What Challenges Stand in The Way of a Chicago Blackhawks Repeat?
With the hour drawing near to the puck drop of the new 2010-11 season, it is time for the celebration to come to an end, and for work to be done.
Yes, the preseason has come and gone, with the due respect given to the happenings and results of NHL preseason games. But now, the lights will shine bright, and the happenings and results will count.
All the teams, at least on the surface, express and feel that they have a shot at winning the Stanley Cup at season's end. But, for many teams, it will be more difficult than others.
The Blackhawks will be a team looking to prove an assortment of things this season.
This season most of the attention has been drawn to other aspects of the team from both local and national coverage of the league.
It will be quite interesting to see if the Blackhawks can overcome the odds that face defending Stanley Cup champions, and bring the parade back to Chicago.
New Players Hit The Ice
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The Blackhawks of last season possessed a quality that not many teams have had in Chicago over the years.
That is that they were very identifiable for the fans and people of the city.
People connected with the attitude and work ethic of all the players, as seemingly all of them were likeable, and were people you wouldn't mind having a beer with.
Some of them are gone, and some remain. What will this mean in terms of wins-losses-ties is yet to be seen.
What is known is there will be nine new faces on the ice Thursday night for puck drop in Denver.
It should not take long for some of these players to make names for themselves, but what will be hard to do is for them to earn the respect and admiration that there predecessors had with the Blackhawks.
As Rick Pitino said when he alienated himself as coach of the Boston Celtics, "Larry Bird is not walking through that door, fans. Kevin McHale is not walking through that door, and Robert Parish is not walking through that door. And if you expect them to walk through that door, they're going to be gray and old. What we are is young, exciting, hard-working, and we're going to improve."
The same can be said for Blackhawks fans as Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, and Antti Niemi are not going to be walking through that door this season. Viktor Stalberg, Nick Leddy, and Fernando Pisani are the names of note to cheer for.
Good Party, Short Break
Obviously, it is not easy winning the Stanley Cup by any means, and for a franchise that has not done it for 49 years, the celebration is going to be long and meaningful.
But, like any great party that a person attends, and celebrates at, there is usually a hangover that comes the next day.
The Blackhawks might feel some of those effects this season.
The team won the Stanley Cup in June and has been celebrating all summer long, going to different events and basking in the greatness that they brought to the "Windy City." The NHL season, like no other, takes a demanding toll on the players, as it stretches out across all four seasons.
For some of the players, they did have some recuperation time during the Olympic break. But, for six Hawks players, there was no such break as they played for their countries before finishing the regular season, and marching to the Cup.
Other teams in the NHL were knocked out in May last season, and have had one mission in mind, and that is to get healthy and stronger. Some teams that did not make the playoffs have had an even longer break, and are going to be ready to make a run this season.
Salary Cap is Still a Dreaded Word in Hawks Town
The moves have been made, and the maneuvering was completed enough that there will, in fact, be players wearing the indian head this season.
But, it is not as if the Blackhawks are now free to frolic in the fields of comfort in regards to the hard-hitting cap.
They are still pushing up against that cap in ways that, no doubt, keep Stan Bowman up at nights.
Estimates say the Blackhawks may only have near $300,000 in space. Which is mere peanuts in the landscape of the NHL, and more broadly professional sports.
The main contracts that are hurting the situation are clearly Brian Campbell's $7 million, and Marian Hossa's $5 million this season. Both are talented, world-class players, but it does sting a little bit knowing some of that could be used to bring in four or five young players.
Sharks, Ducks, Predators... Oh My!
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Yes, the Blackhawks sport some of the best players in the NHL.
But, let us remember that Nashville, Vancouver, and Philadelphia were all valiant matches for the Blackhawks in postseason play last season, and could have won a series had a few pucks went their way.
This season, the Western Conference has many teams that could throw their hat into contention for a title this season.
The Predators are a young team that was able to get to the 100-point plateau behind a young and dynamic goaltender in Pekka Rinne. The Ducks have locked up one of the best lines in the league contractually in Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry.
And, the Sharks are, no doubt, ready again to try to prove they are not a regular-season wonder with Antti Niemi as an addition.
And, the Red Wings have to, no doubt, be ready to erase the bad taste of not reaching the Stanley Cup last season; which over recent years has almost become commonplace for them.
They have their core back this season, and with young Jimmy Howard in net, and the great Nicklas Lidstrom back for another season, they should be a top team all season.
Repeats Aren't Easy
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Winning a Stanley Cup once is a once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment for hockey players.
For a team to repeat is one of the hardest things in sports. It is mainly tied to the inability to keep that core of players together with the structure that was set up in the lockout five years ago.
But it has been done before. The Red Wings were able to do it over a dozen years ago, in dominant fashion as they swept the Cup Finals in both seasons.
Those were Red Wings teams loaded with potential Hall of Famers, as the Blackhawks may have in years to come.
Before them was the back-to-back titles won by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Again these two players may remind some to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
In other sports, it is also very hard to get to the mountain top again.
In baseball, the Yankees had a three-peat around the same time the Red Wings did it, and it has not been done since. Football saw the Patriots behind Tom Brady won two of there three rings in consecutive years.
And, in basketball, the Kobe Bryant Lakers have done it these past two seasons.
Yes, it can be done. Are the odds with the Blackhawks?
Most definitely not. But, it would perhaps make another run to the Cup even more worth it this time around.