With last night's 3-1 victory over Calgary, one streak ends, and another is probably beginning.
Other than a rash of injuries to key players and the emergence of Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews, that's been the story of the Hawks' season thus far: back-to-back-to-back winning and losing streaks of 4-6 games. Those are the hallmarks of a very young team, and a .500 team, both of which the Hawks most assuredly are.
And back, perhaps, on a winning note, the Hawks' hopes will be further bolstered by the possible return of Toews and Jason Williams to the lineup. The absence of these two players has hurt the Hawks in all phases of the game, but especially the power play, which was dominant with them in the lineup, and terrible without them.
But before anyone gets all "wacky" with playoff fever, bear in mind, it would probably take a miracle for the Hawks to get the 8th seed some fans seem to covet so much. The rest of this season, to borrow from Al Cimaglia's most recent blog (though I've been saying it myself for a long while now), should be about next year. Specifically:
1. The solidification and growth of Dustin Byfuglien as a power forward
2. Unloading veterans at the trade deadline (Perreault, Lapointe, Lalime, possibly Khabibulin or Havlat) for draft picks or legit prospects.
3. Beginning the search, in earnest, for another somewhat experienced, two-way top 4 defenseman.
4. Ditto for a near-future #1 goaltender
The truth is, this team's timetable has been— and should have been— to be a serious playoff contender next year and a Cup contender the following year. As much as Hawk fans want a fairy tale ending and an overnight transformation of the team, the NHL is a tough business, and the road to the Stanley Cup a grueling one.
There are holes in the Hawks' game that prevent them from taking those steps right now. The good news is, there are less of them than there were a year ago. In addition to Toews and Kane appearing on the scene, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent seabrook and to a lesser extent James Wisniewski and Tuomo Ruutu have all stepped up. No, Ruutu hasn't scored much, but can anyone doubt his physical contribution? Cam Barker is starting to show some glimmers of the player he can be. Byfuglien has been both a revelation and a mystery, but now seems to be finally settled in at the position he should be at. From here, it's all about him getting comfortable and really defining his game as a forward.
Next year, Dave Bolland will help this team. The talented Petri Kontiola could be back in the mix. And remember this name: Niklas Hjalmarsson. This 20 year-old Swedish defenseman is turning some heads in the AHL, with a solid end to end play and devastating— I mean devastating— hits.
There's also a lot of cap room for the Hawks to add 1-2 marquee ($5 mil+ per season) free agents.
So Hawk fans, sit back and pop an Old Style in the rumpus room. Watch the young Hawks lay the groundwork for next year. The pieces are starting to fall into place.