Blackhawks' veterans do what they can to prevent losing mentality
This season began with so much hope for the Blackhawks.
They opened up with victories at Ottawa and St. Louis. They picked up 2 more points in overtime losses to Toronto and Minnesota. Then they beat the Blues, Blue Jackets, Ducks and Rangers to improve to 6-2-2.
"Lot of good hockey players on our team. Proud guys," then-coach Joel Quenneville said when I asked if he was surprised by the Hawks' start. "(They) wanted to get back to doing what we want to do and that's play in the playoffs."
Five games later, Quenneville was gone. The bleeding never stopped and six weeks later, the Hawks were 9-18-5. There was some hope with a decent mid-December run, but there will likely be no playoff hockey in Chicago for a second-straight year.
It's been tough on everyone, but especially on veterans like Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Those four were the cornerstones of three Stanley Cup-winning teams and the losing is taking its toll.
"Yeah, it is. There's no doubt about it," said Kane, who extended his point streak to nine games with an assist during the Hawks' 3-2 shootout victory over the Islanders at the United Center on Tuesday. "I have the most respect in the world for all those guys. I think Tazer's having a great season.
"People want to get on Seabs about his contract, but to us, he's underpaid for what he brings in this locker room and the way he's such a great leader … (and) takes in every guy like he's known him his whole life. He's an unbelievable teammate. That game when he was sick (Jan. 9 vs. Nashville), you lose your heart and soul a little bit because he's such a big piece.
"And we all know what Duncs means back there. He eats up minutes, he's the fittest guy on the team, always ready to play, big competitor. … He's in the game no matter what point of the season or what the standings say."
With 31 games left, the standings say the Hawks (18-24-9) will be a top contender for the No. 1 draft pick. Kane, though, won't give up hope and -- more importantly -- doesn't want the young players to get used to losing.
"Even if we don't (make the playoffs), the biggest thing is to try and not have that losing mentality creep into this locker room," Kane said. "The older guys have been there, they've done it. We've been a part of winning and knowing what it feels like to win. Now we're trying to do the best we can to implement that into the team and make the young guys feel that as well."
While Kane's mini speech about Seabrook was admirable, it doesn't change the fact that Seabrook's contract -- $6.875 million yearly through 2023-24 -- is a considerable obstacle for GM Stan Bowman to navigate around as he attempts to rebuild this team.
Seabrook (5 goals, 14 assists) is playing better than last season, but he's almost 34 and will see his skills diminish over time. Sooner or later, he'll be taking up a roster spot that could go to a younger player.
That's no knock on Seabrook, a major reason the Hawks won three titles. It's just cold, harsh reality.
The best thing to come out of the transition to a new coaching staff has been how Seabrook, Keith, Kane and Toews embraced Jeremy Colliton. No matter what happens the rest of this season, their mostly positive attitudes will be a great example to Dylan Strome, Dominik Kahun, Drake Caggiula, Henri Jokiharju, Carl Dahlstrom, Erik Gustafsson and others.
"They've been great," Colliton said. "We're not in the best situation, so it's easy sometimes to get negative. And we can't do that. We want to get out of this. We want to be a top team long-term.
"We have to get better every day and if they come to the rink with that mindset, 'OK, we're not where we want to be but we're going to get better,' then other guys will follow."
The perfect example came during an upbeat, enthusiastic practice Saturday. Having lost to the Devils and Rangers last week, the team's core could have sulked or given half an effort.
Instead, it was the opposite, and the Hawks went out and beat Washington 8-5 Sunday.
"The top guys -- the older guys -- they were very engaged and energetic and everyone else fed off that," Colliton said. "So we have an excellent practice and that carried into the game.
"When they set the tone like that, things happen for us. So ... more of that."