Three Things Chicago Blackhawks Must Do to Follow in Penguins' Footsteps
A young team, which many say is on the verge of a dynasty, takes the league by storm on the shoulders of their mix of veteran leadership and young, first-overall talent.
Just when they started to gain respect, and just when analysts actually gave them a fighting chance for the Cup, they ran into a wall known as the Detroit Red Wings. The tired cliches and sentiments come out at the end—you have to lose to know when to win, better luck next year.
The 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2009 Chicago Blackhawks, when looked at from a mere story sense, are one in the same. Each have a kid-prodigy drafted first overall, a similar (if not better) young sidekick, but lacked some essential playoff experience.
How, then, does Chicago follow in Pittsburgh's footsteps and step over Detroit to the promised land?
No: 1 Cut Your Losses
The biggest storyline of the '09 Cup Final was former Penguin star Marian Hossa's search for a championship with Detroit. Hossa left Pittsburgh, for less money, to play for Detroit.
The Penguins lost Hossa and Gary Roberts after last season, a year in which they won the Eastern Conference Finals and took Detroit to six games.
The next year, they...well...let's just say their plane back to Pittsburgh is 35 pounds heavier.
This season, the Blackhawks have a slew of veteran players hitting the free agent market, including goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin and center Samuel Pahlsson, unrestricted. Other key role players, such as Ben Eager, Dave Bolland, and Cam Barker, are entering the market restircted.
For the Blackhawks to move on, they can't be caught up by past emotions. Despite the great season this group of players had, Pittsburgh showed that losing core players does not necessarily mean a championship is not attainable.
No. 2: Lock the Youth
Want an easy way to make a Blackhawks fan's heart drop? Bring up the simple fact that Patrick Kane, Johnathan Towes, and Duncan Keith are restriced free agents following next season.
With the expected drop in the '09-10 NHL salary cap, the Blackhawks are preparing to face the inevitability of losing such key contributors as Khabibulin and Pahlsson.
Martin Havlat is expected to be their No. 1 offseason priority, as well as keeping at least a few of their many restricted free agents. Without much money to spend on their own team, much less on outside free agents, it may be time to restructure and have their supreme young talent sign new contracts.
Keith, Kane, and Toews are essential to the Blackhawks' future success, and, although losing them as RFA's would entitle the team to some compensation, nothing can replace what they bring to the team.
Pittsburgh knew this before making their championship run, locking up their top-three young players (Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Marc-Andre Fleury) to deals ending no earlier than 2014.
Locking up the young corps will provide something a young team will need for sustained success: stability.
No. 3: Mind the Net
Watching the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals with the 2009 version was like watching two different Pittsburgh goaltenders. One year, Fleury sits on a puck that slides in, and he makes a sprawling effort to secure a championship in the next.
For Chicago, they (most likely) will actually have a different goaltender next season, with Cristobal Huet replacing the aging free agent Nikolai Khabibulin.
Most Chicago fans think back to the five goals allowed effort in Game Four of the Western Conference Finals, a game in which the Red Wings turned Huet into french toast.
However, if Game Five was any indication, the Blackhawks will be in good hands. In a game in which the Wings poured the shots on early and often, Huet came up huge, stopping 44 shots, including an unbelievably-underplayed-in-highlights kick save to send the game into OT.
The Blackhawks have Huet inked until the 2013 season, a far cry from any other goalie that played a single minute of action. The Blackhawks' potential Fleury-esque goaltender could be Corey Crawford, who played 16 minutes in the Game Four debacle, allowing only a five-on-three goal.
In Rockford this past season, Crawford had a 2.59 GAA, stopping 91 percent of the shots he faced. Considering head coach Joel Quenneville trusted him in the playoffs, look for Crawford to fill the gap should Huet falter.
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