The last Circus Trip recently came to a close for the Chicago Blackhawks, which allows us to reflect on its impact
This past weekend, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks finished their most recent, and final, annual Circus Trip, amassing a 3-3-1 record over the course of seven straight away games in Canada and California.
While the news of the cessation of the Circus Trip has been met with mixed reviews by Blackhawks Nation, many analysts, myself included, have long looked at the ‘Hawks’ annual extended November road trip as a unique opportunity for a deeper examination into the caliber of the team each season.
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Indeed, no other team in the NHL faces such a test, and it puts the ‘Hawks up against near-playoff level adversity. What better way to gauge the Blackhawks’ playoff moxie for a given year than taking a look at their record during the Circus Trip, right?
Well, while it’s certainly a gauntlet in its own right that helps the ‘Hawks build character as a team, their record during the Circus Trip is not necessarily as clear an indicator of the Blackhawks’ postseason success as it oftentimes dubbed.
A glance at the past
Let’s just take a look at the numbers. The chart below outlines the Blackhawks’ Circus Trip records and their respective postseason finishes since the beginning of their current consecutive playoff appearances run beginning with the 2009 playoffs (save for the 2013 season, when the ‘Hawks didn’t play in November due to the lockout).
SeasonCircus Trip RecordPlayoffs Finish
2008-09 3-3 Western Conference Finals
2009-10 4-2 Stanley Cup Champions
2010-11 3-3 First Round
2011-12 3-3 First Round
2012-13 N/A Stanley Cup Champions
2013-14 7-0 Western Conference Finals
2014-15 5-1 Stanley Cup Champions
2015-16 3-3 First Round
At first glance, one could argue a winning Circus Trip record forecasts a very deep playoff run or a Stanley Cup win. However, the two outlying seasons that run counter to this trend are 2008-09 (a .500 finish) and 2014-15, when they posted an undefeated record. Both these seasons saw the ‘Hawks end their year in the Western Conference Finals.
So if we have to hang our hat on these stats, it wouldn’t be remiss to say the Blackhawks’ final Circus Trip record of 3-3-1 doesn’t give cause for much optimism for another Stanley Cup victory at the end of this season.
However, I don’t like to hang my hat on stats, and the Blackhawks’ Circus Trip record is an especially good example as to why. Here are the main reasons:
There are just too many variables
Winning games in the NHL is hard, but winning games against Canadian teams and consistently playoff-caliber teams on their home ice is especially difficult. Plus there is the variation in player personnel on both sides from year to year, not to mention playoff vendettas and statements that are trying to be made given the previous season’s outcome, as well as coincidental hot and cold streaks.
Factoring in all the aforementioned certainly makes the Blackhawks’ record during the Circus Trip are petty loaded stat
There is just too much hockey left to play
While the Circus Trip has always been an opportunity to see the how the ‘Hawks fare in near-playoff-level adversity, there is still an awful lot of season left, and there is an awful lot that can and will happen that will affect the Blackhawks’ capabilities as a team, often for the better.
To be frank, given how green the Blackhawks are as a team during the Circus Trip, while it’d be impossible to prove, I personally believe a gelled ‘Hawks team in April destroys its November counterpart each season, regardless of their Circus Trip record.
Whether you agree with my conclusions or not, one thing that can be definitely said is the Circus Trip has always been treated as a golden opportunity to measure the franchise’s strengths and weaknesses.
Even though the Circus Trip is gone, the culture of the Blackhawks organization has become so rooted in achieving excellence and keeping the bar set high, there will be plenty of other litmus tests adopted going forward that will help the team identify ways to improve and set their tone for the season.