Much has been of all of the players lost to salary cap woes this off-season. It seems as if more fans in Chicago pay attention to how many players we lost, rather than who we lost. And most egregious is the assertion that we ” shouldn’t have gotten rid of all those players.” Yeah, good thinking, except for the fact that we would be fielding a team that is illegal and 10 million dollars over the salary cap. There was no other choice, and Scotty Bowman handled this off-season masterfully in minimizing the damage. I think as a big-market that has just re-entered the hockey world, we fans have a lot to learn.
First of all, we have to look at what repeat champions have within them. The oldest cliche in sports is that repeating is the hardest thing to do. Not in most sports. But in the salary cap hockey world, this is a very hard truth. Unlike other teams, however, we have been able to shed the appropriate amount of salary, while also keeping our core intact, and providing spots to new players who are highly motivated.-Marty Turco, if he matches or exceeds Niemi’s season last year should be paraded around as a hero. Who else in sports took such a drastic paycut in order to win?
Joe Mauer is definitely one. But really, he is the only significant example that comes to mind. Its safe to say, that Turco is not playing for financial stability, folks. He is playing for one thing, and one thing only. Winning the Stanley Cup. And common sense tells me that if he had equal numbers to Niemi last year with a bad Dallas defense, then with a spectacular Blackhawks defense, he should look like an iron wall. The Goalie position should really not be an issue in the upcoming year, unless he is injured. Even though Corey Crawford finally looked good in his final preseason game, he is far less reliable.
With the signings of Boynton (resigning) and Pisani, there is a combination of experience within the back-end of the team, and also ramped up competition amongst the youngsters to gain a roster spot (and at a bargain rate). We all know that the number one reason that repeating is difficult (besides the salary cap) is that players get a little complacent with nothing left to prove. Trust me, at least one third of this team has something to prove. Especially when it means being on the butcher block if they do not end up making their presence known. This will help to alleviate some of the championship hangover. After all, we are even younger than we were at the start of last year. So you can bank on this team keeping a high level of motivation, considering all the fresh faces in the lineup.
Also, do you really think the target will be on our back as much as a team that is sporting basically the same lineup as last year?
Probably not. But that is neither here nor there, and may not be much of a factor.
And lastly, we should be able to count on at the very least, a slight improvement in the injury department in the regular season. Hossa was our highest scorer on a per game basis last year. If you recall, he was forced to watch from the sidelines for a good third of the season, and ultimately waited even longer to fully recover. Expect a scary season from him, especially if his superhuman pre-season was anything to base the real season on.
Dave Bolland was clearly hurting last year after undergoing back surgery in the preseason. He will be back and hopefully better than ever. Troy Brouwer was admittedly suffering mental anguish due to his fathers ill health that almost took his life in the end. That will not be the case this year. His father has recovered, and it was apparent during the playoffs last year, how big a factor it had been. Expect a better season this year.
And remember that Brian Campbell was lost for a significant portion of the season due to Alexander Ovechkin’s cheap hit. He wasn’t even fully healthy during the playoffs, but was still a consistent force. Well, this year he will not be available until the second month of the season due to a leg injury. It’s good that he will be able to allow it to heal fully during the first few games, instead of rushing back at a level less than 100%, He will be completely healthy and rested and ready to improve upon last year if he is patient during his injury break.
This might be the clincher right here. I think we Remember Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews. They are young. VERY young. There is no way on Earth that they have peaked. Its a very scary thought. They are a year older and arguably more than a year wiser, because of Stanley Cup experience. Both of them could have monster years that may make last year’s production seem feeble. Even if there’s a slight improvement, it could still put them over the top, considering they won the cup last year with an even smaller resume.And then there’s Keith and Seabrook. Both relative youngsters with possible if not likely upsides. They already were arguably the best defensive pairing in hockey. And the continuing development of Niklas Hjalmarsson is going to be crucial as well. He is well on his way to being a great defender in the league. And he will need to be this year.
I would expect it to take a little time for the club to gel during the early season. But I also wouldn’t expect it to take as long as you think. The fantastic core is completely intact. Barring rashes of injuries, or Patrick Kane’s blood alcohol level remaining at three times the legal limit, we should have a more than competitive team. The Vegas odds-makers have already favored the team to repeat, and I am leaning that way too. I can envision a few different scenarios with this team, and not many have them regressing. So, once again, keep an eye on those “Kids” in Chicago. They could be special again this year.