The Chicago Blackhawks came into the 2018-19 NHL season with little expectations after a disappointing 2017-18 campaign where they finished with 76 points, 19 points out of a playoff spot, and their first playoff miss since 2008. After a relatively good October to start the season, the Blackhawks have been mostly abysmal, including separate seven and eight-game losing streaks.
Three-time Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville was axed in early November during the eight-game slide. To put insult to injury, starting goaltender and two-time Stanley Cup winner Corey Crawford has been out with another concussion since being injured against San Jose on December 16th.
The current stretch has given fans hope of a turnaround and faint playoff hopes. The Hawks are currently on a five-game winning streak with wins over Washington, the New York Islanders, Buffalo, Minnesota, and Edmonton bringing their record to 21-24-9. At 51 points, they are tied with Edmonton, Anaheim, and Arizona, while sitting one point behind Colorado and two behind St. Louis, and only three behind the second Western Conference Wild Card Playoff team in Vancouver.
With the exception of Vancouver, the Blackhawks have played at least one more game than everyone else, making it harder to jump past those teams in the playoff race.
With the recent run, Chicago sits sixth in the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery, giving them a 7.5% chance of selecting first overall, and a 23.3% chance of selecting in the top 3. They are only four points ahead of the second-best odds in the lottery for the top pick and for a top three selection, but just three behind the 13th best odds.
If they continue to go on this run, they could find themselves still out of the playoffs (depending on how other teams fare), but most likely selecting between 11th and 13th, which would be detrimental towards adding a near NHL ready talent to boost the franchise's rebuild while superstar forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are still productive in their early 30s.
Even if the Blackhawks somehow make the playoffs, they would most likely lose in the first round to Calgary or Winnipeg in a mere four or five games, dropping them outside of the lottery to the 16th pick. Typically, middle of the first-round draft selections are two to three years from playing at the NHL level, unlike in the NFL and NBA Draft where those athletes are playing or are at least on the roster in their first pro year.
Adding a top draft pick to the roster next year like forwards Jack Hughes, Kaapo Kakko, Vasili Podkolzin, who are projected to be NHL ready, or even Kirby Dach or Dylan Cozens, who might break a roster, could help push the red and black to being a consistent winning club sooner than if they draft outside of the top 5, which is much more likely if the team keeps winning.The NHL Trade Deadline is February 25, meaning General Manager Stan Bowman will have to make some tough decisions about whether or not he will trade anyone from the existing roster (such as 30-year-old forward Artem Anisimov who makes $4.55 million until 2021) in order to gain draft picks and clear cap space for the 2019 Free Agency this summer.
The draft lottery could fall the Blackhawks' way even if their odds are quite slim, but it is obviously unlikely. As a fan of the team, it is nice to see them playing well, but it is clear from results earlier in the year that they need more help to lessen the offensive loads of Kane and Toews. In contrast, trading roster players in order to help the team lose more only promote a losing culture that is toxic in the players' dressing room. Amidst the current streak, the Chicago Blackhawks management will have to look towards the future when making the team better.