Time is running out for the Chicago Blackhawks to make the playoffs this season, but even if they don't, that doesn't mean this season has been a failure.
Entering tonight's game at Columbus, the Hawks are six points out of the eight and final playoff spot with six games to go, including tonight's contest. They also have one game in hand on the three teams ahead of them, including the eighth seeded Colorado Avalanche.
The very fact that the Hawks are playing meaningful games this late into the schedule is reason for joy on West Madison Street.
The buzz has returned to the United Center, and some of the games played there have been televised locally, something William Wirtz never would have done.
When Rocky Wirtz took over just before the start of the regular season, he made sweeping changes to the club off the ice. He welcomed back legends in Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Tony Esposito. He also televised home games.
After hiring John McDonough from the Cubs to be team president, the club created the Blackhawks Fan Convention—the first of its kind in the NHL.
These moves created a lot of excitement for the club and put people in the seats at United Center, but Wirtz knows the only way to capitalize on it is for the team to win on the ice.
GM Dale Tallon started the club in that direction before William Wirtz's death by drafting and stockpiling young, talented players. Now Tallon's job will be to build around this young nucleus for the future.
The headliners of this young group are rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews. These two young phenoms will form the core of the Hawks' offensive attack for the next decade or more.
Defensively, All-Star Duncan Keith is a top-tier defender, and he isn't even 25 years old yet. This season he has mostly been paired with 22-year-old Brent Seabrook on the Hawks' top defensive pairing, often asked to shut down the opponent's top scoring line.
The defense as a whole is young, with only two of Chicago's eight defensemen on the roster over 25. Of the two older defensemen, only 31-year-old Brent Sopel has seen significant playing time.
This late season playoff push, no matter how it ends up, will benefit this young club. The biggest beneficiaries could be Kane and Toews. Neither of them have played a season as long as the 82-game grind that is an NHL season.
Playing important games will help them, and all the youngsters on this club. The experience they are getting now will no doubt benefit the club from top to bottom for the future—which has never looked so bright.