Blackhawk Down: The Purging of Chicago's Roster

MJ KasprzakSenior Writer IIAugust 4, 2010

CHICAGO - JUNE 11: Antti Niemi #31 hoists the cup  during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory parade and rally on June 11, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The war of attrition may be drawing to a close. But what a destructive path it has left through one of the world's great cities.

Losing Adam Burish, Ben Eager, Colin Fraser, and Jordan Hendry is one thing. All of them played in the playoffs for the Chicago Blackhawks, but the sum of their six to 12 minutes each could be gobbled up by minimum wage players without the Blackhawks losing their status as the team to beat.

Losing Nick Boynton, Andrew Ladd, Kim Johnsson, Brent Sopel, probably John Madden, and now Antti Niemi means a little more. They would feel the loss of any one of those players a little, and the sum of them hurts.

Ladd and Madden were key checking-line forwards, but there are always players able to step into those roles at a discount on the market. Boynton and Johnsson combined to play just a few games in the finals so the team won without them, and Sopel was important but not huge.

Many would find Niemi's loss more significant. True, he was great against the San Jose Sharks, but many of you have read my many accounts of how shutting down the San Jose offense in the playoffs is standard (click here to read more on the Sharks ongoing offseason moves).

The reality is Niemi allowed three or more goals in 11 of the other 18 games he played—it is possible even a washed-up Marty Turco (with only one career successful playoff run) can take his place.

In other words, the Blackhawks did not win the Stanley Cup because of any of those players. Even when you add in the aforementioned less significant roster losses, they can at least contend for their division and be a team capable of defending their title.

But they also lost Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg, two of their most important forwards. Buff was huge in the playoffs, especially against Vancouver and San Jose, after a solid season (17 goals, 17 assists). Versteeg was key in the regular season (44 points) and playoffs (14 in 22 games).

Losing both of them has an immediate impact. Add their losses to the 10 other players and this team will be fortunate to make it out of the first round of the playoffs. Over half of the players who have their names etched on the Stanley Cup are gone.

Do not underestimate this team. They have kept their corps together (Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook) and still possess the top blue line in the game (add Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson to the last two names and it really does not matter who the fifth and sixth guys are).

But I guarantee you this team will not repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. I would bet almost anything they will not repeat as Western Conference Champions. And I would wager a reasonable amount they will not even repeat as Central Division Champions.

How the mighty have fallen.