They're here. The End Times, kid. End Times.
- Saul Goodman in Breaking Bad
After last night's third-period collapse against the New York Rangers resulted in a 6-3 loss, the end times are officially here for the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks. While one can pinpoint several prior junctures at which the season could have been declared "over," especially during the recent Canadian road trip that saw the Hawks only bring home two out of a possible ten points against teams they were trying to catch in the wild card standings, the looming trade deadline and this morning's happenings in the Blackhawks world truly signal the end times.
The Blackhawks were originally scheduled to practice this morning to prepare for Friday night's matchup with the Nashville Predators. Instead, the team called off practice and elected to hold off-ice workouts and meetings.
With the NHL trade deadline just around the corner (2 PM central time on Monday), today's schedule change rightfully warranted speculation that a trade is on the horizon. Of course, head coach Jeremy Colliton denied that notion, stating that off-ice workouts and meetings replaced a standard practice because the Blackhawks' issues "weren't physical" and the team needed to work on "mental sharpness."
The Blackhawks can deny the speculation all they want, but all facts align to indicate that the team is preparing to sell at the trade deadline. They are currently playing some of their worst hockey of the season (2-8-2 record over their last ten outings), sit eight points out of a wild card spot, and hold last place in the Central Division. Sure, they're not mathematically eliminated yet with 22 games still remaining on the schedule.
However, decision time is looming on the trade front and the Blackhawks are much better off receiving some value in return for some of their movable pieces (most notably Erik Gustafsson, Robin Lehner, and Corey Crawford) instead of standing pat. Clean physicals need to go through in order to complete trades, and not practicing today eliminates a last-minute injury risk ahead of the deadline. Add all those pieces of information together and it's pretty clear why the Hawks didn't practice today. The specifics may not be in place just yet, but trades are imminent.
In addition to off-ice workouts, media access was another aspect of today's "activities" for the Blackhawks. While most interviews are riddled with cliches about "focusing on the game ahead," today's demoralized responses from players were yet another indication that the end times are here for the Hawks.
Duncan Keith, a veteran leader and alternate captain, highlighted how disheartening the recent road trip was and only stated the obvious -- "just being better" -- when it comes to the Blackhawks woes. Forward Ryan Carpenter also spoke with the media and offered some commentary on the bigger picture.
I don’t know if we’re necessarily thinking about playoffs...we’re still optimistic, but right now it sucks. No one is happy. Especially me.
- Ryan Carpenter
Despite Carpenter's claim that the group is still optimistic, the first part of his quoted segment about playoff thoughts paired with his body language and tone of voice are all indicators that life has been sucked out of the Blackhawks' locker room. There was no "anything can happen" follow-up that players often like to trot out. They pay attention to the standings and know the trade deadline is fast approaching.
Come Monday afternoon, the Hawks' roster composition will likely look a bit different, but their place in the standings likely won't. Take all of these factors into account, and the reality of the situation is that the end times are here for the 2019-20 Chicago Blackhawks.