Anthony Lyen, Editor-in-Chief
After the NHL shamefully announced there would be yet another league-wide work stoppage, it took roughly four months to get the hockey season started.
And to think it only took the Chicago Blackhawks 17 seconds to end it.
The Blackhawks sure had an incredible run during the lockout-shortened 2013 season. After breaking numerous franchise and NHL records, including the remarkable 21-0-3 run to start the season, the Blackhawks possessed the best record throughout the entire NHL by the season’s end, earning them the President’s Trophy.
Eventually, the Hawks faced a fellow Original Six team, the Boston Bruins, in the Stanley Cup Finals. After Bryan Bickell and Dave Bolland each netted goals within 17 seconds of each other, the clock ran out, and for the second time in just four seasons, the Stanley Cup returned to sweet home Chicago.
The problem is, after any team wins a championship, analysts and fans talk about a potential “dynasty.” It happens every year in every sport.
The Blackhawks didn’t repeat their success after their magical run in 2010 earned Chicago its first Stanley Cup in 49 years, but in all fairness, GM Stan Bowman had his work cut out for him. With a tight salary cap situation, some housekeeping was in order. The team was almost completely dismantled, and the Hawks wouldn’t make it past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs until 2013.
This offseason, things have been a little different.
At the NHL Draft on June 30, Bowman traded winger Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets for two draft picks. They also traded Bolland, who scored the game-winning goal that won the Blackhawks their fifth Stanley Cup, to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three draft picks.
Some Hawks fans were stunned. Most were relieved.
Bolland and Frolik both carried hefty salaries ($3.375 million and $2.333 million, respectively). Bolland had a pretty underwhelming run on the second line between Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, and he eventually made his way back down to the third – and even the fourth – line. Frolik, while a big contributor on the ultra-successful penalty kill (the Blackhawks had the third-best PK in the league during the regular season), was essentially a fourth line player, and his point totals were nothing to get excited about.
The Blackhawks could also use compliance buyouts on two players of their choosing. Due to the salary cap change stipulated in the new collective bargaining agreement, each NHL team could buy out two contracts to make more cap space. The Blackhawks used these buyouts on defenseman Steve Montador – remember him? – and Rostislav Olesz.
When free agency hit, Viktor Stalberg, blatantly unhappy about his playing time during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, decided to find a new home, signing with the Nashville Predators with a four-year, $12 million deal. Backup goaltender Ray Emery also tested free agency, ultimately signing a one-year, $1.65 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.
That doesn’t mean everyone’s gone, though. In fact, many notable players got raises. Contract extensions were handed out to starting goaltender Corey Crawford (six years, $36 million), forward Bryan Bickell (four years, $16 million) and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson (five years, $20.5 million). Restricted free agents Nick Leddy and Marcus Kruger were both signed to two-year deals, while veterans Michal Rozsival and Michal Handzus both agreed to return for another season. To replace the void left by Ray Emery’s departure, the Hawks signed former Hawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin to a one-year contract.
And don’t worry, Coach Q fans. The ‘stache is back. Head coach Joel Quenneville will be behind the Blackhawks bench through the 2016-17 season after signing a three-year contract extension.
Plenty has happened for the Blackhawks during the offseason. It’s not like the 2010 offseason, much to the relief of Hawks fans everywhere. Still, there will be some changes to the roster once the Blackhawks’ championship banner is raised on Oct. 1, which is also their home opener.
Captain Jonathan Toews is without a doubt the first line (and franchise) center of the Blackhawks for the 2013-14 season and beyond. The problem for the past few years, however, has been who should hold the desperately needed second line center position. Bolland didn’t fit, and now he’s gone. Andrew Shaw and Kruger will probably stay on the third and fourth lines, respectively, while Handzus will be more of a veteran presence, filling in when needed.
So where do the Hawks go from here?
While Coach Q believes rookie phenom Brandon Saad deserves a chance, all eyes will be on young-gun Brandon Pirri. The 22-year-old has spent some time with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks’ minor league affiliate, where he ended up winning the John B. Sollenberger Trophy as the AHL’s leading scorer. While Pirri is a skilled, speedy player who knows how to score, his defensive game could use a little work. Still, expect Pirri to make a splash with the Hawks this season.
Pirri isn’t the only rookie hoping to find a permanent spot on the Blackhawks’ roster sheet. Forwards Ben Smith, Jimmy Hayes and Drew LeBlanc are all considered front-runners to make the opening night roster, while Phillip Danault, Mark McNeill and the highly-touted Teuvo Teravainen are probably at least another year away before making the big jump to the NHL.
Another forward who is an almost guaranteed lock to put on the Indian head sweater is left wing Jeremy Morin. He was brought to Chicago from the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers in the trade that sent Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Ben Eager packing. Morin turned out to be quite the investment. The 22-year-old winger amassed 30 goals for the IceHogs last season. Fans should already recognize Morin’s name, though. After all, he’s already played in 15 NHL games, scoring three goals and two assists.
With last season’s entire defensive group back for the Hawks, there’s a good chance young defensemen Ryan Stanton, Adam Clendening, Dylan Olsen and Stephen Johns will continue to develop. Don’t be surprised, however, for one of those three to get a call up should an injury hit the Blackhawks’ defensemen.
This year’s Blackhawks will have a healthy mix of high-potential, young talent and experienced veterans (if you consider 25-year-old Toews a veteran). Those returning know the surreal feeling of lifting the Stanley Cup above their heads, while the rookies simply have their imaginations, which will drive them throughout the season.
With a deep pool of prospects and a plethora of talent at every position, the Blackhawks will be consistent contenders for the Stanley Cup for many years. They’ve proven they have what it takes to win multiple championships. But can they, for the first time since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings, repeat as Stanley Cup Champions?
I suppose the Blackhawks’ famous goal celebration song, “Chelsea Dagger,” says it all for Hawks fans everywhere.
“Chelsea, Chelsea, I believe…”