Chicago Blackhawks: 10 Reasons to Be Thankful in 2011
With Thanksgiving upon us, it is always a good time to be reflective. For the Chicago Blackhawks, 2011 has been a season of growing pains and change.
The Stanley Cup hangover officially concluded with a grueling seven-game series loss to the Vancouver Canucks. When the summer arrived, Stan Bowman and company decided that it was time to make some changes.
As of now, the Blackhawks are among the NHL elite and unlike last year, they are in a much better position heading into the Thanksgiving holiday.
For the moment, let's forget about how miserable they have been in their last two contests against the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. This team will certainly need to bond in Las Vegas and we all can't wait until Brent Seabrook is healthy.
Despite the brutal outcome of their last two games, Chicago fans should feel very lucky that they have a winner in the Windy City. The Hawks have the pieces in place to, once again, bring home hockey's ultimate prize.
To our beloved Hawks, we thank you for the following...
The Emergence of Corey Crawford
Last season, he almost stole it. Corey Crawford took the Hawks to seven games against the Vancouver Canucks. A star was born.
In an era where you are seeing money thrown at goaltenders like there is no tomorrow, the Hawks have Corey Crawford for an absolute bargain.
Last summer, Stan Bowman signed Crawford to a three-year, $2.76 million a year deal. A netminder of Crawford's ability with less than a $3 million cap hit for the next three years is fantastic.
Crawford has been steady and sometimes brilliant. The Hawks should feel comfortable with his consistent play thus far this season.
Solving the Cap Problem
Somehow, Stan Bowman found a taker for Brian Campbell's $7.1 million a year salary. Sure, in return another overpriced player, Rostislav Olesz, came into town.
But now, Olesz has cleared waivers and has been sent to Rockford, opening up $6 million in cap space for Bowman and company to play with.
If you told any Blackhawks fan last year that the team would have that much space to work with, they would tell you you're dreaming. What looked to be a at least a couple more years with a cap crisis has been cleared up in the last few months.
With the core players still in place for some time, it is a bright future for this franchise.
The 2011 Draft
Most critics labeled the Hawks' 2011 draft as a success, and that it was. The Hawks selected Mark McNeil with the 19th overall pick in the first round. A two-way center, in 24 games so far this season with the Price Albert Raiders of the WHL, he has seven goals and 12 assists.
In the second round with the 36th overall pick, the Hawks grabbed Adam Clendening. The Boston University Terrier will see action with the U.S. World Junior Team this winter. He is one of the best pro prospects amongst U.S. college defensemen.
The big splash came in Round 2 with the 43rd pick, when the Hawks absolutely stole the draft. Brandon Saad was not only the feel-good story of the preseason, he found his way on the Hawks roster for a few games before heading back to his junior team in Saginaw.
In eight games with the Spirit, he has nine goals and nine assists. He could easily be part of the opening night roster next season.
The Prospect Pool
Let's have a look, shall we? Jeremy Morin, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Hayes, Dylan Olsen, Kyle Beach, Brandon Pirri, Brandon Saad and the list continues.
Many of these prospects were the results of trades or picks from the post-cup, 2010 fire sale. They are all here now and the cupboard is officially stocked for the future.
It will take time with some, but others will be wearing the Indian Head Sweater in the not-so-distant future.
A Much Improved Nick Leddy
A lot of people, myself included, came into this season feeling that Nick Leddy was a big question mark. Realistically, Leddy was not ready for the NHL last season, but found himself there due to a cap-strapped Blackhawk lineup.
That experience clearly paid off. Leddy has been huge this year, and a fantastic contributor to the Hawks' early success.
Currently, Leddy is leading all Hawks defensemen with 15 points. His puck-moving skills have improved as have his pinching and angling.
Now a steady NHL defender, the Hawks are sure glad they have No. 8 on the blue line.
A Resurgent Marian Hossa
Fully rested and in better condition, Marian Hossa has been an absolute horse for the Hawks this season.
He can still do it all at age 32. He skates well, has magic hands, protects the puck with relative ease and is a weapon in all situations.
Currently the Hawks' leading scorer, let's hope the "Big Hoss" will continue to produce all season long.
A Retooled Patrick Kane
If four months ago, I told you that Patrick Kane was going to be your second-line center, what would you say? Now, what would you say if I told you that thus far, it's been working?
In the 2011 offseason, Patrick Kane made a commitment to refining and retooling his game. More of an effort has been made to become a complete hockey player.
It has not affected his offense either. Kane has 22 points in 21 games. There have been nights where he was easily the best player on the ice.
It is still possible that, with a trade, he may be moved back to wing. That is not a bad thing. Either way, Kane should be applauded for the adjustments he has made in his game.
A Fourth-Line Staple in Marcus Kruger
Marcus Kruger's training camp was not a good one. A couple of injuries gave him the opportunity to enter the Blackhawks' lineup on opening night. He's not going anywhere now.
Kruger has established himself as a solid addition to the club. He is terrific in his own zone and has found a great role as the Hawks' fourth-line center.
We will see what the future has in store for Kruger, and how his game evolves and is ultimately identified. One thing is for certain, he has been a big boost for a club that seemed desperate for centers over the summer.
The Versatile Steve Montador
It took Steve Montador a little while to get used to life in Chicago. As of late, he has been on a tear.
Joel Quenneville has found a place for Montador in the second-team power-play unit. Montador has delighted offensively, scoring four goals in his last six games.
For those of you who miss Brian Campbell, don't be too sad. Montador may not replace all that Campbell did, but he has been a great addition for the Hawks.
Our Beloved Captain Serious
Hawks fans, give thanks. Be thankful this is your leader. Be thankful your captain is still young and will be a Hawk for some time. Be thankful that Jonathan Toews is the best leader in the game of hockey.
He is everything you can ask for in a hockey player. He has grit, is determined, can play at both ends of the ice and is a warrior.
Few players embody the heart and soul that he plays with. For this Thanksgiving, be proud to have Tazer on your side.
Happy Thanksgiving, Hawks fans!!!!