Chicago Blackhawks: 10 Reasons They're Better This Year Than in Their Cup Year
In 2010, the Blackhawks brought the Stanley Cup to Chicago for the first time in 49 years.
That roster was loaded with All-Stars, and we've seen Dustin Byfuglien move on to become an offensive force and Andrew Ladd become a captain in Atlanta/Winnipeg. Certainly, before salary cap Armageddon hit a couple weeks after a fantastic parade, that team was loaded.
For the near future, every team the Hawks put on the ice will be compared to that roster as a benchmark for success. This year, the Hawks enter November in first place in the Central and as a trendy pick to at least represent the Western Conference in the Finals.
But how do the current Blackhawks compare to the champions from 2010? Let's take a look.
Daniel Carcillo > Adam Burish
Adam Burish was the fourth-line instigator on the 2009-10 Blackhawks who did a great job of bringing energy to the ice...and the locker room. But he played in 13 games that year and wasn't a major factor until the postseason, where his mouth was as effective (if not more) than his play on the ice.
Daniel Carcillo was brought in this year to play that same role. But within the dynamics coach Joel Quenneville has established now, Carcillo is skating on a second line with Marian Hossa and Patrick Kane. His hockey IQ has already paid dividends, and he'll certainly play in more than 13 games this year.
He has Finals experience as well, something Burish didn't have in 2010. The move from Burish to Carcillo may have taken a year, but it's a clear upgrade on the ice.
Nick Leddy 2011 > Niklas Hjalmarsson 2009
This is the most striking difference between 2009-10 and today.
Hjalmarsson was coming off a half-season with the Blackhawks and was the young kid on the blue line who was being used in specific situations. He has been a good shutdown guy over the last three seasons, but didn't have a track record coming into the 2009-10 season and wasn't an offensive threat.
Leddy was acquired in a deal with Minnesota and saw some action last year in October because of Brian Campbell's injury. He was good enough down the stretch last year that management moved Campbell—and his contract—this summer.
Leddy, three years out of high school, is now skating top-four minutes for the Hawks and is establishing himself as a solid offensive threat. His defensive play is also improving nightly.
Leddy, today, is an enormous upgrade from where Hjalmarsson was during the 2009-10 season.
Jamal Mayers > Ben Eager
Eager, with Burish, was part of the fourth line for the Hawks that was known in Chicago as the Energy Line because they always skated hard and fast. In 2009-10, Eager played in 60 games and produced fairly well (16 points in 8:20 TOI), but also piled up 120 penalty minutes.
Mayers was brought in to be a veteran on the fourth line. He is much more versatile than Eager; Mayers can play center as well as the wing. Already this year, Mayers in on pace to sprint past his numbers the last two years as well, and has been a great energy player for the Hawks.
Mayers' experience and production on the current Hawks roster is a huge upgrade from what Eager brought to the table two years ago.
Sean O'Donnell/Sami Lepisto > Brent Sopel
Sopel was a veteran shot-blocking specialist who was used largely on penalty killing in the 2009-10 season. He received a lot of praise for hanging onto the puck through the final seconds of the famous penalty kill against Nashville that ended with Hossa's dramatic game-winner, but he wasn't an offensive threat.
This year, the Blackhawks have two defensemen in O'Donnell and Lepisto who are at least an equal to Sopel, if not an improvement, defensively.
But what's more important is that the Hawks have seven legitimate defensemen on their roster this year and can rotate the older O'Donnell with a younger Lepisto without the quality on the ice dropping off.
The bottom of the Hawks' defensive group this year is improved over the 2009-10 roster.
Michael Frolik > Kris Versteeg
This is the boldest point in the argument, but there is a case to be made.
Versteeg was a flashy third-line forward for the Hawks in 2009-10 and was a scoring threat. He posted 44 points, including 20 goals that year, and made opponents think about defensively matching up with the Hawks' checking line throughout the year.
Frolik might not be as flashy as Versteeg was, but he's still an offensive threat. He had two 20-goal seasons in Florida before he was acquired last year, and has shown the ability to finish early this year.
But the biggest difference between the two is Frolik's commitment to the defensive end of the ice. His ability to play a checking role was grossly undersold when he was acquired by Chicago last year, and he has become a solid contributor on the Hawks checking line this year.
