As the Hawks and specifically Stan Bowman barrel into trade deadline week, we here at the lab are not only discussing names and proposals but how it fits in with the overall window of the Hawks. It becomes a more and more philosophical discussion, as well as trying to figure out what the actual length is. I’m sure it’s a discussion Bowman and assistants and scouts are having every day, just how much do you shorten the window on the back end for this chance this year?
Last year’s championship basically puts the Hawks on house money. As first-hockey-world problem as it might sound. two Cups wouldn’t have sounded like enough when we look back in 10 or 20 years (though ask Bears fans what a second championship would have felt like in the 80s). A third though puts the Hawks in rarified air, even if they don’t compare to what came before. In my lifetime, only three teams have bunched three Cups or more together, the Oilers, the Devils, and the Wings. Even the Avs in the late 90s, as stacked as they were, only managed two. So even if the Hawks didn’t win again in the Daydream Nation era, three in six basically lives forever.
Trying to figure out how long the window lasts from here, first thing I look at is the roster now. Given the performance of the top end, that portion still has some years to go. Even Keith at 32 would have to have three years at the least left playing at a dominant level, and probably more. His most comparable player that came before to me has always been Scott Niedermayer, and he was a very effective player until age 37. Kane and Toews have years left, probably five or so I would think. Given how goalies age, Crawford has another five years minimum of being above-average, if I’m conservative in calling that his level. Hjalmarsson is probably going to be a dominant defensive player for a few more years, but the rugged miles he has already clocked catch up with that type of player in a hurry. There was a time when Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi and Robyn Regehr were really effective players. They then basically fell off a cliff. I’ll leave Seabrook out of the discussion altogether, as my feelings are pretty clear.
What the Hawks will lose is obviously Hossa from the “core,” if they haven’t already. While Panarin doesn’t play anything resembling the same game, he’s at least a top six forward that can be effective for a long time (whether the Hawks can afford him after next year with a stagnating cap is going to be a hellish discussion).
So then it becomes what the Hawks have and will have to augment that top of the roster. Already in the system there isn’t much. It’s not barren, but it’s not loaded either. Tyler Motte and Nick Schmaltz certainly look to have a chance, but are probably two years away at the minimum. Teuvo and Danault are already here. Ryan Hartman looks to be a Shaw replacement at some point, but among the forwards that’s kind of it. Mark McNeill has not grabbed anyone by the throat.
On the back end it’s even scarier. We still have no idea what Gustafsson will be. We’re fairly well sure that TVR isn’t much more than a third pairing player. Ville Pokka hasn’t really turned heads in Rockford yet, but there’s still plenty of time. Gustav Forsling is one overseas that the Hawks are pretty keen on, but again he’s probably a few years away. Really among the skaters the Hawks only have four or five players that have a good chance of carving out a role, and we know that some of them simply won’t make it.
Looking at future picks, the Hawks coughed up 2015’s 1st rounder. I would find it hard to believe that they would give up consecutive 1st rounders, and because they’re hosting the 2017 draft I would think they’d want to hold onto their 1st rounder for that one too. Maybe they don’t care about that, but it feels like they would. They have 2017’s 2nd rounder but not this year’s. To keep things going you have to hit on later round picks, but it’s also hard to count on that. I sort of wonder how anxious Stan is to cough up picks for a player that’s going to be here a matter of months.
If Stan has to kick in a Schmaltz, Motte, or Forsling into any deal (and he’s probably going to have to unless someone has wildly overrated someone else the Hawks don’t like), they’re really only going to have at most four players coming to fill in the bottom of the roster in the coming years. If they lose picks as well that’s only going to lessen the amount they can restock.
Considering that the cap is likely to flatten or worse, that means the Hawks are almost certainly going to have to lose Andrew Shaw this summer. The year after that Teuvo is going to need a raise, and Panarin is going to need a major one. If Gustafsson blossoms he’ll need one too. If the Cap is still hovering around say… $73 million? That’s not even considering the fact that we’re four years away from another lockout and possibly a whole new financial system.
Reading all this, you kind of feel like the Hawks might just have to go all in on this year and next year, and then just clean up whatever mess comes after it. Panarin might not be affordable. Others might not be as well. But if the Hawks can get another parade, everyone would certainly say four Cups in seven or eight years is a historic return. No matter how ugly it might get after that. And even if they don’t… it would still be nearly a decade among the NHL’s aristocracy, which in a cap age is certainly something to boast about. No other team has really done it.