Are all those playoff minutes finally catching up to the Blackhawks?
The Blackhawks are still a very good team - but they aren't top of their division this season.
There's no denying the Chicago Blackhawks are one of the best teams in the NHL. As of this writing, they're sixth overall in the NHL standings, with a playoff spot clinched. They may have fallen behind two other Central Division teams in the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues - but they're still up there as one of the league's premier teams.
Just ask their three recent Stanley Cup wins. And while they may have lost in the first round in two of the other three seasons since their pseudo-dynasty began, they made it to Game 7 overtime in the third round.
In short: that's a lot of hockey. More than most have played, really.
And while it's given us a lot of awesome years and memories, it also could be a contributing factor to how the Hawks have performed this season. Via Elliotte Friedman's 30 Thoughts (#23):
One NHLer on Chicago: "You wonder if all those extra games will ever catch up to them. It’s more than a full season now." Going back to the beginning of the 2009-10 season. Keith Yandle has played more games than anyone else, 534. Brent Seabrook is 10th, Niklas Hjalmarsson 33rd, Duncan Keith 37th, Jonathan Toews 73rd, Patrick Kane 80th and Marian Hossa 143rd.
Now, add in the playoffs. Seabrook moves to first, at 618. Hjalmarsson is second, Keith third, Toews seventh, Kane ninth and Hossa 37th. Those are six of the eight players with 95 or more post-season games during that time. The others are Mike Richards and Patrick Sharp. With Chicago’s depth weakened due to cap issues, Western opponents are hoping (praying?) that this might finally catch up to them.
Who are the key players on the Blackhawks? Basically all of those guys.
This is especially concerning on the backend. Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson are once again leading in ice time this season, in addition to them being the guys who have played the most over the past several years.
Fourth on defense ice time? Rookie Trevor van Riemsdyk, who's averaging 2:25 fewer minutes per game than Hjalmarsson. So basically: it's the three guys who have been heavily leaned on the past seven seasons being heavily leaned on this year, too.
You can be the best in the world - but eventually, fatigue is going to catch up to you, no matter who you are. Maybe that's what we're seeing with the Hawks this season.