The end came quicker than most of us expected on Thursday night when the Blackhawks were swept by the Nashville Predators, their second first-round exit in as many seasons.
Where do the Blackhawks go from here? General manager Stan Bowman, coach Joel Quenneville and Blackhawks players will address the media on Saturday as part of their locker clean-out day. Before they do, a few thoughts on the abrupt end of this season and the look ahead.
1. Quenneville taking the blame is wrong. Quenneville said it was on him that the Blackhawks didn't reach the necessary level in the postseason, that he didn't find "whatever buttons you have to push." As a coach he's responsible for finding the right combinations, for recognizing a player's strengths and weaknesses and adjusting accordingly. But when it comes to realizing it's the postseason and you've got to play that much better? That's on the players. These are grown men with very robust annual paychecks that serve as reminders on how they're supposed to play, especially during the postseason. Quenneville is responsible for certain things. Making sure a player's appetite to win is there in April is not one of them.
2. It wasn't about the goalie. There are still a few (albeit very few) who think if Scott Darling would've been in net at some point against the Predators, there would've been a different outcome. Well, we'll apply the same logic there as we did with Corey Crawford: Unless the Blackhawks' goaltenders were going to score some goals themselves, it didn't matter. Crawford wasn't the problem. Out of this four-game mess, he was probably the most consistent player. You get a slight argument on Game 3, but not much past that. The Blackhawks scored three goals in four games. They had more goals in the first game of this series two years ago.
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3. Don't look to the past anymore. On paper, both the Brian Campbell signing and Johnny Oduya re-acquisition looked like good ideas. Neither cost much. Neither were expected to be the go-to guys. But neither ended up being what the Blackhawks needed. This is the fourth time since 2013 the Blackhawks have brought back guys from previous Stanley Cup teams (Campbell, Oduya, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg), but the moves usually didn't bring the desired results. It's great to think you can recapture the magic with former players, but years go by and times change.
4. Be ready for changes. Don't expect front-office changes. What Bowman and Quenneville have done over the past few seasons is tremendous, especially in the salary-cap era. While this result is shocking and beyond disappointing, it's not reason enough to start dismantling the brain trust. Roster changes, however, won't be a surprise. They never are with this team. It would be a surprise if either Oduya or Campbell are back. Do they consider moving a bigger contract? Maybe, but that depends on having a willing trade partner and the player (likely) having to OK it. But the Blackhawks have to start looking forward more.
5. Take heart in the future. The Blackhawks got a glimpse into what the next generation can bring this season, and most of it is good. Ryan Hartman had an outstanding rookie season. Nick Schmaltz had the growing pains that accompany a player making the jump from college straight to the pros, but the skill is there and he should keep developing. Tyler Motte was outstanding at the start of the season. If he can reach pre-injury levels again this fall, he'll be valuable. Let's not forget Alex DeBrincat, who put up an astounding 127 points and set and/or tied a few Ontario Hockey League records with the Erie Otters this season. He's been great in the playoffs, too, with 22 points through 11 games.