As Stan Bowman assessed the weak that was, you could have landed a small plane on his lower lip. The Blackhawks' senior vice president/general manager seethed during a press briefing on Saturday at the United Center, where Game 5 was not necessary. His mood likely will linger for quite a while.
Unacceptable. Bowman used that word more than once, in case we didn't hear the first time, to describe his team's polite surrender in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Nashville Predators. He promised significant changes and oozed anger. Perhaps Bowman intended to imply that his players, albeit belatedly, might share that emotion after being knocked down and out in four straight.
"A complete failure," continued Bowman, who sported something of a beard, obviously begun before the Blackhawks embarked on their cameo postseason appearance. He utterly dismissed 50 victories, 109 points and a Western Conference championship during the regular season as immaterial. That's probably a bit harsh, but again, he's mad. Madder than he's ever been, at least in public.
If Nashville moves onward and upward -- perhaps even a first Stanley Cup for the franchise -- maybe their shocking exit will wear better on the Blackhawks. But for now, the cold facts are chilling. They dropped the opener at home, 1-0. They lost Game 2 at the United Center 5-0 and were lucky to get 0. They botched a 2-0 lead in Game 3 at the Bridgestone Arena, and bowed in overtime.
Then, with their backs against the wall in Game 4, the Blackhawks again literally played with their backs against the wall as they were pinned to the perimeters and checked off their normal share of premium looks. Even a resounding hit by Duncan Keith on Viktor Arvidsson resulted in a fitting touché. The electric Nashville forward laughed at himself for skating with his head down, then assisted on a goal and scored into an empty net. It only hurt for a little while.
Head Coach Joel Quenneville begged for desperation, but his request was denied. The Blackhawks did not willingly abjure their preferred style of crisp passing and puck possession. It was simply disallowed by a team that was faster, better, hungrier. The Blackhawks don't own the patent on those qualities anymore.
For all its value on the ice, however, desperation is a tool best ignored off it. Bowman, a meticulous man, knows that. He also knows that accidents happen, even when you think you're driving a Rolls-Royce with several high-character, world-class individuals and future Hall of Famers on board. The Blackhawks don't need to be rebuilt, only redecorated.
Just recently, the proverbial championship window on the Pittsburgh Penguins was deemed closed. They were top-heavy with a few contracts, and dealt futures in quest of immediate excellence. But it wasn't happening. Then, they brought in a new general manager (not going to happen here), acquired support pieces and depth, hired a different coach in mid-season (Quenneville is going nowhere, according to Bowman), won the Cup last year and might repeat.
Bowman rejected the salary cap as an excuse for current events, reasoning that every team endures it. But three Stanley Cups in six years means rewarding stars accordingly, with money and security. No movement clauses can be an issue, especially if players choose to exercise the option during actual games.
As Hall of Fame journalist Kevin Allen wrote in USA Today, the Blackhawks are "paying their tab" now for success. One drawback of the reign: They have not drafted higher than 18th in the first round since 2008. Bowman chided his own performance, but he operated this season as he always has. Win now. The Blackhawks did not get swept because of Johnny Oduya. Or Brian Campbell.
Before fans veer perilously close to the ledge, they might want to consider the inherent nature of the playoffs. Montreal, with 103 points during the winter and without a Stanley Cup since 1993, is out. Minnesota, with 106 points and in first place for much of the season, gone. Columbus, 108 points in the National Hockey League's most competitive division, eliminated. San Jose, in the Final last spring, over.
Here's another aspirin for loyal supporters of the Blackhawks. Absolutely, the team bombed comprehensively against Nashville, but the same members of the ownership and executive branch who resurrected this organization into a model franchise of professional sports -- from Chairman Rocky Wirtz to President and CEO John McDonough to Bowman -- are in place. Nobody left, and rest assured, everybody is irritated.
These aren't your father's Blackhawks, who were just happy to make the playoffs. This front office has earned a high degree of trust. If the boys of winter felt entitled or comfortable, important men in suits are neither. The window is not necessarily closed, but the people behind it are steaming. It's still about One Goal. Not One Round.