NHL On NBCSN: What does future hold for Stan Bowman, Blackhawks?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.  Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

By trading starting goalie Robin Lehner and defenseman Erik Gustafsson on Monday the Chicago Blackhawks officially raised the white flag on the 2019-20 NHL season.

They enter Tuesday’s game against the St. Louis Blues (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in 12th place in the Western Conference and eight points out of a wild card spot with still four teams ahead of them.

Right now the cut-off point for a wild card spot in the West is around 88 points. The Blackhawks at the moment are only on pace for 82 points and would need to collect 27 points in their final 20 games (think 13-6-1 record) to gain enough ground to give themselves a chance. Given the way the season has played out, and the players they are now without, that seems unlikely.

It also means that the Blackhawks are almost certainly headed for their third straight non-playoff season and their fifth straight season without a playoff series win. Their decline from dynasty to mediocrity has been stunning and swift.

What makes it all even more shocking is they still have two superstar forwards (Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews) playing at a high level, while the threshold to make the playoffs in the Western Conference the past two seasons has been as low as we have ever seen it in the era of the three-point game. It only took 90 points to get in a year ago. It may not take that many this season. And the Blackhawks still seem unable to reach even that.

Adding to the frustration is that on Monday the returns for Lehner and Gustafsson just seemed, for lack of a better word, underwhelming. Trading them was the absolute right call. It had to be done. But there is nothing coming back in return that moves the needle in a meaningful way.

So what happens if (or when) this season reaches the conclusion it seems destined for? Is there any short-term hope that next season won’t produce the same result? And how much longer will Bowman get to try and get this team back on track?

As long as Kane and Toews are in the lineup there is at least a foundation in place. Dominik Kubalik has been one of the few home run moves hit by the front office in recent years, while recent first-rounders Kirby Dach and Adam Boqvist both look to be loaded with potential.

But that’s not enough, especially as the two superstars get deeper into their 30s. There has to be more, and Bowman has made his share of significant missteps the past few years. Brent Seabrook‘s contract to further complicate their salary cap structure. Trading Artemi Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen in an effort to fix their salary cap problems (there had to be better, more productive ways). Dealing young players like Dominik Kahun and Henri Jokiharju this summer for a pair of players (Olli Maatta and Alex Nylander) that simply have not added much.

Bowman’s roster moves this past summer were him betting on the current roster still being able to compete with a couple of tweaks.

That gamble has not worked, and it remains a roster that still seems to have more questions and problems than actual solutions.

When you add all of that up it’s put the Blackhawks in the worst possible position a team can be in — the middle ground. A team that is not good enough to compete, but still has enough reasons to think it should.

Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire will call the action at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Mo. Tonight’s studio coverage will be hosted by Liam McHugh with Scott Hartnell and Mike Johnson.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.