With five wins in six games after their 4-1 victory against the Flyers in Philadelphia on Thursday, the Chicago Blackhawks have proved something to their loyal fans.
They’re no good at tanking.
Unfortunately at this point most Hawks fans would be much happier if they tried to tank a little harder, giving them a better chance in the draft lottery, in which game-changing center Connor Bedard awaits as the No. 1 pick.
Bedard, 17, recently was named Most Valuable Player at the 2023 World Junior Championship, guiding Team Canada to a gold medal and leading the tournament in goals (nine), assists (14) and points (23). He was the seventh player all time to be granted exceptional player status to enter the Canadian Hockey League at an early age and on Thursday was leading the Western Hockey League in goals (36) and points (78) in 31 games.
Bedard already is one of the most famous hockey names around and may be the third most talked-about player between periods at the United Center behind Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
Every Blackhawks fan knows exactly what is at stake here. So does general manager Kyle Davidson, coach Luke Richardson and everyone on the ice.
“He is one of the more natural scorers to come along since Patrick Kane with a draft hype reminiscent of Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby,” vice president of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr said in an NHL news release. “Like those three, Bedard is a player that can bring you out of your seat.”
Or actually put you into a seat, which is the kind of player the Blackhawks are hoping to get in the draft.
The Hawks are guaranteed a top-three pick if they finish at the bottom of the league, so they’ll no doubt get a very talented player either way. But what matters most right now is trying to get in good position to draft Bedard, who would fast-forward the rebuild, help fill the United Center regularly and draw national attention to a franchise that has fallen on hard times since being a golden team in the 2010s.
Getting the No. 1 pick would be the best thing to happen to the Hawks since they selected Kane with the first pick of the 2007 draft. Bedard could make the Hawks relevant again, just as Kane and Toews did at the start of their careers.
It looked for a while as if the Hawks were a shoo-in for finishing with the worst record in the NHL. They went 3-17-4 over a 24-game stretch, proving their bona fides as a prime Bedard contender. All was going perfectly until goalie Alex Stalok shut out the Arizona Coyotes on Jan. 6.
No problem. Don’t get ‘em next time, boys.
But that was followed by a 4-3 win over the Calgary Flames two days later on Max Domi’s overtime goal and a 3-2 win over the struggling Colorado Avalanche on Jan. 12. The Hawks suddenly were on a roll, and nothing could stop them from going in the wrong direction.
Then the Hawks woke up and went back to sleep, allowing five goals on five shots in 3 minutes, 41 seconds in the first period of a Saturday loss to the Seattle Kraken. The Kraken scored six times on their first seven shots, which is almost impossible.
That’s how to look like you’re tanking. Even a late rally couldn’t save the Hawks in an 8-5 loss.
“Chicago sports fans are incredible, but the Blackhawks fans are above and beyond — and they’re showing us support through thick and thin,” Toews said afterward. “We’ve got to give them something more than that.”
Toews, of course, has to say things like that. He’s the team captain and, like Kane, a player who is averse to losing at any cost.
In reality, the Hawks need to give their fans that kind of performance more often to help them avoid losses like that in 2024-25 and beyond, when the rebuild hopefully will have turned a corner. But with momentum clearly back on the other side, the Hawks slid backward — which in this case meant going forward — turning back the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Tuesday night on Seth Jones’s overtime goal.
It was the finale of an eight-game homestand that sent the message the team has not completely given up. Now, with five of six games on the road starting Thursday, the Hawks have a chance to get back on the wrong track.
The All-Star break comes next, and the March 3 trade deadline will show if the front office is serious about getting Bedard. Toews, Kane and Domi probably will see their names dangled in trade talks, and if the Hawks are going to go full-tank down the stretch, one or two of them likely will have to go.
When training camp began, Davidson was honest about his view of the rebuild but also said “you don’t get into this industry if you don’t want to win every night.”
That means no tanking allowed.
“But from my perspective in the more macro view of things, we are having a more long-term view of this at times, and given the current trajectory of the franchise we are thinking long term in many respects,” he continued. “But that doesn’t change the fact that when you walk into the rink, you walk into the United Center, you want the Blackhawks to win.”
Makes sense. No one likes to pay money to watch a team lose. But we’re far enough into the season to know that winning won’t help the Hawks. The recent winning stretch hasn’t changed any perceptions of the team.
And while losing won’t guarantee they’ll get the No. 1 pick, it surely would increase the odds. And if it pays off with Bedard, everyone wins in the end.