Off-Season Q&A : Chicago Blackhawks
Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports
A recap of the Chicago Blackhawks 2013 season can best be summed up in two words : the best.
The best team from start to finish during the regular season. The best team from start to finish during the Stanley Cup playoffs, culminating in the second championship in four years for the outstanding coaching staff, hard working players and the great city of Chicago.
Heading into the season, everyone in the National Hockey League media contingent and blogging community knew the Blackhawks would be a tough opponent. What we did not expect was a 24 game streak of earning points, an NHL record which will be tough to beat by anyone going forward into the new season and beyond.
Finishing 2nd in the entire league in goals per game and 1st in goals against per game plus a relatively healthy squad from start to finish contributed to Chicago’s incredible success in this lockout shortened schedule (Only Patrick Sharp missed considerable time). There should be no cries of the truncated games played being a help, rather I always looked at it as more of a hindrance, especially without the benefit of a full training camp.
The offense was once again led by the dynamic Batman and Robin duo of captain Jonathan Toews (23-25-48) and Patrick Kane (23-32-55). In a supporting role was aging Marian Hossa (who might be entering his last season as a Blackhawk) and rookie Brandon Saad (10-17-27). In the playoffs, Kane, who would go on to win the Conn Smythe award as MVP of the postseason, would put up another impressive stat line of 9-10-19 in 23 games.
On defense, how could anyone argue that the two most valuable and often paired Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook are a match made in heaven. Feeding off each other brilliantly, they combined for 47 points in 48 games from the blueline. Whenever you get that kind of production, you are certainly a well rounded squad. Nick Leddy is bound to get even better this season with all the experience garnered and keeps the team in contention for top honors once again in 2013-14.
The glue that held things together on the rare occasions of a breakdown was Corey Crawford,who some argue could have easily wrestled the Conn Smythe from Kane’s grasp. After his best regular season as a pro (19-5-5, 1.94, .926) he followed that up with a stellar playoff performance, one that is always needed for a team that has championship aspirations (16-7, 1.84, .932).
Departing the windy city this year was Dave Bolland (traded to Toronto), Michael Frolik (traded to Winnipeg) and Ray Emery (signed with Philadelphia as a free agent). All will be missed for their contributions but could easily be replaced by up and coming Jimmy Hayes and Jeremy Morin. In goal, Nikolai Khabibulin returns for a second tour of duty to backup Crawford. It’s a much different off-season for general manager Stan Bowman than in 2010 when the salary cap crunch forced him to gut his cup winning roster over the summer.
Eyes had the chance to engage in a Q&A with a rightfully jubilant and relieved Keith Schultz, who is the editor at another one of Fansided’s top hockey sites, Blackhawkup.com. We asked Keith how he felt about the championship and what might be next in defending it in order to possibly become the first repeat NHL Stanley Cup winners since the Detroit Red Wings accomplished the feat way back in 1997 and 1998.
1. First of all, congratulations on winning the Stanley Cup! A tremendous season that saw the Hawks be the best team from start to finish. That being said, it looks a little ominous over the next two seasons in regards to the cap situation. What is your opinion of what Stan Bowman might do to alleviate that? Could we see a repeat sell-off similar to what happened in 2010 given that Toews, Kane, Saad, Bolland, Shaw and others have to be inked over the next two years?
"Next season will be the toughest to navigate due to the cap drop. You could see Stalberg, Emery, Handzus, and Rozsival going elsewhere. Bickell, Leddy and Kruger well be priority. Bolland is getting paid a lot but did little throughout the season, so he will be the biggest question mark outside of the UFA/RFA bunch. If Bowman continues to play his cards right the core should be fine as the cap rides back up in the 14-15 season. I expect Hutton or Raanta to be backing up Crawford next season with the chance a veteran backup is signed."
2. We all recognize and marvel at the talents of Patrick Kane, the most electrifying American player in the game right now in my opinion, but what were your honest feelings on him winning the Conn Smythe over Corey Crawford, who some like myself felt was the best Blackhawk from start to finish consistently?
"I do think Crow was the most consistent player from start to finish in these playoffs. Unfortunately, game four probably hurt him in the voting process more than it should have. Kane did have a strong finish in the playoffs and that’s when it mattered most. Crow had only one shut out so he wasn’t stealing games single-handed for the Hawks. Kane not only stepped it up offensively, but he had numerous strong defensive plays. The Conn Smythe could have gone to Kane, Sharp, Crawford, or Keith and I would have been fine."
3. What is next for the Blackhawks as they enter the off-season? What do they have to do to give themselves a realistic chance of doing what no team has done since 1998, and that is repeat as champions of the NHL?
"Obviously, lock up the cup team as much as possible is the first step. I’m sure they will prep some of the youth for tryouts. As well as test free agency to take advantage of players that get left out in the cap crunch. Maybe the most important thing would be to get the Hawks stars the medical attention they need. Finally, the trickiest thing is to get your players rested and yet in shape. All the while letting them enjoy their time with the cup and their families."
We would like to personally thank Keith for taking the time out of his summer to answer our questions and we wish the Blackhawks best of luck when their title defense starts in October 2013. Go check out the site and pass it along to your friends as they truly do provide the best Chicago hockey coverage on the internet.