Like Frankenstein's Monster, I was nearly driven off the chicagoblackhawks.com message boards the other day by an angry mob of villagers wielding pitchforks, for daring to say that the Hawks had no chance of making the playoffs.
"This is a fan board. Why are you here?" One poster reasoned.
I am a fan. But I am also a journalist, and therefore I need to make objective calls. And in spite of a nice little 3-game winning streak, the latest victory being last night's shootout win in Denver, the odds are still strongly stacked against Chicago returning to the playoffs this year.
Let's examine the "streak," shall we? Ending an 8-game losing streak, the Hawks beat Nashville in a shootout. Nashville's not a very good team (sorry, Predzwilrul). The Hawks shelled the Blues back-up goalie Marek Schwarz in a 6-1 victory, after failing to dent Manny Legace who left with an injury. If there's a team with more injuries to key players than the Hawks, it's last night's opponent, the Avalanche.
So while winning hockey is more fun to watch for Hawk fans, it's not necessarily time to queue up at 1800 West for playoff tickets. If that happens, and playoff fever spreads, the calls for a trade, a quick fix to ensure a playoff berth, will grow. Who knows, maybe even the new sane Blackhawk front office will get caught up in it and pull the trigger on such a deal.
"Paging Peter Bondra. Paging Peter Bondra."
As I've said all along, if the Hawks make the playoffs this year without sacrificing part of the future, great. But the real goal is not an 8th seed this year. It's a high seed next year and for years to come with a realistic chance of winning the Cup.
Say Cam Barker and Petri Kontiola were dealt for Rob Blake or Mathieu Schneider. The Hawks make the 8th seed, take Detroit to five games and out. Barker becomes a Norris Trophy winner and Kontiola becomes a solid 2nd line center who gets 60 points a season. For L.A. or Anaheim.
That's a plausible scenario.
Getting an 8th seed this year is not, necessarily, part of a natural progression to getting a high seed next year. With the cap room they have, better luck with injuries and continued progression of prospects, the Hawks could easily ice a team next year that gets a top 4 seed. From there, anything happens.
All that said, if the young Hawks start beating healthy Anaheims, Detroits and Vancouvers as well as wounded also-rans, I'm on the playoff hayride. Just nobody stab me with a pitchfork, please.
Patrick Lalime can be part of the Hawks' long-term future as a "1A" goaltender. He's hot right now and playing really well. People have to remember, it wasn't that long ago when he was a "starter" on a very good Ottawa team. He's also a good team guy who knows his role.
Pat Kane seems to be dialing it up a bit. Some of it could be playing with Havlat and Lang. But it seems he's taking the puck to the front of the net more and also not afraid to dangle it in traffic. Great players make great plays look effortless. Slow motion replay of his shootout goal last night is evidence of the sick puck skill this kid has. He is already, in my opinion, one of the top ten passers in the game. As he gains strength and more confidence in going to the net himself, 100+ point seasons are likely to happen.