If you ask me, the Chicago Blackhawks front office made a clear decision heading into the 2009-10 season that reverberates today and may continue to do so for some time. Rather than giving themselves future breathing room, the team decided to bring in Marian Hossa and (briefly) retain Kris Versteeg and Cam Barker, a gamble that absolutely paid off in the short term with a Stanley Cup victory.
Of course, you probably know what happened last summer. Barker was already traded during the 09-10 season while the Blackhawks were forced to part with valuable commodities such as Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Antti Niemi.
The Blackhawks won their Cup thanks to two big picture reasons: 1) the high-end players who remain on their roster and 2) the staggering depth that no other NHL team could match.
Removing reason number two seemingly took away the Blackhawks’ ability to overwhelm opponents and store easy wins over the cold winter. They now find themselves in a scary place (11th in the West, to be exact) and face the disturbing reality that even their still-potent power play is beginning to falter. Jesse Rogers captured the frustrations of Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith.
“[Expletive] the power play,” Keith said after the game. “Nobody goes to the net to score goals. That’s why we don’t win.”
Keith played on both power-play units Monday, as Joel Quenneville changed personnel when the poor attempts piled up. But given the chance again to comment on their man-advantage play, Keith went back to even-strength.
“The other team had power plays, too,” he said. “They didn’t score. They got it 5-on-5. If we start relying on 5-on-5, we might win, instead of relying on the power play and blaming the power play or the penalty kill. We start doing better 5-on-5, we’ll win hockey games then.”
Quenneville didn’t like just about anything the Hawks did in the game and certainly didn’t disagree with his defenseman’s assessment.
Of course, the team’s need to get someone in front of the net probably makes the loss of a crease clogging and goalie-maddening presence like Byfuglien stand out that much more. It’s unfair to assume that Byfuglien would achieve the same results in Chicago as he is producing in Atlanta – after all, he is given a longer leash with the Thrashers since they possess far less options than the Hawks – but it’s tough to dispute the notion that his absence is glaring.
The Hawks most find improvement from within considering the fact that they only possess about $354K of cap space (according to CapGeek.com), less than one minimum NHL contract.
Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were able to make themselves league darlings last season as the team’s depth made life much easier for their stars. Now the Blackhawks are a lot like many other top-heavy NHL teams and the results haven’t been flattering.
That being said, the team still possesses a talented group at its core, so you can’t totally count them out. We cannot help but ask: do you think the Blackhawks are a playoff team? Let us know in this poll.