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For the better part of the last decade, the one thing NHL fans have always been able to count on is that the Blackhawks were one of the best teams in the entire league. It's one of those things people take for granted, just like the Yankees and Patriots being good. With three Stanley Cups in the past eight years and having qualified for the NHL playoffs every year since 2009, it's shocking to the hockey world that the Blackhawks are on the outside looking in [VIDEO] heading into the final stretch.

Blackhawks team is a shell

This year's team is a shell of the Blackhawks teams that hockey fans have come to expect, and it's led to one of the biggest questions in all of hockey.

As the Blackhawks appear as if they'll miss the playoffs for the first time since '08, is this The End of the Chicago Blackhawks as We Know it?

To be fair, there's been plenty of teams that have had one bad year. This wouldn't be the first outlier in the history of sports. But the play of the Blackhawks this season has led many to believe that the Blackhawks have reached the end of their run. Even with captain Jonathan Toews, superstar Patrick Kane, and top defensemen Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith, the team just hasn't found a way to put it all together this year. A lot of that has to do with the fact that this roster just isn't as dominant as it once was. Cap issues have finally caught up with the once mighty 'Hawks, resulting in them jettisoning key pieces in the past few offseasons. Look no further than the team trading Artemi Panarin this past offseason.

Panarin was one of the team's top scorers in his first two seasons in Chicago. Mostly playing on a line with Kane, Panarin recorded 77 and 74 points in consecutive seasons, something that any NHL team would be desperate to add to their lineup. Yet rather than keep the blossoming 25-year-old star, the team chose to ship him off to the Columbus in exchange for ex-'Hawk, Brandon Saad. Not so much a hockey move as much as it was a move to offer the franchise cap relief. Don't believe me? That very same offseason, the team also dealt key defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to the Arizona Coyotes for defenseman Connor Murphy. While this trade made a little bit more sense than the Panarin trade as it received a young, controllable defenseman in return, it still was a head-scratcher for a team that many still believed was a Stanley Cup contender.

The 'Hawks moves did not pay off

As anyone who's watched hockey this season knows, the moves did not pay off. The 'Hawks have been a cheap knock-off of the team we've all come to expect.

For the first time in a very long time, the Chicago Blackhawks figure to miss the NHL playoffs. This is not something many people had in mind at the start of the season. I mean, if you would have told me that shortly after the All-Star break, the Vegas Golden Knights would be the 1 seed in the Pacific division and the Chicago Blackhawks would be last in the Central division, I would have thought you were living in an alternate universe. Yet here we are on February 11, 2018, and that's the case.

Tons of questions surround the team as the trade deadline approaches. Will they look to blow up the roster and start all over? Will they sell off expiring deals, gain some assets and look to solve their issues in free agency and the draft? Or will they stand pat, believing that this season was a fluke and try and bounce back next year? All the options are on the table. Although the first looks extremely unlikely as GM Stan Bowman told reporters last night that they weren't planning on shipping off any of their Core 4. What's the most likely option? That would be the second. As the deadline approaches, look for the team to try and sell off all soon-to-be free agents as well as players who don't fit their vision for the future. But is that the right move?

Probably not. Regardless of any moves the team may make, if they don't ship off one of their Core four, they'll remain in salary cap hell. They just don't have the cap space to bring in players to fill the gaping holes the team has. Goals have been hard to come by for this 'Hawks squad, and if they don't bring in some top offensive players, they'll have the exact same issue this year. Yes, the franchise should have a chance at a top 10 pick in this year's draft, but there is no guarantee that you'll find a player who'll be able to come right in and contribute: Unless you have that number 1 pick, that's probably not going to happen. You don't find players like Auston Matthews and Conor McDavid at number 9/10. So if the Blackhawks are going to solve their problems, they're going to either have to trade one of the Core 4 or get very, very creative.

Kane and Keith are the two that should be off limits. You'd obviously want to keep Toews as well, as he's the heart of the franchise, so that leaves Seabrook. If you could ship him off to a contending team in desperate need of a top defenseman, you can get picks, prospects, and/or young, valuable, controllable players. A team like the New York Islanders, who has a wealth of draft picks, prospects, and talented young players, should be the Blackhawks target in a Seabrook trade. Having been ravaged by injuries all season long, the team is actively scouring the market for a top defenseman. Seabrook fits that bill to a 'T.' With one trade, the 'Hawks can add picks, prospects, and valuable players for the future. It's a tough move, but it's one that has to be done to provide them the flexibility they need to fix this team.

Obviously, this is all nothing but conjecture. I don't see the Blackhawks trading any of those four players, and if they do, it definitely won't be at the trade deadline. They Should, but they most likely won't. Instead, the team will probably keep their core and look to fill the roster with cheap band-aid players during the offseason. These are moves that will help them get back to contending for a playoff spot but still leave them short of a real Stanley Cup contender.

It is a real shame given some of the talent that they have in Chicago. The fall of the Chicago Blackhawks has been something many have foreseen for a long time, but it was believed it was still a couple seasons away. Now, it looks like it's officially arrived. And if they do the smart thing and make the right moves at the deadline and this offseason, it may very well be the end of the Blackhawks as we know it. Time will tell. We'll just have to wait and see.