I've seen a lot of teeth-gnashing over the losses of our Cup champs the past couple weeks, even though we all pretty much knew this was coming. I've seen people giving up the ghost already on a Cup defense, pointing toward '11-'12 already. Well, let's look at that. With the current CBA, teams have to identify the core of players they will constantly shift around. Let's look at the Hawks first:
I throw Brouwer in there because I expect him to at least start the year on the top line. But you can remove him if you want, that's cool. So, our core is comprised of the Conn Smythe winner who will be a perennial Selke candidate and possibly Hart one too, a former Calder winner who's going to challenge for Art Ross trophies right quick, two of the best two-way forwards around who have both cracked the 35-goal plateau, one of the best 3rd line center in the game who is all of 24, a Norris trophy winner and his partner for life, a 23-year old d-man who's proven to be a rock and one of the better puck-rushing d-men around. Wow, this team sucks already. In seriousness, one aspect you rarely here discussed (which is shocking, really) is that aside from Sharp, Hossa, and Campbell, all these guys are going to get better (assuming we can get Kaner back into sobriety this year). We know Toews will never shy from work, and we have no reasons to doubt Keith, Seabrook, or Hammer will. Bolland will have to due to his back injury, and Kaner obviously worked his ass off last summer, but I have my doubts this one. Then again, they'll have Tazer to answer to if they don't.
Let's compare our core to that of our competitors:
Let's start in our division:
I hesitantly put Holmstrom on here because he's pushing 40, as well as Brad Stuart but they're still important parts up there. Anyway, you'll not find more strength down the middle than Datsyuk, Hank, and Filppula -- though Filppula was moved to wing toward the end of last year. But wingers? Franzen's obviously a beast, but past that we've been hearing loads about Helm and Abdelkader, and while I think Helm will be a pretty good pro one day, these aren't All-stars. The top pairing is probably in its last year and was showing cracks last year (Lidstrom was bad against Phoenix and Rafalski was just this side of awful against San Jose). Kronwall has been massively overrated his entire career, and Brad Stuart is just north of "a guy". Depth? If Bertuzzi and Eaves constitute your depth, that's not all that good. Consider me unfrightened.
Well, we know the story here. Other than Pavelski and Marleau (who'll still bear the brunt of criticism), this top 6 won't show up when it matters. There's no d-man here the quality of Keith, and the fact they went after Hammer lets you know what they think of their blue liners. My man-crush on Pavelski is well known, but past that? Getting older, Clowe is barely a top-6 forward, and Setoguchi at this point in his career is too easily taken out of a game. Depth? Torrey Mitchell once had a bright future before injury and may again, Logan Couture and Jamie McGinn are nice young players, but can you honestly say this team is clearly better than us?
Children of The Corn-Burrows
Kesler-Samuelsson (Raymond remains unsigned)
This team has serious cap problems now and not even a conference final appearance to show for it. Mason Raymond -- their unsung hero really -- is going to arbitration. The Sedins got taken out of two playoffs by Dave Bolland. Samuelsson's old. Burrows...do I need to even say it? Their blue line is suddenly deep, but it's deep with #3 d-men. But remember, Dan Hamhuis has this. Forward depth? Don't have it yet, and don't have a lot of space to go get it. Next.
Ah, the next challenge to the throne.
Scary. I include Bernier and not Quick here because the Kings have been waiting for him for years and are much higher on him than they are Quick, who they've tried to move for Simon Gagne in fact (which would be a problem for America if it happens). Let's go ahead and throw Kovalchuk on this team, because it really has to happen. Obviously, this team is a major problem. While they don't have the strength down the middle that we or Scum or San Jose or Vancouver does, Kovy, Brown, and Simmonds marauding on the wings is not a pleasant thought. This is the only team that can match the Hawks Top-4 d-mean that we've seen, and might even surpass it. Depth? They'll have it beyond this, they've got 16 million in space or so. Frankly, I can't see what derails this team from a serious playoff run aside from another Quick playoff meltdown. But that probably won't happen for two reasons: 1) He's not going to play 70 games again and 2) Bernier very well may take the playoff reigns anyway.
I feel mostly better now. LA was going to be a problem if we'd kept everyone, and again after Kopitar, who I wouldn't take over Toews (but would over Jack Skille. God that makes me sick) Stoll and Handzus aren't the match of Bolland and Sharp. Name the last Cup winner who wasn't boss down the middle....you'll say Carolina, won't you? I don't know, Staal and Brind'Amour is a pretty good start.
It's still going to come down to the Hawks getting contributions from rookies, but no team has sustained success without that. We shall see, but I don't think it's as dark as everyone wants to believe.