los Angeles and on down to ninth place and right out of the playoffs?
No, that’s not going to happen.
But then who would’ve guessed the Hawks would lose their sixth consecutive game Tuesday to the Avalanche and their eighth straight road game?
Not only don’t the Hawks look like Stanley Cup contenders, they don’t even look like a team that remembers how to win a Cup.
Hockey Village, perhaps?
Coach Joel Quenneville continues on with his veteran teaching techniques and his speaking monotone that could announce the Earth is being eaten by renegade black holes, and it would put you to sleep.
But it’s not Q who’s the problem. Not yet. Something is wrong with the makeup of the team, with the players general manager Stan Bowman has assembled.
The Hawks abruptly have no defense. Remember how good they were defensively in the championship season? Keith would step in front of a screaming puck just to see what it would do to his mouth. Brian Campbell was fast and tough. Nasty Ben Eager did a nice job of mixing things up. Keith remains, but so many new players are with the Hawks now that they seem to have lost their identity.
Indeed, if the Hawks were a basketball team, they would be a squad filled with slippery-fingered point guards and forwards constantly losing the ball and watching the opposing team dunk. And they wouldn’t know whose fault it was.
It’s always easy to blame the goalie. And in that 5-2 loss to the Avalanche in Denver, goalie Ray Emery was protecting a 2-2 game when the Avs’ Gabriel Landeskog lined up and drilled a sizzling 30-foot left-hander that flew right past the unhindered Emery.
If you can’t stop those full-view windups, how can you stop the really difficult shots?
Sieve might be the proper word for Emery and the declining Corey Crawford, who backs him up. Or starts before him. Or whatever.
Neither is a first-line goalie, and that likely isn’t their fault. Stan Bowman, ahem?
But the turnovers and failure to stop opponents’ charges are not the fault of a goaltender. As they say, it takes a team to stink up an arena.
Blame part of it on the ridiculous nine-game trip the Hawks are embarked upon.
But road trips may only expose what is lightly hidden at home. The Hawks have offensive weapons in Kane, Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and others, and when they outscore the other team, you might not notice the lack of defense.
And if you’re wondering where Stanley Cup-winning goalie Antti Niemi went, so are the rest of us.
Of course, he was a victim of the salary cap, the one that Hawks talent architect Dale Tallon exceeded in the mad bid to win a Stanley Cup at any cost.
Everything was mortgaged back then. And what fun it was. And who would change a thing? But it’s gone, and there seems to be no lasting vestige of greatness.
A Hawks dynasty? No, right now the Hawks are a flash in the pan, a joyous, fading hiccup.
If things don’t turn around soon this season or by the beginning of next season, there will be the inevitable clash of front-office personalities and the necessary search for a scapegoat. Either Bowman or Quenneville will have to go. And coaches go a lot more often than GMs.
But would Q’s dismissal solve anything? I don’t think so.
Defense, shot-stopping, playing both ends of the ice, from first line down to fourth – that stuff comes from everybody.
The vision of Hockey City needs to overwhelm the franchise once again.