Many Chicago Blackhawks fans have been avoiding the question for as long as they could. But it's here and it must be asked: Will the 2009-10 Stanley Cup champions miss the playoffs this season? If regular play ended today, they'd be well out of contention. The team sits in 11th place in the NHL's Western Conference with 58 points, three slots below the lowest seed (eighth place) needed to make the postseason.â†µ
For hope let's turn to some power rankings, starting with SB Nation's own. This time around, our beloved mothership assembled two panels of blogger-voters (voter-bloggers?), one for each conference, and calculated the results based on an ancient, arcane form of mathematics known as "addition." The result for the Blackhawks? Ah ha! Eighth in the West! Clear the snow from Michigan Avenue! We're coming back, baby!â†µ
Unfortunately, the ESPN power rankings aren't quite as forgiving. As of yesterday, Scott Burnside ranked the Blackhawks 14th out of the 30 teams. He writes forbodingly, "Shocking to think they might go from a Cup parade this past June to a tee-time parade in April."â†µ
Whereas the last two seasons have seen the team building up a sizable lead that's enabled them to fend off injuries and slumps in late February and March, the Blackhawks will need to play their best hockey in the latter part of the season just to make the playoffs.â†µ
Can they do it? Many fans would agree that the talent is still here. But, as with any struggling team, one can't help but wonder why that talent would gel in the most grinding part of the season when it couldn't earlier. So: White flag? No. Panic button? Sure, why not.