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NHL Anaheim Ducks

Chicago Blackhawks Front Office Prevented A Dynasty

CHICAGO, Ill. – The state of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise is in purgatory. One year after allowing their 26-year-old Stanley Cup winning rookie goaltender, Antti Niemi, to walk away at seasons end with no compensation, the Blackhawks went and made matters worse this off-season. Chicago re-signed 26-year-old 2011 rookie goalie Corey Crawford to a 3-year multi-million dollar extension.

“The deal is worth about $8 million, according to a source familiar with the situation. Crawford gets $3.25 million in the first year, $2.25 million in the second and $2.5 million in the final year,” -a source from ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun.

…Are you as baffled as I am? Basically, the Blackhawks had two goalies who are the same age and decided to re-sign the one who lost a first round playoff match-up to Vancouver versus a guy who helped give Chicago a title in 2010.

The Blackhawks no longer have the same luster or appeal as they once did, just a year ago. Besides the Chicago Blackhawks three major known commodities of Patrick Kane, Jon Toews and Duncan Keith, the team is built around young “prospects” and veterans with the hopes of reviving the magic from their 2010 dream season in the future.

I said “prospects” (above) in quotes because the 2010 team was built with similar mindset…Develop young players who are surrounded by solid veterans and watch them grown in front of our eyes. In the end, the plan worked brilliantly and Chicago won its first Stanley Cup since the early 60′s. Last year, around this time of the summer, Chicago Blackhawk players and fans were thinking…This is a young and talented group of hockey players. We may have ourselves a nice little run in the NHL for the next 5-10 years. Dare we say, dynasty???

No, you may not say dynasty. You can however say, the Florida Marlins 1997 and 2003 World Series teams….The following seasons of 1998 and 2004 were miserable for the MLB Florida franchise. In 1998, the year after the Marlins first-ever World Series title, only five years into their existence at the time, Florida had a league-worst 54-108 record. They finished 11 games behind the second worst team in the National League the year after winning a World Series. After their 2003 title run, the ’04 team finished 13 games behind the Atlanta Braves for first place, and 10 behind Philadelphia. That is unacceptable and should not be tolerated by fans, of teams such as that.

Owners believe they won’t be able to afford all the players after championship runs. So, instead of getting into money-battles and fighting other teams off for their own commodities, they jump ship and abort the mission. I didn’t see Jerry Reinsdorf having many problems re-signing Michael Jordan in the 90′s, while keeping his dynasty fully intact year after year. Even when Jordan left in 2004, the Bulls remained a top team in the league, and were a Hugh Hollins blown-call away from the NBA Finals.

I see guys like Udonis Haslem taking $14 million dollar pay cuts to stay with the Miami Heat, rather then signing with a new team for a multi-million dollar deal. Those players do still exist. Some guys are willing to take less, to in-turn, win more. I don’t want you to think I am being naive either, I realize a ton of modern athletes will jump at the money, rather than the glory of winning. However, with two franchises in great markets like Chicago and Miami, there is no legitimate reason why the Blackhawks and Marlins didn’t have the money to compete after championship runs. In turn, they dismissed any prospect of winning back-to-back titles in their respective sports to save face and money.

Arguably, the MVP of the 2010 Chicago Blackhawk playoff run was Dustin Byfuglien. He set the hockey world on fire with his size and ability to play anywhere on the ice. Especially, in front of the net where he did most of his damage. Even in the Stanley Cup Finals when he matched-up against a much bigger and far more experienced Chris Pronger, Byfuglien held his own and really stabilized the Flyers enforcer.

Byfuglien was out the door quicker than any other Blackhawk, pretty much as soon as the Stanley Cup was handed out. He was traded alongside another up and coming youngster, Andrew Ladd, to the Atlanta Thrashers for prospects. Ladd was making nice strides in his NHL career. The former 4th overall pick in the 2004 NHL Draft made major contributions to the Blackhawks during their ’10 title run. Those two were thought to be locked down in Chicago Blackhawk uniforms for the majority of their careers. No fans, teammates or experts thought Byfuglien was going anywhere after his emergence in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs….We all thought wrong.

Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien led the Atlanta Thrashers in points scored in 2011. They were the top two individual point scorers on the team. Ladd led the team in scoring with 59 points, 29 goals and 30 assists. While the 2011 All-Star voted Byfuglien was second on the team in scoring with 33 assists and 20 goals. To say they were missed dearly by an eighth seeded 2011 Chicago Blackhawk team, is an understatement.

Soon after Byfuglien and Ladd were traded, came the wheeling and dealing of Chris Versteeg.  Thought by many in the Chicago area, to be a mainstay of the team for years to come. The gritty youngter was dealt to Toronto for prospects on June 30, further dissecting this once potent group of young-guns who already had a title to their credit.

The trade of Versteeg was drowned out by the Blackhawks signing of 38-year-old veteran Marty Turco, amidst allowing rookie Stanley Cup winning goalie, Antti Niemi, to walk away to San Jose in early August for nothing in return. This was the most gut-wrenching blow to me personally and most Blackhawk fans in general.

How in the world can you allow your rookie goaltender who just won you a Stanley Cup to walk out the front door while receiving nothing in return? You can’t and you shouldn’t be able to so easily, as the Blackhawks front office made it seem.

That of course, led to the the up-and-down, roller coaster of a 2011 season for Chicago. Not only did it take all season for the Blackhawks to gel into a cohesive unit, but it took most of their energy just to make the playoffs, let alone make a run in them. With a record of 44-29-9, the team made the final playoff spot in the Western Conference by two points, a year after going 52-22-8 and finishing with the third best overall record in the NHL with 112 points.

Last season, a team of youngsters was once again thrown together in the hopes the 2010 magic would re-emerge…It didn’t and in hindsight, the front office staff of the Blackhawks blindsided their fans with those 2010 off-season moves. They owe the supporters of the Chicago Blackhawks an apology, and an explanation.

The fact is, the Blackhawks had the pieces in place for a dynasty run. Plain and simple, the front office screwed it up. The huge debacle with GM Darryl Tallon in 2009, filling out the incorrect paperwork for the re-signing of a number of Blackhawks was well documented and helped in their 2010 reckless off-season. While Patrick Kane is squared away with his money for the better-part of his life, his former teammates like Chris Versteeg and Andrew Ladd were cheated the opportunity to be part of something bigger than themselves for years to come.

Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith deserve every penny they make, yet it’s at the expense of role players such as Ben Eager and Adam Burish who provided instrumental boosts to the team throughout the year. No matter what, the stars are always going to get paid. However, there was a group of players, young and determined enough to stick around to try and win some titles. I believe they would of taken less when the time came to re-sign. Of course, possibly a few would of went their separate ways, but I believe a majority of the players in the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks locker room would have stayed for less money, just to have a chance to win multiple titles in a town that never forgets winners and champions.

The irony of the whole thing is after the dust settled on the 2011 season, the Chicago Blackhawks were a run-of-the-mill average team. The year after a title, fans should of been awarded the ability to witness something special on the ice night after night. Instead they got a lackluster team who looked hungover from 2010 for most of the season. Ironically, the Blackhawks re-signed rookie goaltender Corey Crawford after his record of 33-18-6 and a first-round playoff exit gave the Chicago front office enough confidence to determine Crawford their “future” in net. A year earlier, the Hawks front office had a 26-year-old rookie goaltender who was hoisting the Cup above his head in Antti Niemi (pictured above)…They decided he was not their “future” goalie and signed a 38-year-old Turco who never got past the first round of the playoffs…Similar to Crawford in his young career so far.

Maybe it’s me being naive. Or maybe it is front office management being intimidated that today’s athlete won’t surrender some money for the opportunity to gain more in their individual sport. Maybe ownership doesn’t want to be petty and fight over money in arbitration. Maybe modern day agents like Drew Rosenhaus run sports, preventing owners from wanting to work with them or their representation. Maybe owners want to jump ship before it starts to sink. However, maybe they’re just scared to waiver with their ship, to see if it can ride out the storm. Too many owners are scared of young talent because it has the “potential” of costing them a fortune in the future.