General manager Stan Bowman was too livid about the totality of the Blackhawks’ stunning playoff failure to address any of the individual elephants in the room Friday. But if it indeed is time to “face facts,” he’ll have to figure out just how much his aging core has left — and if there’s anything he can do about it.
Defenseman Brent Seabrook likely is at the top of that list. A three-time Stanley Cup winner, a former Olympian, an All-Star just two seasons ago, Seabrook appears to be at a crossroads in his career at 32. By the eye test, he’s not the defender he once was, and he struggled this season to provide offense to compensate for that.
He had three goals and 39 points after a career-high 14 goals and 49 points in 2015-16. He did not score a goal in his last 38 games, including the postseason — a span of 74 shots on goal and 158 shots. He has a plus-8 rating in the last three seasons after posting a plus-56 in the three seasons before that.
Seabrook still is an above-average player, a valuable vocal leader in the locker room and a clutch performer the Hawks need on the ice in a competitive playoff series. But one year into an eight-year, $55 million contract, his $6.875 million cap hit is close to cost-inefficient and could reach albatross status sooner than the Hawks would like.
So the big question is whether Seabrook can stall the career downturn or even regain his elite status.
“I’ve got to be better. But I feel like I’ve got a lot of hockey left in me and a lot of good years ahead of me,” Seabrook said. “This summer’s going to be a tough summer. It’s going to be a battle to get ready to go and try to have a better year next year.”
2. Even Duncan Keith — still one of the best defensemen in the NHL at 33 — knows he has some work to do after being unable to neutralize the Predators’ speed in the playoffs.
“I want to have a good summer of training,” Keith said, “and doing my best to get to a point where I feel like when you train hard, you get confidence from that, too — your body feels good, and you feel strong. That’s going to be my focus.
“I know I could have played better. I’m obviously a big part of this team, so when I don’t play my best, it’s going to affect my team. I know I need a good summer of training, and I’ll be ready to go.”
3. As long as Bowman is facing facts, how about considering a true power forward or big body to get the most out of Jonathan Toews while Toews is still in his prime.
Toews can elevate his linemates’ game, but it seems to take a power forward/big body to elevate Toews’ game. From 2009 to ’15, Toews was on the ice for 73 five-on-five goals in the playoffs — and either Dustin Byfuglien, Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad or Bryan Bickell was on the ice with him 65 times (89 percent). Add in Brandon Bollig and Ben Eager, and it’s 67 of 73 (91.8 percent).
From 2013 to ’15, Toews scored 12 five-on-five goals and either Hossa, Saad or Bickell was with him each time. Since the departure of Saad and Bickell and the demotion of Hossa to the third line, Toews has not scored a five-on-five goal in 11 playoff games.
4. It remains to be seen if Artemi Panarin was caught in the undertow of a massive offensive failure, but this was the second time in two seasons his impact in the playoffs sharply declined from the regular season. Panarin had no goals and one assist in four games against the Predators.
“We’ve got to find a way to be better than we’ve been, so he’s no different than anyone else on our team,” Bowman said. “Players have got to assess themselves and look at what they need to do better. And when they show up at training camp, they’ve got to be better.”
5. Forward Artem Anisimov appeared to be feeling the effects of the lower leg injury he suffered March 14 that forced him to miss the last 13 games of the regular season. Anisimov won five of five faceoffs in the first period of Game 1, but only 10 of 46 (21.7 percent) after that.
“He was limited in some ways as far as his quickness and his strength,” coach Joel Quenneville said.
6. Anisimov’s injury was a reminder of how important timing and good fortune can be in the playoffs. Had he suffered the injury two weeks earlier — before the March 1 trade deadline — the Hawks could have put Anisimov on long-term injured reserve and used the cap space to acquire another player —they arguably could have made a pitch for Coyotes center Martin Hanzal, who went to the Wild.
Those are the breaks, though. It worked in the Hawks’ favor in 2015, when they acquired Antoine Vermette from the Coyotes after Patrick Kane suffered a broken collarbone Feb. 24 — one week before the trade deadline. Not only did Kane return as good as new —and five weeks earlier than expected —but Vermette scored three game-winning goals in the playoffs.
7. Speaking of reversals of fortune, here’s a list of Quenneville era trends that were stopped in their tracks this season:
The Hawks were the best home team in the playoffs in the salary-cap era (45-17, .726) — they were 0-2 this season.
The Hawks were one of the best overtime teams in the playoffs in the salary-cap era (23-14, .622) — they were 0-1 against the Predators, losing the critical Game 3.
The Hawks had won at least one road game in 18 consecutive series (two in each of their previous four series) —they were 0-2 on the road this year.
The Hawks were 13-5 in elimination games under Quenneville, winning at least one elimination games in their previous four playoff series losses (2011, 2012, 2014 and 2016) —but lost their first elimination game against the Predators.
8. With the ouster of the Blue Jackets (Saad), Flames (Kris Versteeg, Michael Frolik, Troy Brouwer) and Canadiens (Andrew Shaw), the only former Hawks Cup-winning players remaining in the playoffs are Viktor Stalberg (Senators) and Vermette (Ducks).
9. The bad matchup was yet another bad break for the Hawks. The Predators were less than a minute away from gaining a point that would have pushed them ahead of the Flames for the No. 1 wild-card spot on the final day of the regular season (with the Flames to play that night). But the Jets’ Blake Wheeler scored a short-handed goal with 45 seconds left as the Predators lost 2-1 to clinch the No. 2 wild-card spot.
A Hawks-Flames first-round series might have given the Hawks a chance to find their game. Since 2010, the Hawks are 4-4 in first-round series, and 10-1 after surviving the first round.
10. On the other hand, the Hawks’ inability to find that playoff gear that has been their trump card for years was a sign of doom. Two years ago, they faced the younger, faster Lightning with the hottest line in the playoffs in Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. The “Triplets” had 55 points in 20 playoff games before the Final, but were rendered a non-factor against the Hawks — six points in six games.
This time, the Hawks were overwhelmed by Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson — a sign that the times, they are a-changin’. The Hawks still are good enough to retool and remain Cup contenders as the Penguins have done. But they also might have to face the reality that they are suffering the inevitable downturn of the salary-cap era.
“I don’t buy that,” Bowman said. “There’s no excuses. We need to get better. Our expectation is to win, and we didn’t win. We have to find a way.”
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash