A ‘long summer’ awaits the Blackhawks, who went out with a whimper

AP
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For the second straight year, the Chicago Blackhawks couldn’t survive the first round of the playoffs.

This year’s elimination was much worse, though.

The ‘Hawks were swept by the Nashville Predators, by far the better team in the series. At least last year it was a fight with the St. Louis Blues, who needed seven games to oust the then-defending champs.

“It was a major disappointment across the board,” coach Joel Quenneville said last night, per CSN Chicago. “I don’t think anybody exceeded their expectations. We don’t compete to the level that’s necessary. I take that personally, as a coach, that we didn’t find the all-out button, didn’t get the job done.”

In hindsight, perhaps the Blackhawks overachieved during the regular season, when they won 24 one-goal games, the most in the NHL.

“Maybe we won a couple close games that might have made us feel like we were better than we really were,” said Patrick Kane, per the Chicago Sun-Times.

But the ‘Hawks were still a good team. They were the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. It’s not like they were lucky to make the playoffs.

“I think the switch just didn’t turn on,” said captain Jonathan Toews. “I’m not going to sit here and try and come up with those reasons right now. We’ll have some thinking to do in the next few days and we’ve got a lot of time before next season.”

What the ‘Hawks really need is for their youth to step up and become impact players. Nick Schmaltz showed flashes this year, but not when it counted. Ryan Hartman scored 19 goals in the regular season, but none in the playoffs.

Blackhawks rookies against the Preds

 

On the back end, the ‘Hawks should move on from veterans Brian Campbell and Johnny Oduya, both pending unrestricted free agents. They need Gustav Forsling and Michal Kempny to play bigger roles, and soon.

A consequence of all their success, the ‘Hawks are not blessed with a pile of top-end prospects. The last two years they haven’t drafted in the first round, and they haven’t picked in the top 10 since 2007 when they got Kane. Their most intriguing prospect is Alex DeBrincat, a 19-year-old winger who averaged two points per game for the Erie Otters this season. However, it remains to be seen how his game will translate to the NHL. And if it does, when.

It is too soon to throw dirt on these Blackhawks, who still boast a core that’s won three Stanley Cups. But there will be plenty of soul-searching in the weeks and months ahead. This loss to the Predators was a shock to the system.

“Coming into the playoffs, I think we felt pretty confident,” said Kane. “So yeah, I mean, disappointing, shocked. I don’t know. Yeah. It’s going to be a long summer, for sure.”