CHICAGO – It’s been well over a decade since fans have thought about anything but their team going for a championship.
Yes, the past few years were lean and hinted of what could be ahead, but this offseason has confirmed that the Blackhawks are indeed entering a rebuilding mode with the franchise. The decision not to re-sign Corey Crawford and the trade of Brandon Saad to Colorado sent that message to fans.
On Tuesday, the franchise penned a letter to fans that essentially acknowledges that a rebuild is on for a franchise that won three Stanley Cups in the 2010s.
Posted on their website and to social media channels, the letter talks about the team moving forward with younger players in the 2020-2021 season, which is expected to begin around the new year.
“We’re committed to developing young players and rebuilding our roster. We want more than another window to win; we want to reach the summit again, and stay there — an effort that will require a stockpile of emerging talent to complement our top players,” said the team in the letter. “The influx of youth and their progression will provide roster flexibility and depth throughout our lineup.
We were already the youngest team in the 2020 playoffs and several Blackhawks experienced that intensity for the first time; this will help to further establish a culture that embraces the grind of improvement driven by competitors who are relentless, engaged and motivated by a team-first mentality to win.”
This is a major departure from the franchise’s “win now” mentality that’s been prevalent since the 2008-2009 season, when the team’s young core pushed the Blackhawks to the Western Conference Finals.
The team’s first championship in 49 years came in the 2009-2010 campaign and the Blackhawks win another in 2013 and 2015. They would also make the playoffs every year from 2009-2017, with many of those season featuring deadline deals meant to push the team to another Stanley Cup title.
But a sweep at the hands of the Nashville Predators in the 2017 playoffs when the Blackhawks were the top seed in the Western Conference changed the narrative. As players got older, younger squads like Nashville were able to get the upper hand, and the team was out of the playoffs in the 2017-2018 season.
Joel Quenneville was fired early in the next season in favor of Jeremy Colliton, and despite a second half push, the Blackhawks missed the postseason. They most likely would have been on the outside of the playoffs again had the regular season completed on time, but an expanded “bubble” playoffs after pandemic allowed them to squeeze in.
A surprise preliminary series win over fifth-seeded Edmonton was followed by a loss to top seed Vegas, who were superior during most of the play. Ironically, it was Crawford’s incredible efforts in Game 4 that prevented the team from getting swept.
Perhaps what Bowman and others saw then made them decide to go ahead with a rebuild. Now it will be interesting to see if the team makes any moves with established stars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, or Duncan Keith in the coming months. Those players along with defenseman Brent Seabrook would have to waive a no-trade clause in order to make it happen.
Even if that’s unlikely, it’s obvious the Blackhawks are looking to get younger in a hurry, which means victories could continue to decrease for the sake of the future.
“As our young players develop and learn how to win consistently, they’ll make some mistakes. Inevitably, we’ll miss the mark sometimes, too, but we’ll communicate openly with you on this journey together,” said the franchise in the letter. “We know that what comes next must be more than just words, and that inspires us.”
So has the realization that the greatest run in the history of the franchise is coming to a close, with a new era on the horizon.