As soon as Jonathan Toews and Brandon Pirri took to the ice this morning in South Bend, the door closed on the 2013 season. No more days in small Canadian towns with the Cup, no more parties, no more looking back. It's time to go back to work and start the defense of the title that the Hawks worked so hard for last year.
The Blackhawks have a tough road ahead of them. It's been 15 years since a Stanley Cup champion has repeated. Just ask any Red Wings fan, who is living in the western suburbs, and they will proudly tell you their team was the last to repeat like it actually means something. We all remember how the 2011 season went down after the last Hawks Cup win; not too good! I think this year is going to be completely different than 2011 and the Hawks have a really good shot at repeating.
First and foremost, Stan Bowman is pretty much bringing back the same squad from last year's run. Gone are Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg, Ray Emery and Daniel Carcillo but the turnover is nowhere near what we saw in the summer 2010. Filling for the departed are youngsters like Pirri, Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes. These guys have been part of Hawks system for quite some time and already have some limited NHL experience. I don't see too much of a drop off coming this year.
I have seen a lot of people use the old argument about the how Hawks playing more games than anyone else last year will be an issue. After a normal season this theory definitely has some validity but we are not coming off one of those. Even with playing a league high 23 playoff games, the Hawks played 71 total games last year, 11 less than they will play in the regular season alone this year. I don't see carried over fatigue from a shorten season being much of a factor for a relatively young team.
One factor that could be a wrinkle in the Hawks plans to repeat is the Olympic break. I know you're going to say the Hawks won the Cup the last time there was an Olympic break, but this year is different. Traveling to and from Sochi, Russia is much more stressful than going back and forth from Vancouver. Plus, there could be as many as 10 Blackhawks competing in the games when there was only 6 players involved in the 2010 games. The Hawks will come back from the break right into the matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. It will be very interesting to see how quickly those who travel to Russia will bounce back into the NHL grind.
We have lots of good story lines to watch play out through the course of the season. Some will make us laugh, some will make us cry, some will cause more gray hairs and some might even force me to ban a few folks but it will be a fun ride. Will Bryan Bickell and Corey Crawford live up to their big new contracts? Will Patrick Kane continue his path to being one of the NHL's best? How long will Q torture us with the Brandon Saad at center experiment? When will Brandon Bollig's beard swallow his face?
Even though it makes me a bit sad to close the book on the 2013 season, I am looking forward to watching the 2013-14 season unfold with all of you!