Brent Seabrook was talking about the Blackhawks’ young season so far when he made a simple assessment.
“I think we have some work to do,” he said following a 5-4 loss to the Minnesota Wild.
It comes as no great surprise that the Blackhawks didn’t come charging out of the 2015-16 gate. They went through so many changes this offseason there was no doubt it was going to take time. So here they sit, heading into November, with a mediocre 6-5-0 record. As coach Joel Quenneville said, “that’s probably what we should be.”
The Blackhawks are struggling in areas this season that they haven’t dealt with since the season or two following the summer of 2010 purge. Their left-wing problem has replaced their long-time second-line center problem: they don’t really have the depth on that side right now. Much like they used to try to make centers out of wings, they’re now trying to make left wings out of those more suited as right ones — Teuvo Teravainen is one of those.
They’re also still looking for the combinations to give them that familiar, well-oiled four-line rotation. The lack of that has been glaring, from the multiple left wings used on the top line — Ryan Garbutt got another chance there on Friday night — to the third line changes, as well.
Marian Hossa was one who saw these early season bumps coming.
“We’ve got so many new pieces, it’s going to take some time. It may take 15 games for everyone to buy into the system,” he said recently. “Right now, we’re searching. Our coaching staff’s searching on who’s best with who.”
The search got that much tougher when Duncan Keith was sidelined after undergoing knee surgery. The Blackhawks lost more than a defenseman; they lost a power-play point man, a penalty killer, a massive minutes player and a leader. That’s a lot to replace, even with a team effort; and while the Blackhawks did it fairly well through the first three games Keith was sidelined, his absence has been felt more the past several contests.
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The Blackhawks aren’t going through a rebuild. That’s pretty drastic. But they are certainly going through a restructuring. New additions are learning new roles and new systems, and core players are adapting to new partners and linemates, something they haven’t had to do much of the last two or three seasons.
It takes time.
The Blackhawks have to adjust. Everyone will adapt. Keith will return. The Blackhawks know the Central Division is going to be tough. It is every year, and it’s going to take one hell of an effort to stay among the best teams. They can certainly get that necessary chemistry and get more consistent as they get to know each other better.
But as Seabrook correctly surmised, the Blackhawks definitely have some work to do.