Blackhawks tank update: the winning wave dealt surprisingly little damage

CALGARY, Alberta (AP) — Seth Jones couldn’t remember exactly how many shots on goal the Blackhawks had in their 5-2 loss to the Canucks on Tuesday — the correct answer was 14 — but he knew “it wasn’t pretty.”

Nothing about the Hawks’ performance was. They took too many penalties, conceded too many breakaways, made several poorly timed line changes, lost too many puck battles in the backcourt, looked slow on their skates, and mishandled the puck almost every time they gained possession.

They were much more like the version of themselves that lost 21 of 23 games earlier this season than the version that won six of seven earlier this month.

“Not our best game,” coach Luke Richardson said.

Combined with his equally lackluster effort in Sunday’s loss to the Kings, it’s safe to assume the sudden winning streak is over. That book chapter can then be submitted for printing.

So, in hindsight, how much damage did it do to the Hawks’ management tank plan? Not much really.

The Hawks are now 14-28-4, good for 32 points in 46 games, a .348-point percentage. They entered 30th in the NHL on Wednesday, just ahead of the Blue Jackets (31 points in 47 games, .330 percentage points) and Ducks (33 points in 48 games, .344 percentage points) and just behind the Coyotes. (35 points in 48 games, .365 point percentage) and Sharks (38 points in 49 games, .388 point percentage).

In fact, the race for last place has been functionally reduced to a five-team race. It’s hard to imagine anyone in the next tier of bad teams, made up of the Canucks, Senators, Canadiens and Flyers, crashing dramatically enough to enter the conversation.

The Hawks were in last place for a while, then moved up to 29th a few days ago. But they could easily drop back to last place on Sunday, when they begin their bye week and the All-Star break. They have two games left, Thursday against the Flames and Saturday against the Oilers, before that.

The Hawks have been helped by the Jackets winning points in three of their last six games (entering Wednesday) and the Ducks winning two of their last three, preventing a 31-30 gap from forming.

There is also a lot of season to play. Of the Hawks’ remaining 36 games, 21 are scheduled after the March 3 trade deadline, by which time their roster will likely be even worse. Six of those 36 games are against the Coyotes, Ducks or Sharks, matchups that could prove important in a twisted way.

All this hand wringing over small moves at the bottom of the leaderboard may be overkill. However, in a year with exactly four elite prospects in the draft class, the difference between finishing last (offering a 25.5% chance of taking first overall and a guaranteed top three pick) and finishing next to last (offering an 11.5% chance to pick first and 28.8% chance to drop to fifth) is significant.

General manager Kyle Davidson, who made a rare appearance at a Hawks road game on Tuesday, along with a host of other NHL GMs, before taking part in the NHL/CHL Top Prospects game on Wednesday in the suburbs from Vancouver, you probably have a lot of those numbers committed to memory.

The Richardson and Hawks players, however, almost certainly not. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman received a rebuke for saying “nobody fails” during a press conference Tuesday in Montreal, but he was right to say that “players and coaches do everything they can to win.”

That’s how Richardson can keep making adjustments to the Hawks’ systems, Jones can keep trying to shoot more, and Andreas Athanasiou can keep improving his defense without internal conflict.

This was always meant to be a season of dichotomous goals within the Hawks organization, and that’s precisely what will happen in the coming months.