The offensive side of the ice might break even, but Frolik's defensive play is an upgrade on this year's Blackhawks roster.
Bryan Bickell > Tomas Kopecky & Troy Brouwer
Kopecky and Brouwer were two of the physical forwards on the Hawks roster in 2009-10 that had some offensive ability, but were asked to bring hits to the ice as much as anything. That year, they combined for 61 points, highlighted by Brouwer's 22 goals.
Bickell has stepped onto the Hawks' third line this year and has been very impressive. He probably won't replace all 61 points, or the gross number of hits that Kopecky and Brouwer produced in the Cup year, but he's one man playing the role that two players had to fill back then.
He's got 20-goal potential and is a better skater than Brouwer. He's also been a fantastic role player on the checking line with Frolik and Bolland this year.
Where the Hawks needed two players to fill a role in 2009-10, having Bickell perform those duties by himself this year is a huge upgrade.
Many people forget, because of his great postseason, that Bolland missed most of the 2009-10 season because of back surgery. He only posted six goals and 10 assists during the regular season that year, and didn't really get comfortable in the rotation until the regular season was over.
This year, Bolland has become a fringe candidate for the Selke and is one of the most lethal penalty killers in the league. He has five goals already in October, and should pass those 16 points by Thanksgiving (US).
While a certain level of knocking-on-wood needs to happen to keep Bolland healthy, his play has matured and he is a key member of the Hawks offense and defense this year.
Two years later, Dave Bolland is a much better, and more impactful, player than he was in the Cup season.
In 2009-10, the Hawks brought in Marian Hossa and John Madden to bring experience to one of the youngest rosters in the league. They hadn't been anywhere—much less to the Finals—before and needed to add experience to the roster to take the next step.
Today, Jonathan Toews has a Conn Smythe on his resume and has been the captain of a champion. He's also a Hart candidate and is still scoring at a great pace. But last year, Toews was asked to carry the team though some late-season injuries and did so.
Similarly, Patrick Kane's game has matured and he could be back at/above the 88 points he posted in the Cup season.
Certainly, the maturity from Toews, Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and the other young players who were key pieces to the Cup puzzle is a major factor in the current team being in better position to sustain excellence on the ice.
This is one of the most important distinctions between the 2009-10 team and today, and a lot of this part of the equation is because of the break-up of the Cup champion team.
Looking down the stat sheet from 2009-10, there are names like Andrew Ebbett, Radek Smolenak and Jack Skille who saw limited action up front for those Hawks.
Today, there are players in the organization like Ben Smith—who made an impact in the Vancouver series last spring—who are much better and, most importantly, already here. And other youngsters, like Jeremy Morin and Brandon Pirri, have stepped into NHL games already.
On the blue line in 2009-10, players like Nick Boynton and Jordan Hendry were filling games for Sopel and Campbell throughout the year, While this year's depth is much improved, having kids like Brian Connelly, Dylan Olsen and Shawn Lalonde available in the AHL gives the Hawks better options if they need one to come up and be an athletic player on the roster.
The fact is, this year's team has more talent already within the organization to draw from in a pinch than it had in the Cup season.
This is huge, and will be the biggest factor in the Hawks' hopes of bringing another Cup to Chicago.
In 2009-10, the Blackhawks were right at the cap throughout the season. That is why names like Ebbett and Smolenak wound up on the final scoring sheet for the regular season, and why the only acquisition at the deadline was Kim Johnsson.
Indeed, winning the Cup put the Hawks more than $4 million over the cap that year, which impacted their ability to retain players the following season thanks to bonuses to young players like Kane and Toews.
This year, with a much deeper organization to draw prospects from and an NHL roster that's on par, if not better, than they had in 2009-10, the Hawks have over $3.8 million in cap space to work with. If there is an injury, or if the mix on the ice doesn't work for some reason at some point in the year (or if the right player becomes available), the Hawks can add a significant piece to the puzzle.
With cap flexibility to play with, the Hawks are in better position to not only continue competing, but also improve their roster if needed during the season.
What Do You Think?
Are this year's Blackhawks better than 2009-10?
We won't know until June, but on paper there is reason to believe that they have improved in strategic places to have a great chance to win it all again this year.
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