Now that the Canucks have warmed the hearts of all Blackhawk fans in their failure, it is now time to look at what the Hawks can do to make sure those Demons return next post season for them.
Though the season ended somewhat later than it probably should have, but more abruptly than we wanted, there is a Silver Lining for the Hawks.
For one, the Hawks collective got a stark reminder that EVERYTHING has to be earned, including just playing in the playoffs. Their complacency for the first several months nearly cost them a trip to the silly season. They had to fight for every game over the last month with as much effort as they could muster, and in the end while sitting with 97 points, had to wait and see if the Stars would bump them. 97 points is nothing shabby and by all rights should always get you into the playoffs, maybe even as the 5th-6th seed, but this season it was only good for 8th, and almost 9th!
Second, the Hawks know with the team they have they can hang with and beat the best, when they show up. They have allot of fight in, regardless of who you are playing for any team to come back from 3-0 down and bring game 7 to overtime shows allot of heart, fight and skill. Then when they were playing the President's Cup winner, it is even more impressive.
Lastly, the early exit is probably the best thing to happen to the Hawks. It was all to apparent in the Vancouver series, the Hawks were running on fumes, all the top dogs were gassed, but even then showed they can still make magic (Toews SHG). This long off season is going to wonders for this team. Significant injuries are already being addressed, they have another 6 weeks to rest and condition, and their minds will be clear of the post Cup fog.
When you put three of these together, a rested clear minded team, with heart, fight and skill, who knows they have to fight for every goal, win, spot and series, this in itself has the makings of a very good team, especially when you look at the cast.
Now with these lessons of the past, it is time to look to the future. Many parts of the future in regards to players are clear, some are murky, some are just unknown. But what is clear, the Hawks will be returning with a very potent base, not just a strong core. In today's NHL it is just not possible to load 4 lines and 3 pairing with All-Star Hall of Famers (unless you have a hell of a series of drafts).
The Hawks core group is well known, but around them is a very good set of role players whom together makes a strong base, that even by itself is a contender.
Toews, Sharp, Hossa, Kane. Your perennial scorers, playmakers and set up men. These are the guys you want to see with the puck, especially when the game is on the line. These guys make everyone around them better.
Bolland, Brouwer, Smith, Frolik. Not in the same class as the top four, but can make plays, fill roles, and contribute on the ice, some both ways.
Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmmerson, Campoli, Campbell. Two stay at home Defenseman, three Puck moving and playmaking defenseman. A good mix to start with. Collectively can eat up over two periods of ice time again. These guys can lead the breakout, and all can play fairly well to excellent in their own zone.
Some have issues in various aspects of the game and have made mistakes, but on the whole prevent more goals than allowing poor ones.
Crawford. For the second straight time it appears the Hawks hit gold with a young unknown goalie. He has only one year under his belt, but it was an impressive rookie season. If he does not pull a Mason, a solid goalie he is, one who can bail his team out, and keep them in almost every game. What more do you want out of a goalie?
These 14 players are the base for the 2011-12 Blackhawks. Three are pending RFAs Brouwer, Campoli, Frolik. Some suggest Hammer should be moved for another center, I think this would be a huge mistake. Hammer does not put up big numbers, but his stay at home defense is needed on this team and would be hard to replace.
Collectively these 14 Cap hit is $49,573,004 before the three RFAs. Adding an average 15% increase for each RFA (rough number) the Cap Hit is $53,828,004. If the Cap goes to $63,000,000, this would leave $9,171,996 for 6-8 Roster spots. Most of which would be used to fill out a third paring, a backup goalie, and the 4th line, oh, and pay for Scott to sit in the press box.
I was looking to go into the Cap and all that, but I think it is still to early to go much into it. The Cap is not yet set, all Free Agents are unknown, and who is available for trade is not certain. There will be time for that talk in depth in a few weeks.
But with this group of 14, a strong base already exists for the Hawks to build off of. These next few months will be interesting, who will come, who will go, who from Rock Vegas moves to Chicago. 2011 is over, the Champions have the Cup, AV and GMMG are still complaining, it is time to move onto 2011-12
Regardless, if anything is known today, the Hawks as they finished 2011 were a strong and good team, just winded, and this team will certainly be better next year. I can't wait for October.