It feels like just yesterday we were jumping around screaming, buy watching the Hawks pull off a miracle Game 6 Stanley Cup victory win over the Boston Bruins. It’s been a whirlwind hockey summer in Chicago, from Kaner’s Letterman appearance, to tracking the Cup, to Corey Crawford’s hilarious profanity ridden speech at the Champion’s parade – and we’ve loved every minute of it!
The 2012-2013 season was certainly magical for the Hawks. After a three month lockout, the Hawks opened the shortened season with a bang, going the first 24 games without a regulation loss. The team went on to win the Central Division and the President’s Trophy, racking up the most points in the NHL. Oh yeah, and they won the Cup for the second time in four years, becoming the first team to do so in the Salary Cap Era.
The term “dynasty” has been thrown around a lot this summer, but most Hawks fans use that term with caution. Sports Illustrated just released an issue-featuring our reining champions as the cover subject, naming the Hawks as the early favorites to win the next Stanley Cup. But before you start talking trash to your friends in Detroit and Boston about the Hawks chances for a repeat, keep in mind that no one has won back to back Cups since the Redwings in 97-98.
With the threat of a Stanley Cup hangover looming, the Hawks’ roster looks relatively the same, unlike after winning the cup in 2010 when the Hawks parted ways with key players to clear space for the salary cap. However, there were still key players that were let go this offseason in order to lock in franchise players that the Hawks plan to build around over the next few seasons.
This offseason the Hawks parted ways with Forwards Dave Bolland (who scored the Stanley Cup winning goal!), Michael Frolik, former HAMs Daniel Carcillo and Viktor Stalberg, as well as to Goalie Ray Emery. It hurts to see these guys go, but considering the blood-letting in 2010, I think we’ll be alright. In fact, the fine folks at Bovada listed the Hawks as 6/1 favorites to repeat in 2014. (In case you’re headed to Vegas anytime soon.)
So let’s take a closer look at the guys who will be responsible for bringing the Cup back to Chicago next June.
1st: Bryan Bickell, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane
2nd: Patrick Sharp, Michael Handzus, Marian Hossa
3rd: Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Ben Smith
4th: Brandon Bollig, Marcus Kruger, Jimmy Hayes
Speaking of our cover boy, Patrick Kane is coming off a monster postseason, scoring nine playoff goals. It was only a year ago that Kane’s off-ice partying antics were getting him and trouble, and many were calling for a trade. He certainly turned things around, winning the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs, and becoming a YouTube sensation with his incredible stick handing skills. His increased maturity on and off the ice has made him on of the Hawks most valuable players.
We can’t forget the other Patrick, Mr. Sharp, who dethroned Duncan Keith as the “most fit Blackhawk.” After leading the team in the post season, Sharpie sounds ready for the season. Sharp is one of the Hawks most consistent players, he led the team in scoring throughout the playoffs. Both he and Kane came up big when Captain Jonathan Toews struggled to find the net during the playoffs. However, Hawks certainly aren’t going anywhere without Captain Serious, he’s the team’s MVP.
With the departure of Dave Bolland, the Hawks will be looking for a second line center. Coach Q tried placing Brandon Saad aka “The Man Child” in the spot, but that experiment was short lived. To the surprise of many Rockford IceHog Brandon Pirri failed to make the final roster spot and was sent back down to the IceHogs. Marcus Kruger, penatly killer extraordinaire and Michael Handzus will share time between the 2nd and 4th lines with Pirri as the first IceHog to get the call-up if either forward falls in productivity or are injured. This could be one of the Hawks few weak spots this season.
Eyes will also be on playoff hero Bryan Bickell this season. Following a phenomenal run in the playoffs, Bickell was signed to a four year, $16 million deal. Pressure will be on for Bickell to prove he’s worth the money, he’ll need to continue to be a dominant force in front of the net.
Projected Defensive Pairings:
Duncan Keith & Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjarmalsson & Johnny Oduya
Nick Leddy & Michal Rozsival/Sheldon Brookbank
The Hawks blue line is one of the team’s biggest strengths. The team ranked 1st in the NHL last season, allowing only 2.02 goals per game. The whole gang’s coming back, over the summer the Hawks resigned Nicklas Hjalmarsson to a five-year extension, averaging over $4 million a year. Blue line stalwarts Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are still dominant, while youngster Nick Leddy continues to mature, coming off his best regular season in the NHL.
The defense wouldn’t have been nearly as spectacular without the help of Corey “f bomb” Crawford and Ray Emery. After two early playoff exits, Crawford was finally able to silence his critics with a dominant performance in the playoffs, posting an impressive .923 save percentage. The Hawks locked in Crow this offseason when they signed him to a 6-year extension. With Emery heading to the Philadelphia Flyers, familiar face 40-year old Nikolai Khabibulin will be the #2 goalie.
The Blackhawks are in it for the long haul. GM Stan Bowman extended head coach Joel Quenneville’s contract and is actively working to keep his core group in red and black for the rest of their careers. The Hawks are coming off an incredibly short offseason (oh the pitfalls of winning), but they seem hungry and ready for the season. If there’s a team that can repeat, my money’s on the Hawks.
Just a little video to get you PUMPED for the hockey season.