As we look forward to a full slate of 82 games and some bonus Olympic hockey, it is reasonable to have the expectation that the Blackhawks will repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. Through some addition by subtraction, Stan Bowman added youth and grit to an elite and experienced core. The Blackhawks' organizational depth is as good, if not better, than anyone else's in the NHL. I’m not saying the Hawks will win another championship just by showing up every night, but there is definitely enough here to get it done again.
(As I finished that paragraph, the question that came up on Sports Talk Live on CSN: "Is repeating a realistic expectation for the Blackhawks?")
By trading Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, and Dan Carcillo, and letting Viktor Stalberg walk in free agency, the Blackhawks opened up 3 roster spots for 5 or 6 prospects who would be good enough to play on any other NHL teams' bottom two lines. Don’t get me wrong: Bolly is a criminal hockey mastermind. He can kidnap a playoff opponents’ best forward line for an entire series. But his contract isn’t worth dragging around his carcass for 60 of the next 100+ games. Frolik’s PK skills and Stalberg's speed will be missed. Carcillo, whatever. These were 3rd/4th line players for the Hawks on veteran, one-way deals. Now the Hawks can cycle in players from the minors, see who grabs a job on the cheap, and use some of the money they saved to lock up core players or add pieces.
By the way, the players the Hawks have coming up from the Rockford IceHogs are scary. Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin, and Ben Smith have the skill to compete and are tough as nails. Brandon Pirri was the AHL’s leading point scorer last season. Those guys were partly responsible for this melee last season:
With all the new faces we’re sure to see this season, it will still be mostly the same group who carried us all the way to the mountaintop twice in the last four years. The Hawks boast two full lines of forwards who combine incredible offensive skill with effective two-way play. They have 6-8 defensemen who I’d feel comfortable with dating my sister because, top to bottom, they are the envy of the NHL. Don’t forget about a goalie that, after proving himself good enough in the Stanley Cup, has to prove he is worth his new contract.
The Hawks are sending up to 11 players to the Olympics. That might be tough for Marian Hossa (who slipped a disk in his back 3 months ago) and all the rest of the Hawks who will be playing 5-10 hyper-competitive games in Sochi, Russia while the rest of the NHL gets healthy at home. Add those to a full 82-game season and that’s a lot of minutes for the veteran core to play this season. Look for Joel Quenneville to be judicious with playing time during the regular season to keep those players fresh for the playoffs.
While another President’s Trophy would be nice, keeping this team healthy for the playoffs should be the #1 priority for Coach Q. If he can get quality minutes from some of the younger players during the regular season, he’s got the horses to win a 2nd consecutive Stanley Cup. While anything less would be a disappointment, we can reasonably expect that this team will be in contention for years to come.