Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Chicago Blackhawks.
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If you woke a Chicago Blackhawks fan up from a coma that began in 2007, they’d be stunned by this new reality: any season where the Blackhawks don’t hoist the Stanley Cup is now at least a mild disappointment or a flat-out failure (depending upon the perspective of the person you ask).
The Blackhawks enjoyed another nice regular season, although the shocking rise of the Colorado Avalanche and the logical next step of the St. Louis Blues left them in third place in the brutal Central Division … which may even be tougher top-to-bottom in 2014-15. Chicago got the last laugh against its division rivals in the playoffs, however, as the Avs fell in the first round while the Blackhawks dispatched the Blues in a first-round series that seemed more like a deeper postseason bout.
The funny thing about Duncan Keith winning the 2014 Norris Trophy is that the Blackhawks struggled to limit scoring more this season than in their dominant 2012-13 run. Keith was as dominant as advertised but others – even Brent Seabrook – had trouble, although Corey Crawford might be the easiest target since the ‘Hawks were still a dominant puck possession team.
Either way, their dazzling offense out-scored most of their problems … at least until the Los Angeles Kings showed that they were better at out-scoring their problems in a thrilling shooting gallery of a series.
That’s where the “loss that would be a proud year for most other franchises” bit comes in: if Chicago wants to evoke dynasty chatter, they need to thwart the Kings. It didn’t work out this time.
The franchise-shaping offseason moves came in locking up Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to mammoth contract extensions. Those two deals will have far-reaching consequences that could force a trade or two as the 2014-15 season goes on (if not even a trade if the mood strikes before October rolls around).
Ultimately, the best news is that this team is largely intact and slightly-to-quite-improved, depending upon how well Brad Richards and Teuvo Teravainen fit into the mix. By most accounts, Michal Handzus long passed the point of usefulness, so potentially finding an improvement at the oft-cited second-line center spot could be a boon.
With players like Brandon Saad needing new deals soon, Patrick Sharp being the target of trade speculation and Marian Hossa breaking down a bit from all that mileage, one gets the feeling that the Blackhawks might be forced to make some tough decisions soon.
Whether it’s fair to the other contenders or not, many likely believe that the road to the Stanley Cup goes through Chicago and Los Angeles.