The 5 Most Promising Signs for Chicago Blackhawks' Future
The Chicago Blackhawks have earned a plethora of honors in recent years.
They are the standard bearers in the National Hockey League, having won two Stanley Cups in the last four years.
The team is having some difficulty down the stretch in the regular season that has manifested itself in an inability to win games that go past 60 minutes. However, nobody is discounting them as a team that can't defend its title or one that has an ordinary future.
There are a number of reasons why the future looks bright in Chicago. In this piece, we look at five of them.
There is no question that the Blackhawks' fortunes made a 180-degree turn for the better when Rocky Wirtz took over the stewardship of the franchise following the death of his father William Wirtz in 2007.
Rocky Wirtz took over a team that was old-school all the way. To say that Bill Wirtz was set in his ways is an understatement of huge proportion. He was interested in keeping his team profitable and didn't want to offend season ticket holders—referred to as "season reservationists" by Wirtz operative and longtime team executive Bob Pulford—by putting home games on television.
That decision and Wirtz's refusal to reconsider it for decades made the Blackhawks a laughingstock.
However, when Rocky Wirtz took over, his goal was to turn the Blackhawks into a modern and successful organization with the primary goal being to build a successful team on the ice.
He brought in John McDonough as president of the organization and the Blackhawks started making moves to correct the years of inconsistency that had come before. The first tangible thing that Wirtz did was put the Blackhawks home games on television. That woke up the media that had long ignored the team, and the Blackhawks would eventually find top young talent in the draft to turn the on-ice product around.
The younger Wirtz has been devoted to upgrading all aspects of the Chicago Blackhawks organization. His success has been undeniable.
Few teams have a management team as strong as the Blackhawks do with Stan Bowman filling the general manager's position and Joel Quenneville behind the bench.
Bowman was faced with a huge task when the Blackhawks hired him to replace fan favorite Dale Tallon. The Blackhawks already had their core talent in place, thanks to Tallon's drafting of of superstars like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith, but he had also botched the salary cap by giving huge contracts to role players.
Bowman's job was to make the harsh player moves to cut payroll, but also keep the team as competitive as possible.
He aced the test. After the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup, he got rid of fan favorites like Dustin Byfuglien and Antti Niemi. The team suffered first-round playoff defeats each of the next two seasons, but came back to win the Stanley Cup last year. Few general managers could have managed that feat.
At the same time, Quenneville has given the Blackhawks strong, steady leadership behind the bench. He is a teacher, strategist and a motivator. He seems to excel at making key line changes at crucial stages that give the Blackhawks an advantage over most opponents.
The tandem of Bowman and Quenneville remains strong and their future looks bright.
Young Offensive Stars on the Horizon
The Blackhawks have two young offensive players who are ready to make a major contribution in the immediate future.
Brandon Saad is already doing just that. The 21-year-old is about to complete his second regular season, and he has shown star potential with 19 goals and 25 assists to go with a plus-29 rating. While that stat is not always reliable, Saad has the second-best rating on the team behind Brent Seabrook (plus-30).
Saad has speed, a hard shot and the guts to go in the hard areas to make plays. However, the big difference between this year and a solid rookie season is that he has learned where and how to position himself in both the offensive and defensive zones. He has remarkable instincts and should only get better.
He will likely be joined by Finnish future star Teuvo Teravainen before the end of the regular season. The Blackhawks are likely to call up their 2012 first-round draft choice and give him an opportunity to show what he can do.
Even if the Blackhawks decide not to use Teravainen this season, he appears to be a star of the future because of his speed, quickness, balance and the ability to make big plays.
Strong and Youthful Core
It seems like the core members of the Chicago Blackhawks have been playing together forever.
Not quite. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were rookies in 2007-08 when both players were 19. This is their seventh full season together and with two Stanley Cups under their collective belts, the two players will certainly have the chance to accomplish more, since they are only 25.
It's not just the Kane and Toews show. Duncan Keith, 30, Brent Seabrook, 28, and Patrick Sharp, 32, are all young enough to remain major contributors for years. All three have long-term contracts that will keep them with the Blackhawks through at least the 2016-17 season.
Toews and Kane both have deals through the 2014-15 seasons. Look for Bowman to address this situation quickly, possibly before the start of the 2014-15 season.
The Blackhawks have one of the most talented defensive crews in the NHL, as they are led by Keith, Seabrook, Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
It doesn't stop there for Chicago—the next generation also appears to be quite talented. The Blackhawks acquired David Rundblad from the Phoenix Coyotes and they have Adam Clendening at their Rockford farm team in the American Hockey League.
Clendening, 21, is a right-shot defenseman with a penchant for getting involved in the attack. He has scored eight goals and added 41 assists in 62 games. Clendening is not huge at 5'11" and 190 pounds, but he has good offensive instincts and knows when to jump into the play. An added dose of intensity would serve his game well.
Rundblad, 21, is a left-handed shooter and like Clendening, his offensive game is more advanced than his defense. However, he is a swift skater who makes excellent decisions with the puck and also has a strong, low shot from the point.
Clendening and Rundblad may be given a solid chance to make the Blackhawks next season.