Blackhawks “Clearly not happy with where we are”

Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville, top, and his players react as they watch their team during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings, Sunday, Jan. 14, 2018, in Chicago. The Red Wings won 4-0. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

by Scott King
@ScottKingMedia

It seemed like it was just yesterday we were sitting at the United Center listening to a less than happy Stan Bowman followed by Coach Q and the players telling us in so many words that next season would be better. Next season came and went, and it was not. Not in any way.

“The emotion would be extreme disappointment with where we’re at as an organization,” Bowman said at the locker clean-out media availability on Monday. “We have high expectations and we know we didn’t meet those this year. We’re clearly not happy with where we are, but now we have to turn our attention to trying to get better and get back to what we expect of our organization.”

Where the Blackhawks are is out of the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Bowman touched on some of the events that got them there.

“I think losing Marian before the year started was quite a blow for our team.” the Hawks VP and GM said. “He had a great season last year. So that was difficult, and then we lost Corey [Crawford] for about half the year. It was certainly a difficult thing to recover from, both of those.”

Both Q and Bowman expect Crawford to be back and ready next season. What’s in question is if a majority of the team’s core can have bounce-back seasons. “Some of our top players didn’t have typical seasons for them,” Bowman said.

Brandon Saad, who had just 18 goals and 35 points overall after being brought back to Chicago, didn’t shy away from the fact that he is one of those players. “Definitely not happy about how the year went,” Saad said. “Really all you can do is look forward to the future and prepare for next season.”

The Blackhawks blue line, led by Duncan Keith, was the most problematic issue all season. Bowman thinks a specimen like the alternate captain should be able to regain his form.

“It’s not that unheard of for a player to play better than they did the year before,” Bowman said. “In Duncs’ case, physically, I don’t want to say ‘freak of nature’, but he’s physically gifted in his training and commitment to being a top athlete, so the age for him is not really a concern at all. It’s more the execution. Sometimes you don’t have your best season. It does happen. But I think physically he’s an elite athlete still.”

The 2015 Conn Smythe trophy winner had plenty to say about the team’s disappointment and where he’s at in his career.

“Obviously it wasn’t the year that I expected,” Keith said. “It was frustrating in a lot of ways. You want to do certain things out there, it just seemed like there was a lot that went wrong. When you’re a successful team, everything seems easier, little plays or habits. I just think that we’ve got to get back to that. We have to have good habits, whether it’s in practice, in preparation.

“Just have to start with that. I feel good. I know that my age is… I’m not getting younger, but at the same time, it’s not like… I don’t feel old. I know that I have a lot left in the tank. I know that question just kind of comes up as you go along, that’s something that’s to be expected, especially in a year where you don’t have the success you want that kind of gets magnified.

“Looking forward to having a good summer of training and being in the best shape possible. [I’ll] try to be in the best shape of my career and give me the best chance to feel good and do the things that I want to do out there.”

Where the organization’s glass is half full, even in light of a disastrous season, is with the team’s youth movement.

“If you look on the bright side, you have the emergence of some of our younger players taking that next step,” Bowman said. “In the case of Alex DeBrincat, he hadn’t played an NHL game until this year and not only did he make our team, he led our team in goals. I’d be lying if I told you I thought that was going to happen in training camp.”

The Hawks have a slew of young, promising players like 20-year-old DeBrincat who’ve already started developing into useful NHL players. Forward Nick Schmaltz (22) finished the season with 52 points and once he ups his faceoff game will be a very dangerous NHL centerman.

Vinnie Hinostroza (24) Stuck around for 50 games this season after a stint in Rockford by utilizing his speed. Dylan Sikura showcased some unique play-making ability in just five games after finishing up at Northeastern. Defenseman Blake Hillman also seems to have caught the eye of Bowman.

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