In a previous blog, I stated that playing San Jose was a better measure of the Hawks' playoff-worthiness than the Hawks' previous four opponents.
And in some ways, so is Columbus, who the Hawks face off against tonight at the U.C.
With San Jose, it was more a question of: if the Hawks win, then yes, they should be considered a serious playoff contender. But if they lost, don't rule them out just yet. Tonight's test is: if the Hawks can't beat Columbus at home, coming off a two day rest, with the playoffs at stake and with the Blue Jackets ending a 5-game road swing, then the Hawks truly should not be considered a playoff team.
There are a lot of similarities between the two clubs. Both are young and loaded with talent throughout their pipelines. The Blue Jackets are injured, too, with Sergei Fedorov and Dan Fritsche out of the line-up.
But there are some differences. While the Hawks have a great stable of young defenders, the Blue Jackets sorely regret the Doug McLean era and the trade of Francois Beauchemin for Fedorov. Kris Russell is a nice prospect, but after that it gets dicey. The Blue Jackets have a great young goalie in Pascal Leclaire, the Hawks have two veterans whose careers are in decline. The Blue Jackets best forwards are tough and physical; the Hawks' best forwards are highly creative, extremely skilled players.
Ken Hitchcock has his team playing well. Rick Nash has really recaptured his elite status this season, with 26 goals thus far.
But if the Hawks truly are in the playoff hunt, then they absolutely should win tonight. And if they lose, as my last blog stated, water has found its level.
My favorite Blackhawk reporter, TIm Sassone of the Daily Herald, points out this morning how anemic the Blackhawks' power play has become, mostly due to the absence of a power play quarterback. He's right: Jason Williams did a pretty good job as power play QB, and he is not due back from hernia surgery for at least another month.
He also points out that Dale Tallon has been trying to trade for a defenseman who can run the man-advantage, and that the Hawks will likely not make the playoffs without such a deal. He's probably right.
But there's the rub. If you're Tallon, do you deal a potential star like Petri Kontiola, Bill Sweatt or Niklas Hjalmarsson (and believe me, no one wants the Hawks' overage, overpaid trash—they want the prize young players, if anybody) for a player who is most likely a free agent at season's end, for a 'maybe' shot at one round of the playoffs? I wouldn't. Yes, if the Hawks can put together a reasonable deal for Brian Campbell or similar, dependent on his signing an extension immediately, then yes, by all means, pull the trigger. But remember, the Hawks will be major players in free agency this summer because of superior cap room, and those deals only cost money, not players. Players who the Hawks will need to seriously contend for the Cup over the next decade.