As training camp approaches and fan frenzy reaches another high, the Chicago Blackhawks enter this season with more to prove than they did a season ago.
It was the Fall of 2009 and the voices were pretty clear about the disgust towards the goaltending options. The off-season acquisition of Marian Hossa undoubtedly wouldn’t distract critics as he would miss basically the first two months of the season and the defense wasn’t as solidified as it is entering this season.
The Hawks basically buried the cynics before Hossa even started a game by starting 15-5-2 and propelling the team as playoff contenders to conference front-runners.
Now the Blackhawks enter as defending Stanley Cup Champions and no other title provides more “creative” criticism from both loyal followers and spiteful haters.
With a highly talented “core”, an unproven list of role players, and a new goaltender, the Blackhawks once again have much to prove. The off-season was one of un-assembling and rebuilding in such a way that someone would think the team just finished a sub-.500 season.
After one looks at the top six forwards and top four defenseman, how can this team be frowned upon?
With a championship title in hand and great leadership at the helm in Jonathan Toews, the still youthful Blackhawks remain atop the cream of the crop.
The Top Four Are Perhaps The Best Four
The strength that has become ever-so-prevalent has been the Blackhawks defensemen. While returning six Stanley Cup playoff defenseman, no one can argue the depth of the position after adding the towering size of John Scott.
As mentioned in the title the top four is what earns the majority of the attention. When totaling nearly two-thirds of the ice time and a plus/minus rating of a combined +68, having doubts about this defense would be ludacris.
With a Norris winner (Duncan Keith) and perhaps one of the most sought after restricted free agents (Niklas Hjalmarsson), accolades and respect aren’t scarce. Throw in the hard hitting, Brent Seabrook and the always transitioning Brian Campbell, and the Blackhawks have not only the best top four defenseman in the Western Conference, but also in the league.
Since When Did a Mature Goalie Equal Poor Goaltending
Agreeably the most controversial off-season move was the release of Antti Niemi. A fan favorite and highlight reel netminder, the Blackhawks decided to walk when a ruling of $2.75 million made to be too much.
In turn, the organization decided to turn to 34 year-old Marty Turco. A goaltender with a resume that only seems to be only missing a Stanley Cup championship. While knowing full-well the situation the Blackhawks had at hand, Turco decided to take a pay cut in order to better his chances at fulfilling his ultimate goal of winning the championship.
While some criticize, it was obvious Niemi had more “upside” towards the future. Unfortunately in a hard salary cap era, the time is always now. With financial problems and the desire to perhaps stay atop the conference the Blackhawks best route was in that of Turco.
So what if he doesn’t have a Stanley Cup. 34 years-old, who cares? The stats don’t lie and having the opportunity to be surrounded by such talent make for an amazing equation.
If any one needs reason to believe think of the numbers (30), (2.31), (.911):
– Turco amassed 30-plus wins in six out of the last seven seasons.
– Compiled a 2.31 goals against average during his nine year career.
– Has a .911 career save percentage.
Look no further, Turco will provide the consistent backbone the Blackhawks lacked throughout the 2009-10 season.
The Loss Isn’t As Great As The Gain
Everyone knows the story of dismantling throughout the off-season. If not… well come out of your off-season hibernation, the season is just around the corner.
While losing perhaps a great future player in Kris Versteeg, they acquired Viktor Stalberg… simply a rocket on skates. Easily put, if the young player can figure out how to use his large frame as a tool then he may turn into a dominate winger in an already talented organization.
Yes they did see other departures (Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, John Madden, to name a few), but they go unmentioned for a specific reason. They are replaceable. While I know by stating this fact I most likely may be condemned by many, it is a prediction that will be proven as the season develops.
With the addition of Fernando Pisani, Ryan Potulny, and Stalberg, the Hawks will be able to continue pushing forth upcoming threats such as Troy Brouwer and a big body in Bryan Bickell.
Does anyone compare to the size of Byfuglien? Probably not, but then again maybe there is a reason why Atlanta coaches are considering moving him back to defense. For a team that lacks scoring wouldn’t you think they would want a so-called “offensive” threat up front?
Stalberg and Pisani will provide optimal opportunities while flanking Dave Bolland at center on the third line. Worries regarding the quality of the Blackhawks “bottom six” will cease with the emergence of new talent, both acquired and home grown.
Leadership Is Measured By Leading, Not Goal Scoring
“Where is the talk of Jonathan Toews?”
“Why doesn’t a Stanley Cup Champion get any credit?”
Well fans… keep asking. The truth always remains unspoken, probably just the way Toews would like it to remain. While gracing a cover of the most decorated video game series, NHL 11, that may be all Toews would like to have to think about. I don’t think many of us would blame him after the season he endured.
What remains silent is the resilience and the determination Toews has to win. While goal scorers like Crosby and Ovechkin can win games, leaders like Toews prove one doesn’t need to score to win. Toews leads a locker room with confidence and plays with an attitude of respect. It is what allows a team as young as it is to win a championship. It allows a team like Chicago to succeed when faced with adversity. Regardless of the respect sports media outlet provide the Blackhawks.
The Blackhawks will go only as far as its Captain deems them to. As for Crosby and Ovechkin? Well how far were they able to carry their talent-laden teams? The Blackhawks will continue its winning ways because of their leader’s ability to lead, not the ability to score.
The Blackhawks Can Score, But These Forwards Ignite
If that was last year, imagine what this year may bring. With a far more talented first line in Brouwer, Toews, and Patrick Kane many teams would be content. Throw in a second line of Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Tomas Kopecky, and you may very well have the best top six in the Western Conference.
Alright, alright… let the Vancouver, Detroit, and San Jose arguments commence. Granted until proven that they can dominate a team that showed true unmatched capabilities in the playoffs, the blog-o-sphere banter remains silenced.
While the term “youth” may get old to some, to those projecting stats it means growth. It can easily be said that the forwards will ALL improve statistics over the entire season. All will have an increase in goals and assists, naturally because they will feed from eachothers success.
While young players in the organization will fight and claw to make their way up the depth chart it will continue to push borderline role players on a nightly basis. The strength of the Blackhawks is clearly their defense, but look for their forwards to shine and players like Toews, Kane, and Hossa to prove why they get paid the money they do.Kyle Wahlgren is owner of Chicago Sports Authority and Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report.