CHICAGO – The Blackhawks are taking a closer look at their house after missing the playoffs for the first time in a decade.
They aren’t sure just yet if a complete teardown is necessary.
The Hawks are heading into one of their most intriguing summers in years after finishing with 33 wins and 76 points, their lowest totals since they went 31-42-9 during the 2006-07 season. While they might not make any big changes, improvement next year is mandatory, general manager Stan Bowman said Monday.
“This year was extremely disappointing,” Bowman said. “Last year was more abrupt, but this was equally disappointing. I’m not happy with where we are. We’re going to examine everything, look long and hard at ways to improve through personnel.”
The Hawks have been on a downward trend since winning the 2015 Stanley Cup. They were eliminated by St. Louis in seven games in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, and then were swept by Nashville in the opening round last year.
They stumbled all the way to last in the Central Division this season, falling short of the playoffs for the first time since star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were rookies during the 2007-08 season.
Bowman said the team’s top priority is keeping the young players who impressed this season. Rookie Alex DeBrincat had a team-high 28 goals, one more than Kane, and Vinnie Hinostroza showed flashes of promise after beginning the year in the minors.
“That’s the direction we’re headed,” Bowman said. “They’ve showed they’re part of the future.”
His second priority is free agency, and Bowman said he’s more interested in short-term deals than longer pacts that would tie his hands in the future.
He could look for goaltender help after Corey Crawford missed the final 47 games with an upper-body injury. He also could focus on his blue line after top defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook showed signs of age this season.
“This was an off year in about every category,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “From every individual except two or three, we expect more next year.”
Both Bowman and Quenneville expressed confidence in a healthy return for Crawford, who went 16-9-2 with a sparkling 2.27 goals-against average in 28 games. Anton Forsberg, Jean-Francois Berube and Jeff Glass all struggled in goal after Crawford got hurt.
“He’s on the right track, close to being ready to go,” Quenneville said.
Toews, who missed the last
eight games with an upper-body injury, said previous successes “happened naturally, organically. Now there’s a lot of issues you need to find solutions. We need to take a creative approach to finding solutions. It’s humbling to a certain degree. You feel like you’re starting over.”
The NHL draft lottery is April 28, and the Hawks have a 6.5 percent chance of winning the top pick. They drafted Toews with the third overall pick in 2006 and got Kane with the No. 1 selection in 2007, fueling their run to three Stanley Cup titles.
Crawford’s injury just before Christmas turned the season around. They were in a playoff position Dec. 23, his last appearance, and fell out of contention soon after he was placed on injured reserve.
The Hawks allowed 256 goals, 67 more than they gave up during the 2014-15 season. Keith, a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman, finished with a career-worst minus-29 rating, the worst such number on the team.
One of the most memorable moments of the season was Patrick Sharp’s final game at the United Center. The 36-year-old Sharp is planning to retire after finishing with 10 goals and 11 assists in his 15th NHL season. The team honored Sharp with a highlight video in the third period of its home finale, and he waved his stick and tapped his heart to acknowledge the sustained roar of the crowd.
Defenseman Henri Jokiharju could get a long look during training camp in the fall. He was selected by the Hawks in the first round of last year’s draft, but he doesn’t turn 19 until June.
Kane has decided to keep playing. USA Hockey announced Monday that Kane will captain the U.S. team for the world championship in May in Denmark.