THE BLACKHAWKS PARADIGM SHIFT
The Chicago Blackhawks don't start in the playoffs until tomorrow, but there are certain things we already know...1) They will maintain a presence in the playoffs for the forseeable future, 2) They are still a building franchise, and 3) Other teams are looking to emulate them.
Think about those three things, especially if you've had even a cursory interest in the Hawks over the past 15 years.
The Blackhawks have caused a paradigm shift in the NHL, where suddenly free agents have another potential suitor, where suddenly the League has a new cash cow, where the story is what's going right, as opposed to what's going wrong.
There are teams who can look at what the Hawks have accomplished, and see how close they are to doing likewise.
Last night, the New York Islanders won the draft lottery, which is the first piece of good news that franchise has had in years. They'll use the pick to select John Tavares, and he'll get to skate out onto the ice at Nassau Mausoleum and look up at banners from the Islanders' glory days, days that occurred before he was born.
He'll be asked to carry the franchise's fortunes on his strong, yet very young, shoulders. He's one talented player among a bunch of miscreants. Maybe eventually they turn it around, probably in a city not named Farmingdale. But that's still a long way off.
The more interesting pick lies at #2. Here's where the season's biggest disappointment outside of Montreal, the Tampa Bay Lightning, landed. Last year they took Steven Stamkos with the #1 pick. Stamkos had the misfortune of toiling in training camp under the tutelage of that jagoff Barry Melrose. Melrose seemed miffed that Stamkos came into camp and wasn't Wayne Gretzky.
Still, Stamkos looks like he's going to be a fine NHL forward, and the Lightning has an assload of them. They get to use the #2 pick on Victor Hedman, a huge defenseman from Sweden. While Stamkos matures up front, Hedman will eventually anchor the blue line. 4 or 5 years from now, we'll discuss how balanced their attack is, how that can hurt you up high and down low.
Having two studs come in rapid succession is what can turn a franchise around. This is what people don't understand about the Hawks. It took years for them to be an overnight sensation.
The arrival of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane was what got things happening on the ice. The arrival of Rocky Wirtz made things happen off the ice. It was a perfect storm, but the buildup was there.
When Kane and Toews arrived, Patrick Sharp had already arrived from the Flyers, and was starting to hit the back of the net more often. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker were developing. They had a veteran goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin, who already had a Stanley Cup on his resume.
Kane and Toews were big pieces, but not the first pieces. This is the difference between Tavares and Hedberg. Tavares comes to a team that doesn't have the foundation laid yet. Hedberg comes to a team with players like Vincent Lacavallier, Martin St. Louis and Ryan Malone, along with Stamkos. There's a lot of talent there, so he can just play hockey without the burden of being the poster boy.
So next year, when people are looking for the next Blackhawks? Oh, they will, believe me.
It'll be Tampa.