The Blackhawks were steamrolled in San Jose 7-2 on Thursday night, and normally in this space we'd provide five things to take away from the game. But at this point, the wins and losses don't matter.
The 63 games leading up to Monday's trade deadline was about evaluating the roster and how they all fit together. After dealing Ryan Hartman and Tommy Wingels, that was the official declaration that the Blackhawks are turning the page to next season.
The remaining 19 games — now 18 — are still critical, because from here on out, it's about assessing the individual parts that make the engine run.
"The goal between now and the end of the year is to try to find as many positives as we can," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said after the trade deadline. "When you’re in this position, we still want to be a team that tries to win. If anything we want to find some chemistry, some combinations, find out about some of the younger players, what roles they could realistically play next year.
"Looking at our schedule, I would say most every team we play is going to be a team that’s fighting. There’s only a few teams that really aren’t in playoff contention. We’re going to be playing some hungry teams, so the games still matter. It will be a test for our guys. I think it’s an opportunity to see, in a competitive environment, who responds well and who can take on a bigger role."
Well, there weren't many positives against the Sharks and nobody exactly responded well either, other than maybe J-F Berube who was hung out to dry. Normally this is a game you'd throw in the trash; there aren't many left to do that.
Carl Dahlstrom and Erik Gustafsson each had arguably their toughest night in their young NHL career after they were on the ice for four of the Sharks' seven goals, all of which came at even strength. A few weeks ago, that would've gotten them benched.
Now, this was — and is going forward — a prime opportunity to let them figure it out and go through the growing pains without having the playoff-type pressure hanging over their shoulders, and Joel Quenneville did the right thing by continuing to roll them out there.
Matthew Highmore, making his NHL debut, was also on the ice for three of the goals, but only Duncan Keith (nine) and Alex DeBrincat (seven) had more shot attempts than his six. There are positives to take away there, even though the game got out of hand quickly.
But those big-picture questions are what's really important: Which veterans still have some hockey left in the tank? Which young players deserve to remain on the roster full-time or should get an opportunity to do so next season? Heck, who could be used as trade bait?
These are all questions that need to be and will be answered over the course of the final five weeks before making the tough decisions in the offseason regarding which parts of that engine aren't working, which are expendable and which you could build on in the grand scheme of things.