Five years later, hockey has been gut-wrenching experience in Chicago

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June 15, 2015 ended the same way June 9, 2010 did, with a Patrick Kane goal.

This time a few things were different, Kane wasn’t the only one in the world who knew the puck was in the net, and the Hawks were on cup three in six grueling NHL seasons, not upstarts looking to grab a cup with a young core. They were the class of the NHL, Joel Quenneville was one of the winningest coaches between 2010 and 2015 Toews, Kane and Keith were some of the best names in all of hockey.

It was also a golden age for the franchise Sports Illustrated, who had claimed on their cover that the Hawks had “saved hockey” two years prior after Stanley Cup two.

Most Hawks fans in 2015 who were aware of the salary cap situation knew they were running out of chances to get Lord Stanley’s with this core. Toews and Kane were looking for big deals that would certainly eat away at the Hawks’ ability to add depth to the team.

Marian Hossa had just played all 82 games of the regular season, which was something he hadn’t done in any season with Chicago and was nearing Father Time’s inevitable grasp. Defenseman Duncan Keith had played an absurd amount of playoff minutes, and on pro sports shortest turn around, it was a matter of time before the future Hall of Famers form dipped.

The 15-16 Season was much the same as the 14-15 season, with a 3rd place finish in the Central behind the rival Blues and Dallas Stars. The team from the year before was mostly the same, except for two big differences. The man fans called the Saad father, Brandon Saad, was looking for a new contract and was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The main piece of the deal was Artem Anisimov, who had a solid 42 point season. Most importantly, he was cheaper than Saad would have been. The Hawks also lured Artemi Panarin away from Russia on a two-year deal (he would go on to win rookie of the year and have a great season) and added young talent to an aging forward core.

In the 15-16 playoffs, the Hawks lost in seven games in the first round to the hated rival St. Louis Blues. The Blues were a grit and grind big physical team that beat the Hawks speed first play. This was a little worrying because the Hawks appeared to be slowing down. As I just mentioned, the way they played was predicated on speed. Even more worrying was that Marian Hossa had half the points in this season as the cup winning year before. He was seriously showing age on the ice and was being kept off the ice by some injuries. Toews and Kane signed large contracts to make them Hawks for the next 8 years, which ate up a lot of the flexibility Chicago GM Stan Bowman had.

During 16-17, the team from 15-16 season was back with very few minor changes. The combo of a weak schedule and bounce-back years from key, rested players saw the Hawks look ready for another cup. It would be one last hurrah before it all came crashing down in all likelihood the next year. It was a 50 win season with 109 points, which was good enough for the most points in the Western Conference, 3rd most in the NHL, and 2nd most wins in coach Q’s tenure. This was second only to the first cup run.

The playoffs found a 4-0 loss to the Nashville Predators, which was a massive upset. I, personally, was quite nervous. Maybe that was it for the Blackhawks. Maybe they could make the playoffs again, but more cap issues would probably mean the Hawks couldn’t get back to where they were for a few years.

The changes came in ’17. The Hawks’ cup-winning defense was mostly gone, and Seabrook had hit the cliff and was quickly falling apart. Oduya and Hjalmarsson were gone, and Ducan Keith was no longer superhuman. As a result, the defense was in the bottom third in the NHL and gave up 43 more goals than the season before. The offense had a down year, despite trading Panarin to bring back Saad, as well 2nd fewest goals in the decade. One of the biggest blows was a horrible allergy to hockey equipment that made the Hoss (Marian Hossa) miss the entire season and probably retire. What came that year was a dead-last finish in the Central and only 76 points, which meant the Hawks missed the playoffs wildly.

In 2018, the Blackhawks were 6-6-3 out of the gate. Coach Q was replaced by Jeremy Colliton, which was a permanent mark of acknowledgment that this run was done. An 84 point season, missing the playoffs and a rebuild was all the Hawks could see.

This year, Hawks fans found a new hope. Alex Debrincat, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome woke up a sleeping offense and got out of the bottom third, although the defense is still a wreck. Chicago will make the playoffs in 2020 due to the expanded playoffs stemming from COVID-19. Corey Crawford has had horrible concussions and probably can’t make the incredible saves he once made, and Keith can’t skate 40 minutes a night and carry a defense for entire shifts like he used to. But maybe the time off can get the old guys to form and the young hungry? It’s wishful thinking of course.

Going over the last five years may be gut-wrenching for some Hawks fans, but allow me to editorialize. In 2007, Rocky Wirtz took over and put the Hawks back on TV. Q came in ’08, and the cup came in ’09. They then held a Dynasty for 7 years, won three championships, and made countless memories (the goal no one knew was in, 2 goals in 17 seconds, and way too many overtimes for a heart to take).

How many Hall of Famers did we get to watch?

Kane, Toews, Hossa and Keith. Q is a hall of fame coach, and if Bowman can avoid tarnishing his reputation over the next few years, he is an executive worthy of HOF status. Sharp, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Saad will never make the hall of fame, but were great and important players in the Hawks cup runs. Remember those days, Hawks fans. Look at all the greatness you saw in those years.

To borrow a quote from F1 driver, Sebastian Vettel, “We have to remember these days. We have to enjoy them while they last.” Vettel got 4 years as Formula 1’s best driver. The Hawks got a span twice that long with consistent cup threats and some of the best seasons in franchise history, and they saved hockey.

Michael Dion
Michael Dion
Limestone Twp native who recently graduated from Western Illinois Univ - Sports Broadcasting. Winner of national and state play-by-play awards. Sports podcaster, writer, fan, gamer. #GoSox

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