It's been a crazy first half of the 2018-19 season for the Blackhawks. There was a coaching overhaul, two trades, multiple call-ups, an injury to their star goaltender, a Winter Classic spectacle and an insane travel schedule looped into an already busy schedule with the club being tied for the second-most games played of any NHL team.
The All-Star break and nine-day hiatus from game action is coming at a great time for the Blackhawks, to say the least. And they left off on a positive note, with back-to-back home victories against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals on national television and a comeback shootout win over the No. 1-ranked defense and hottest Eastern Conference team in the New York Islanders.
But in the bigger picture, the Blackhawks are still not where they want to be. Not even close.
Going into Wednesday, they mathematically have a 1.4 percent chance of make the playoffs, according to hockeyreference.com, and that's likely to drop by the end of the day with eight Western Conference teams in action before the NHL shuts down for All-Star weekend. Only two other teams have a better chance at landing the No. 1 overall pick than the Blackhawks (11.5 percent), and that's Los Angeles (13.5) and Ottawa (18.5), the latter of which is actually Colorado's pick.
"We’re going to play until we’re out of it," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "No reason to give up. We’ll do everything we can. However, my approach is still the same. We have to get better. We’re not good enough right now. We have to play better. And so that’s how we’re going to approach each day and then we add it up at the end, see where we’re at."
The reality is, the Blackhawks are closer to the earning a top pick than making the playoffs. And that's fine, especially in a retooling year. In fact, it's better than sitting just outside the playoff picture because mediocrity is the worst spot to be in — it doesn't guarantee you an immediate impact-type player in the draft if you miss out on the postseason.
But the Blackhawks have to come to grips with it. It seems like they have, although that doesn't mean they're going to lie down for the final 31 games. This is still an important stretch run to determine what you have going into the offseason.
Scouting meetings are happening this week in Chicago, an annual occurrence where the organization gets together to decide how they want to approach the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Should they be sellers? If so, how aggressive should they get without creating more holes? Trade anyone you can to clear roster spots and open up even more cap space to take a big run at this upcoming unrestricted free agent class or only pull something off if you're filling a long-term positional need elsewhere?
Right now, non-playoff and bubble teams across the NHL are asking themselves these same questions. If they're buyers, the Blackhawks will certainly be one of the teams they call to ask who's available. It's up to Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks front office to determine who is and who isn't, what the market value is for players drawing interest and whether a potential trade is something that benefits them in the long run but, at the same time, can make an impact as early as next season.
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