Much like my compatriot Sam, I am working my way into game shape as well. ITunes is on shuffle, the beer is flowing and I'm up writing this tripe rather than going to sleep. Sounds about right. So as I work on creating a hangover of my own for tomorrow's thrilling day at work, we might as well ask a question that could rises due to what we saw last season and that dreaded Stanley Cup Hangover we laughed at all last summer. From JuliaM... wait... who let her out of the windowless room we keep the links people in? Probably Hack...
Will there be a slow start as all the new pieces learn to gel? How slow?
Forgive me if I'm reading into this question a bit much.. but I think we would not spend a minute worrying about this if not for what we saw last year, massive changes and mediocre performances. We're dealing with more changes going into October (sweet Jesus it can't come soon enough) but will the song remain the same?
The idea that the Blackhawks had a slow start to last season is a riddle we haven't exactly solved yet. In fact, looking back on everything I'm not sure it's even all that true. It's pretty undeniable that things didn't work out like we wanted but it may have been a little exageratted by all of us hoping for the reigning Stanley Cup Champs to steamroll right at the first whistle. It reality.. it might not have been as terrible as we all let ourselves believe. At the end of the 2010, the Hawks were 20-16-3. Not what we wanted to be sure but not worth pulling all your hair out. It wasn't really until much later in the season that we really hit what we assumed to be rock bottom.. and thanks to the magic of the internet I can actually tell you the exact date - Feb 18th.
So it wasn't a slow start exactly that nearly sunk the Blackhawks last year. It was a team that never lived up to its expectations and was rarely firing on all cylinders. Now, you could argue that's because we had a team that just never gelled at all... and you may be right. We won't go into the reasons that may be true here because it won't help us too much when checking out the quickly approaching season. Back to the question at hand - will this team have time gelling?
To be perfectly honest - who the fuck knows? Not a great answer, I realize this. But I'll tell you why I'm not concerned - if it was the case that the team last year was in shock from the changes that took place, I think they've learned their lesson. All teams are going to have to deal with changes.. that's simply a fact given the nature of sports today. We said all along last year that we weren't concerned about the changes because the core remained intact. Perhaps we sold it a little short given the high that the boys were riding when they returned to Chicago as heroes. It's still no excuse for the lazy disinterested play we saw far too often though and perhaps the wake up call of getting into the playoffs only by default was able to shock their systems.
So lets just assume last year's team lacked the needed chemistry, why are the changes going into this year any different? Well for one they don't come to a team that was obviously incredibly tight both on and off the ice. I can only imagine how close you get to a teammate throughout the grueling fight that is the NHL playoffs. So maybe they didn't lose just teammates but good friends instead. Fine.. whatever. Emo crybabies..
The changes from the 10-11 team to the 11-12 then aren't anywhere near as drastic. There's the loss of Campbell which is obviously a major loss both on and off the ice but that's the only thing I see as a potential stumbling block coming into the new season. The Hawks will have to work to replace one of the best skaters not just on the team but perhaps in the entire league. No easy task. The hopeful return of Duncan Keith, who seemed lost in the ether, and the work-in-progress that is Nick Leddy ought to help though. The defense is still deep but it will be different. The rest of the changes are among guys that are simply.. guys. Sure Kopecky and Brouwer were on the cup team but I fail to see anything they do that guys like Brunette, Montador or O'Donnell can't do just as well.
Different shouldn't mean we see the same ennui we did last year though. Even dynasty teams see changes year to year these days. There's going to be a learning period, sure. You can't throw a bunch of random guys together and expect them to immediately click but that's not going to mean we can't expect the team to start strong. It's not as if the Hawks are the only ones dealing with changes. These are the times when the core of the team really has to step it up and lead the way, something they failed to do consistently last year. If that happens again, perhaps it's time for other changes but for now I don't see it being the problem it was last year.
We've actually already touched on one aspect that I think will help this team. The (please dear god) lack of a goalie controversy. Marty Turco was a great experiment. It was a shame it didn't work. I still hold the belief though that he sadly didn't get the kind of support or level of play in front of him that he deserved. For whatever reason, the team playing in front of Turcs was pretty drastically different than the one in front of Crawford. Not saying Turco was blameless but the team responded better with the Mouseketeer in net. This year we can be pretty sure that Crawford is the number one and the team knows how to play with him in the crease. I think this may be one of the biggest advantages over last year.
It goes without saying of course that it would be nice if Q were to show some consistency with his lines and let them work it out for a few games rather than throwing names into the air and seeing where they land.. but you and I both know that's not going to happen, right?
So I don't see the new lineup as a reason for a slow start.. it's something every team has to deal with and one that a good team like the Hawks shouldn't use as an excuse. Lets hope it's lesson learned from last year.