NHL Anaheim Ducks

Blackhawks Moving Towards Another Stanley Cup, Not Away From One

As the doldrums of summer continue and both baseball teams continue to struggle through their respective seasons, we are once again reminded why there is nothing quite like the Blackhawks in Chicago right now.

While the White Sox continue to at least stay somewhat respectable, the Cubs are way past that. Even expectations for the Bears are low as Jerry Angelo continues to neglect any sort of protection for Jay Cutler. The only franchise that brings the same type of excitement to the game as the Hawks is the Bulls, and who knows how long the NBA will be locked out for.

That just leaves the Blackhawks. After some summer moves, the most recent team to win a title in the Windy City looks like the team that is closest to doing again. Of course, there are some that feel that the Blackhawks are just an “above average” team, at best.

In the article linked above, by Rant Sports’ own Tony Piraro, he goes into great detail in discussing how the Blackhawks have let the city of Chicago down and how Stan Bowman and co. have prevented that dynasty talk that came after winning the Stanley Cup from ever becoming a reality.

After the summer that the Blackhawks have had, that’s clearly not the case. But let’s take a look.

The first argument, or complaint, is that the author takes issue with the Blackhawks re-signing Corey Crawford this summer, just one year after letting Cup-winning goaltender Antti Niemi walk after an unfavorable arbitration figure. How could they do that, you ask?

No, Crawford did not win a Stanley Cup. Nor did the Blackhawks get out of the first round. But had it not been for Crawford in the first round, that series may have not gone seven games. He was absolutely stellar in Games 6 & 7, nearly stealing the entire series from Vancouver. In fact, both goalies were extremely close heading into that ’09-’10 season as a backup to Cristobal Huet, but a groin issue gave the job to Niemi.

Interestingly enough, the fate of Niemi is directly linked to the fate of other fan favorites like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Kris Versteeg. How could the Blackhawks let any of those guys go? That’s the funny thing about winning championships, though. Things get more expensive.

After the contracts that were handed out to them by Dale Tallon, all three players were simply too expensive to keep. With the money they were making, on top of the playoff bonuses in order for both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the money wasn’t going to work out. That’s on Tallon, not Bowman. When the Blackhawks let Niemi walk, it wasn’t a matter of not wanting him. It was the fact that they were not able to afford him.

But even as disappointing as the departure of fan favorites like those guys is, saying this team isn’t anywhere near exciting is nothing short of foolish. Just looking at the big names on this roster, they still have the top young core in the league. It’s a group led by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but it also includes other names on the roster.

Marian Hossa is still an offensive force when he can stay healthy. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook provide what is possibly the best defensive combination in the NHL. Patrick Sharp is a versatile forward, and quietly one of the most accurate shooters in the league. Even Dave Bolland plays a role in this core as one of the best defensive forwards around. And don’t sleep on Nick Leddy joining the bunch this year.

Was that enough for the Blackhawks to win last year? No. They weren’t expected to repeat after losing so much in the offseason and having a roster filled in with youngsters and journeymen. Even with that roster, they almost managed to knock off the President’s Trophy winners in seven games. With a longer summer, and the right moves made by Stan Bowman, we could see the return of this franchise.

The core returns, minus Brian Campbell, but he is replaced by Nick Leddy, who seemed to improve exponentially last year. Bowman freed up some cash, allowing him to sign his goaltender, Corey Crawford, along with the proper size and depth that this roster was lacking last year.

Now to go along with the core, there are complimentary players. Andrew Brunette should prove to be a fantastic pickup and Michael Frolik could be in for a big year in his first full season as a Blackhawk. Steve Montador and Sami Lepisto could quietly be very good adds on the blue line. Then there’s the guys who were brought in to throw their bodies around on the forward lines like Jamal Mayers and Daniel Carcillo. If the young guys like Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger take a step forward, this is going to be one dangerous group.

The fact is, that the author, not unlike a certain number of Blackhawks fans, need to let go of the guys from the 2009-10 Cup squad that are no longer with us. Part of sports is that business aspect, and there was nothing Bowman could do about the massive contracts that Tallon had signed those guys to.

It’s time to stop fretting about the past, and start looking towards the future for the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s an exciting one. They have a core of guys who are among the best in the business in what they do, and now have the proper compliments and protection to make another serious run at the Stanley Cup.