VIEW FROM THE TOP: Chicago Blackhawks
As the self-appointed spokesmen/woman of the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, we are using the idea of "To the victors go the spoils" quite seriously. What we've done is point out the snortcomings of every team that doesn't have four crisp new banners hanging in their rafters. All that is left is to take a look at the team that does. We conclude this series with the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.
So now we stand on the mountaintop for the second time in four years, and the view is better than last time. In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks were left to frantically empty their roster in order to create cap space. This was the result of new contracts for Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. Also factoring in were bonuses paid to Kane and Toews that had been deferred, leaving the team between a rock and a hard place.
This season, the Hawks' victory parade also had a "Bon Voyage" feel, as everyone knew Dave Bolland, Ray Emery, Jamal Mayers and Viktor Stalberg were all having their last hurrahs as members of the Chicago Blackhawks - unless you count their days with the Stanley Cup. Michael Frolik and Gorilla Salad were also sent on their way.
Still, losing this group doesn't sting quite as much as losing Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, Kris Versteeg, John Madden, Ben Eager, Adam Burish, Cristobal Huet and Colin Fraser - not all world-beaters, but still a significant chunk of a championship team.
This time around, there are players who have been biding their time in the AHL, waiting for their shot. And when their shot comes, none of them are going to be forced into roles they're not ready for (see: Nick Leddy in 2010-2011).
This time around, coach Joel Quenneville not only has his core intact, but three of those players (Bryan Bickell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Corey Crawford) all got new paper - in the cases of Bickell and Hjalmarsson, they took under market value - ensuring this team will not have to endure any upheavals like the one in the summer of 2010 again.
Are Chicagoans looking at another parade? Let's discuss:
When your second line forwards include Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, your first line had better be pretty goddamn special. Bryan Bickell earned both a hefty raise and a spot alongside Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Know what's better than Toews staying healthy and averaging a point a game? Toews staying healthy, averaging over a point a game and being recognized as the best defensive forward in the NHL. Not to mention another laurel and hearty handshake along with a Stanley Cup. Just as Toews winning his first and second Stanley Cups weren't a matter of if but when, so it is now for the third Cup for Hockey's Best Captain. Kane is not only one of the game's most electrifying players, but he's proven time and time again that he can outshine any spotlight. Kane doesn't love center stage, he is center stage. Hell, even his uniform number is double what Reggie Jackson's was. Both of these players have been among the game's elite for years, so it's easy to forget that Toews is 25 and Kane doesn't turn 25 until the season is underway.
Patrick Sharp is a heart-stopper and panty dropper. His handsomeness is worthy of its own NHL trophy. Watching Marian Hossa play hockey is the equivalent of watching God wake up. Michael Handzus' beard is majestic.
As the Hawks bid farewell to Bolland, Stalberg, Frolik and Salad, quality young players who have paid their dues in the AHL are ready to move in. Jeremy Morin represents an upgrade over Stalberg. Ben Smith should be able to, at the very least, replace Frolik's production. Brandon Pirri will get first crack at replacing Bolland, and Slak would totes make out with Brandon Bollig. [Slak's note: if by make out you mean throw in the trunk of a Datsun and make out of Chicago in the middle of the night straight into the disgusting Mississippi River that birthed him]
How stacked are the Hawks up front? If I didn't mention Calder finalist Brandon Saad or Andrew Shaw here, you probably wouldn't have noticed.
Same bunch of guys as last year, but Nick Leddy still has room to improve. Lots of speed and skill back here. Expect Duncan Keith to take another run at the Norris Trophy - unless Brent Seabrook does. Every time the Hawks play a team like Minnesota or Nashville, everyone talks about their top defensive pair. Fact is, there is no top pair as good as Keith and Seabrook. Hell, think about this - there are an awful lot of teams in the NHL that would take the Hawks' #5 defenseman, Nick Leddy, and want him for their top pair. On top of that, the Hawks just locked up Niklas Hjalmarsson for 5 years at a lot less dough than he could have gotten next summer. That says a lot about how much guys love playing here. Hjalmarsson and fellow Swede Johnny Oduya were both rock solid all year, and Niklas Hjalmarsson scored one of the biggest goals of the season, winning Game 7 against Detroit late in the third period. Steven Walkom was so amazed that he wanted to see another Blackhawks defenseman knock out the Red Wings, so Seabrook obliged in overtime. Speaking of which - Seabrook scored two huge overtime goals in last year's playoffs, and people still think of him as one of the "other guys" on this team. And if they need to bring guys down I-90 to help out, Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck and Ryan Stanton all look ready to fill in. No Jassen Cullimores here.
Corey Crawford and his GLOVE HAND OF DOOM are back for another round of DAT GUY STINKS AND I DON'T TRUST HIM. And next year, we can add DIS NO GOOD BUM SUCKS FER ALL DAT MONEY WE GAVE HIM.
Nikolai Khabibulin is back too. I can't wait for somebody to suggest it'd be a good idea for Khabi to be given the starting job the first time Crow gives up 3 goals in a single period.
The name "Donald" does not appear anywhere on the Stanley Cup.
CAN THE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS REPEAT AS STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS?
Fuckin' right, Chicago!