5 things that can help the Blackhawks return to the playoffs

 
 
Updated 7/2/2018 4:55 PM
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  • One key for the Chicago Blackhawks next season is the return of a healthy Corey Crawford in net.

    One key for the Chicago Blackhawks next season is the return of a healthy Corey Crawford in net. Associated Press

Give Stan Bowman credit for one thing: He almost always sees the bright side when it comes to his Blackhawks.

In my four seasons on the beat, the only time I've seen Bowman boil over came two days after Nashville swept the Hawks out of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Other than that, the Blackhawks general manager basically paints a glass half-full picture to media and fans.

Take Sunday for example. Wasn't he at least somewhat disappointed in not being able to add free agents like forward James van Riemsdyk or defenders Ian Cole, Calvin De Haan or John Moore?

If so, he wouldn't admit it, saying he needs to remember that restricted free agents Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat must get paid next year. That -- plus the fact the Hawks are saddled with two brutal cap hits in Brent Seabrook ($6.875M) and Marian Hossa ($5.275M) that total more than $12 million -- makes it nearly impossible to sign any players to long-term deals.

So Bowman settled for goalie Cam Ward, forward Chris Kunitz and defenseman Brandon Manning. Bowman talked glowingly about all three, but these aren't difference-makers who will return his team to the promised land.

How will that happen? Some believe it will take a miracle. But maybe not. Maybe it just boils down to:

1 -- A healthy Corey Crawford. Obviously. The Hawks were 17-13-5 when Crawford went on injured reserve. After that they went 16-26-5.

To get back to the playoffs, the Blackhawks need more consistent scoring from Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews.
To get back to the playoffs, the Blackhawks need more consistent scoring from Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews. - Associated Press

2 -- A rebound season from Brandon Saad. Twelve goals in past 76 games doesn't cut it.

3 -- Jonathan Toews to become a consistent offensive threat again.

4 -- Brent Seabrook to put in a lot of work this summer to build off a decent finish. The big man also must be a force on the power play.

5 -- Every young player taking a significant step in their development. What if the Hawks get 30 goals from DeBrincat, 70 points from Schmaltz, 15 goals from Hinostroza and Dylan Sikura, and solid fourth-line play out of John Hayden, David Kampf and Victor Ejdsell? And defenders Erik Gustafsson, Jan Rutta, Jordan Oesterle and Gustav Forsling all make major strides?

If all -- or most -- of that happens AND Patrick Kane scores 40 goals AND Duncan Keith keeps Father Time away … who knows?

"We have some impressive young guys that are going to take on bigger roles in the coming years. But we also have some elite NHL players in the prime of their careers," Bowman said. "We've got guys that have a lot of experience and have accomplished a lot in their careers, but they're hungry to accomplish more.

"We're looking to rebound next year, and to surround our really good players with guys that can help them out and take the next step ... so that a year from now some of these young players have really emerged as legitimate difference-makers.

"I think we're on the verge of that, and we're hoping that does take place."

It better.

Or the Hawks -- residing in a brutally difficult Central Division -- will miss the playoffs for a second straight season. And the Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville Era will almost certainly be over.

Can defenseman Brent Seabrook become a force on the Blackhawks power play next season?
Can defenseman Brent Seabrook become a force on the Blackhawks power play next season? - Associated Press

• Twitter: @johndietzdh

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