A year removed after their 2010 Stanley Cup championship, the Chicago Blackhawks still were able to return to the postseason in 2011 despite an exodus of some of their top talent. Nonetheless, the Blackhawks struggled to retain their dominant form that propelled them to the previous year's championship.
Despite a thrilling seven-game series against the eventual Western Conference champion Vancouver Canucks in the conference quarterfinals, Chicago clearly lacked the same dominant play that they enjoyed the previous year—a fact not lost by general manager Stan Bowman.
Bowman has a core of talent already to work with. Forwards like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are easy pieces to build around. Entering his sophomore season, net minder Corey Crawford also gives the Blackhawks plenty of hope moving forward. However, the Blackhawks needed to add both depth and grit in order to get back to the quality of play they enjoyed during the 2009-10 campaign.
Chicago's situation was complicated by salary cap restrictions, which necessitated trading top defenseman Brian Campbell, and his eight-year, $56.8 million contract to the Florida Panthers on June 24. In addition, the Blackhawks parted ways with the talented but expensive defenseman Chris Campoli, who was demanding more money than Chicago was willing to offer. Clearing that contract allowed Bowman to make some necessary additions to bring in that depth and grit that most Chicago fans felt necessary.
To make up for the losses of Campbell and Campoli, Bowman acquired rugged defenseman Steve Montador from the Buffalo Sabres, and subsequently signed him to a four-year deal.
On July 1, Bowman opened up free agency by signing a series of tough skaters including Jamal Mayers, Sean O' Donnell and Daniel Carcillo. All of them should add more of the tough guy mentality that the Blackhawks needed moving forward.
According to The Sports Xchange, July 15, 2011: "We've really added some things that I think can help us win again," noted Kane. "I don't think you can ever have more than enough on the team," Kane said. "Especially with our team, you look at so many skilled players we have. You need certain players for certain roles."
With the added muscle, Marian Hossa, Kane and Toews should benefit from knowing that they have additional tough guys on the ice protecting them once again.
Bowman was not finished tweaking the Blackhawks, however.
He re-signed forward Michael Frolik to a three-year, $7 million deal, as well as free agent Andrew Brunette. The 37-year-old Brunette, who has netted a career 706 points over his career, could see playing time along some of Chicago's top forwards.
Time will tell whether or not the recent moves will pan out into success in the upcoming regular season. However, the Blackhawks definitely figure to be much harder to play against. The added muscle and grit combined with some of the NHL's top forwards should provide a plausible solution to the problems that egged Chicago last year.
There already was a solid core. Now there is added muscle.