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Numbers not adding up for Blackhawks' leaders

Paul Skrbina, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Hockey

The three players with letters sewn to their Blackhawks sweaters have big contract numbers attached to their names.

The numbers put up this season by captain Jonathan Toews and alternate captains Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, though, don't correlate with the nearly $23 million investment the team has in them collectively for this season and fall in line more with the Hawks' 24-21-8 record.

This part of the core that helped lead the franchise to three Stanley Cup titles since 2010 has combined for 17 goals and 57 assists. The team is gasping for playoff air for the first time in 10 seasons, with hockey-reference.com putting their chances of qualifying at 10.1 percent, with a 0.1 percent chance of them winning it all.

"I don't think anybody has exceeded expectations or come close to it, especially the top guys," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "But that's across the board. I don't think anybody should be satisfied with where they're at in their play."

Except maybe Patrick Kane, the lone core player whose numbers on the ice line up with the ones on his paycheck. He has a team-high 21 goals and 32 assists.

But before Kane scored during Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to the Flames, the team's previous 14 goals came courtesy of five players 23 years old or younger.

Those players -- Alex DeBrincat, Anthony Duclair, Vinnie Hinostroza, David Kampf and Nick Schmaltz -- will make roughly $4.56 million combined and have combined for 44 goals and 54 assists.

So while the future may look bright, the lights of the past have been dimming.

Toews said just as the youngsters can learn from the veterans, the inverse also is true.

"We've talked about that, as far as having that humility and not taking anything for granted or expecting anything," he said. "You're not going to be given anything and it doesn't matter what you have accomplished, you have to earn that respect every day."

But nostalgia can be seductive.

Quenneville sat Seabrook for a game earlier this season. But he has just three goals and 12 assists and has been struggling recently while paired with Erik Gustafsson.

"There's no doubt it was a shock to him and a shock to the rest of us," Toews said. "Some of our veteran guys, myself included, we need to be better. We have to be better and lead this team the way it needs to be led."

Keith's ice time has gone down a bit, too. But Quenneville admitted the leash remains longer with his core players, whose performance he deemed "fine."

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"Their experience and their leadership qualities and what they mean to the organization, what they meant in the past ... they certainly earned that," Quenneville said. "It's human nature that, 'Hey, we're a proud organization, proud players.'

"They're accustomed to winning. Now all of a sudden we're not winning at that pace, and whether their own play isn't as good as they would like, or the team play, they take pride in that."

Toews was visibly upset after Tuesday's loss, the team's third in a row overall and fifth straight at the United Center. Keith, too, has searched for answers and accepted responsibility.

Quenneville labeled Seabrook "the most vocal guy in the locker room."

"This season has offered some (different) challenges as opposed to past years," said Keith, who hasn't scored a goal since March and is 0-for-124 this season with 25 assists. "You look at our record, and where we're at, as a player, looking yourself in the mirror, you can't say it has been good enough. It hasn't been good enough."

There are many facets to that, of course.

The team's power play is third-worst in the league at 15.5 percent, something Keith said he could "spend a few days talking about." Holding leads has been a problem. Winning games in overtime has been a struggle.

Brandon Saad, who was around for two Cups with the Hawks before returning this season, has fallen to the fourth line and is on pace for fewer than 40 points. Not what the team had in mind for a $6 million-a-year player who has averaged slightly more than 51 points the last four seasons.

All of that has added up to the Hawks being a long shot for the playoffs and has left Quenneville and his staff in search of a winning combination.

"The best form of leadership we can have is everybody playing their best hockey," Quenneville said. "Other guys can absorb some leadership as well, not just the captains."

(c)2018 Chicago Tribune

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