Kudos to the young L.A. Kings. They came in to a sold out United Center last night with the worst record in the NHL, and earned two hard points against a hot team.
That said, last night provided a sobering reminder to Blackhawk fans; this is still a work in progress.
This morning, the Hawks sit in 9th place in the Western conference with 41 points. They are about to embark on a 3-game western road trip, after going 5-6-1 in December, most of which was played at the United Center.
You can point to the many injuries the Hawks have as an excuse. But you can also say that the injuries point out some weaknesses in the Hawks.
As much as I like him as a player, James Wisniewski's loss should not put the team in such a bind. But it does, forcing Dustin Byfuglien (who has defensive liabilities) and Cam Barker (who's probably just not ready) into second pairing roles.
You have to love Marty Havlat when he's healthy. But in two seasons with the Hawks, it seems like he's been out with injury as much as he's been on the ice. That said, I'd take him any day as just a part-time player. So you play the hand you're dealt. Petri Kontiola looks like an NHL player, no doubt. But he's also a rookie with less than 10 games under his belt, playing on the Hawks' second line.
Last night's third line, while certainly a big deal among Wisconsin Badger fans, featured three rookies: Jake Dowelll, Adam Burish and Jack Skille.
I'm all for playing the kids, as I personally believe the playoffs are probably a pipe dream this year. But there's the rub.
I also hope Hawk fans keep churning the turnstiles at the U.C. to see this exciting, young work in progess. Because the last thing this team should do, in terms of its long term development, is panic and trade away bright young prospects for "established" veterans in order to make the 8th playoff seed.
At 19-16-3, the Hawks could continue their current pace and finish around 40-35-7, with 87 points and probably 8-10 points out of the 8th seed. Some would argue the Hawks need to make the playoffs to continue their maturation. Some would argue that such a record, in the far better of the two conferences, is a marked improvement over where the Hawks have been.
Again, if they make the playoffs without sacrificing a lot (or anything), all the better. But with an improved record, the Hawks stand no chance of drafting Steve Stamkos or John Tavares. Their prospects are their prospects. They will also have some cap room this off-season to add a quality free agent or two.
Patience, Hawks fans. Patience.
HAWK SQUAWK: With Sergei Samsonov on waivers, the Hawks were rumored also to be asking around the league to see if there was any interest in Danny Richmond. Richmond was subsequently called up from Rockford. I doubt this presages any moves per se, because it's my understanding Richmond had to clear waivers before the Hawks could call him up. But there are also some internet rumors about the Hawks shopping Tuomo Ruutu, who is really somewhere between a 2nd and 3rd line player in the Hawks future. Healthy for most of the last two seasons, Ruutu is a solid, versatile player who can hit and score. If Dale Tallon got a solid young defenseman in return, the deal might make some sense for both sides, depending on the dance partner.