A snowy, wintry, February-like Chicago morning greeted Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, coach Joel Quenneville and their players at the United Center on Monday — as if to further drive home the point that it’s way too early to be cleaning out lockers, analyzing the season and planning for next year.
The Hawks (33-39-10) missed the playoffs for the first time in 11 seasons for all sorts of reasons — from goalie Corey Crawford’s injury to a withering veteran core to slipshod special teams. But while Bowman was seething last spring after the Hawks were swept by the Predators in the first round following a 109-point regular-season, he was much more even-tempered Monday when he addressed the media after a dreadful 76-point season that marked a precipitous fall from the best record in the Western Conference to the third-worst.
“Last year was an abrupt ending,” Bowman said. “We had a great season that was overshadowed by a really tough playoff. I think the emotion [this year] would be extreme disappointment in where we’re at as an organization. We have high expectations, and we know we didn’t meet those this year. It’s not as sudden as last year, but equally disappointing. We’re turning the page and looking forward to next season.”
The 2018-19 season could be telltale for both Bowman and Quenneville with the Hawks. From team president John McDonough on down, the Hawks are anticipating a rebound back to Stanley Cup contention — an optimism contingent on three key factors:
• Crawford returning to form after missing the final 47 games with a head injury.
• Veterans Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook bouncing back from subpar seasons.
• Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz, Vinnie Hinostroza and other young players taking the next step after promising performances this season.
The Hawks’ issues have been lamented for weeks. But here are some of the highlights from the earliest “locker clean-out” since 2008:
“We have expectations that he’s going to be the same goalie he’s been,” Bowman said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to doubt that. He’s got a lot of confidence. The last couple of seasons, he’s played a bigger role on our team, and we’re looking for that next year. We’re hopeful that’s the case.”
“What I do know is that his status is unchanged, so at this point there’s no indication he’s going to play next year, either,” Bowman said. “We’ll probably have more discussions on that in the coming weeks, but his medical condition is unchanged.”
The salary cap
“We’re not in the difficult cap position like we have been in previous years,” Bowman said. “From that perspective, it’s looking better for the potential to make some moves. [But] our No. 1 priority is to make sure we can keep these young players — DeBrincat, Schmaltz and Hinostroza and other young players that are going to join our team in the next year or two. That’s the direction we’re heading.”
The World Championship
Hawks winger Patrick Kane was named Team USA captain for the World Championship on May 4-12 in Copenhagen, Denmark. DeBrincat and Connor Murphy also will play for Team USA. Tomas Jurco (Slovakia) said he will participate.
Keith, Toews and Brandon Saad (who is getting married this summer) will not participate.