Chicago Blackhawks Are Where the St. Louis Blues Want to Be

Tim FitzgeraldContributor IApril 7, 2010

CHICAGO - NOVEMBER 14:  Jonathan Toews #19 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues chase after the puck during the second period at the United Center on November 14, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blues won 4-3 in overtime.  (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)
Brian Kersey/Getty Images

The Blackhawks are the NHL’s Central Division Champs and the second seed in the Western Conference.

The Blues are fourth in the Central Division and 10th in the Western Conference. They officially had their playoffs hopes dashed last night, as Colorado clinched a spot with a shootout win in Vancouver.

The Blackhawks are further along in their rebuilding process and thus higher in the standings.

Of course, the Blackhawks had only made the playoffs once since the 1997-98 season until last year. After being playoff regulars for the better part of the previous 40 years, their last appearance in the postseason since a 1996-97 run was in 2001-02, where they lost in the first round to the Blues.

So that absence from postseason play will certainly help put them ahead of schedule of the Blues' rebuilding efforts, who were playoff regulars up until the lockout.

Hey, I couldn’t give the Blackhawks props like this without a backhanded compliment or two.

But the Blackhawks have done a good job with that head start. They have drafted very well. Their top picks have not just turned into quality players on their roster, but have surpassed that to become certified NHL stars.

The first pick of the 2007 draft, Patrick Kane, weaves through defenses, deking and dangling. He can set up his teammates or put the biscuit in the basket himself. He is currently ninth in the NHL in points with 85, averaging 1.08 points per game.

The third overall pick of the 2006 draft, Jonathan Toews, is the Blackhawks’ captain and has 65 points in 73 games, good for .89 points per game.

Defenseman Duncan Keith, a second round pick in 2002, has 66 points in 79 games.

Along with top-line offensive stars, the Blackhawks have drafted solid second-line guys and defensive players, such as Troy Brouwer or Brent Seabrook.

The highest a homegrown St. Louis Blue appears on the NHL’s points leader board is T.J. Oshie, with 46 points in 75 games. Andy McDonald leads the Blues with 52, followed by Alex Steen’s 47. Both of those players were acquired by trades.

Which brings us to the Blackhawks' player acquisitions via trade. Players like Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg, and Andrew Ladd have panned out for the ‘Hawks.

The Blackhawks can make some of these moves due to their big-market budget—which brings us to their free agent acquisitions. It would be unfair to compare the Blues to this aspect of the Blackhawks’ rebuilding effort.

The biggest contracts the ‘Hawks doled out came after last season’s run to the Western conference finals, so technically, they are post-rebuild and are now part of a big market team’s strategy to win it all.

Even once the Blues do establish themselves as a playoff contender again, you won't see any 12-year, $62.8 million contracts like the one the Blackhawks gave Marian Hossa, nor an eight-year year contract worth $7 million a year like the one given to defenseman Brian Campbell.

But they’ve gotten what they paid for from those pricey free agents, whereas the Blues have gotten injuries from Paul Kariya and bought out the final year of Jay McKee’s four-year deal.

With being further along in rebuilding the team comes being further along in some young veterans' first or second contracts. This will lead to some difficult decisions for the Blackhawks this summer.

They re-upped Duncan Keith this past December with a 13-year, $72 million contract. But Chicago won’t be able to keep all of their young talent with contracts expiring soon, and you can expect some offer sheets to come from other teams.

The Blues wouldn’t mind having that problem eventually. It would most likely mean the Blues’ young players have climbed to a level in performance that commands that type of contract.

But the Blues will certainly welcome some contracts coming off their payroll this year and some budget space to go after some free agents. Perhaps they’ll spend it on some Chicago cap casualties.

To top it all off, the Blackhawks are very well coached. Too bad the Blues didn’t have an offensive mind like Joel Quenneville as their head coach. What NHL owner would fire that guy?

The blueprint is there to follow for the Blues. If they want to be a perennial playoff contender again, all they have to do is look across the ice at tonight’s opponent and upward in the standings.