The Chicago Blackhawks are the closest anyone has been to a dynasty in the NHL in a long time. In the era of salary cap and widespread parity, the Blackhawks have won two Stanley Cups in the last four seasons. With Las Vegas releasing it’s odds for the 2013-14 NHL season earlier this week, the Blackhawks were favorited to win yet another, at 6/1 odds. Below are five reasons why the Blackhawks can get it done again in 2014.
- Seventeen Returning Players
Barring any injuries, the Blackhawks will take to the ice in 2013-14 with 17 players from the previous season. This may not be as big of a deal during the regular season, but in the playoffs, the veterans can step up and deliver, whether it’s with a good shift, leadership off the ice, or scoring a big goal. Seven of these players were a part of the Blackhawks when they won the Cup back in 2010, and with five straight playoff appearances in their rear-view, (since 2009) the Blackhawks will be very comfortable playing in the post-season.
- Newer, Easier Division
With the arrival of the 2013-14 season comes a new set of divisions. The Blackhawks will stay in the Central division, as well as old rivals in St. Louis and Nashville. Detroit and Columbus shipped eastward, and joining in their place are the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets, Colorado Avalanche, and Dallas Stars. The Blackhawks will see each of these teams six times during the regular season. With four of their six opponents missing out on the playoffs last season, the Blackhawks are expected to dominate the division, and earn themselves a high seed for the playoffs, a huge bonus.
- Youth In All The Right Places
The Blackhawks’ core is in the mid to late twenties, with the exception of Marian Hossa (36.) The youthful core has an unprecedented level of experience, through two Stanley Cup runs, and the aforementioned streak of five straight playoff appearances. Behind them are a fresh batch of NHL’ers, ready to make their impact on the league. Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin, former Blackhawks farmhands, are expected to make the jump to the big club this season, and their youthful energy will provide a spark for the rest of the team, and will give the team tremendous depth, which was Chicago’s secret weapon throughout the 2013 season. With tons of experience in goal, the Blackhawks’ coaching staff has one less thing to worry about coming into the season. With an equally experienced defensive core, the Blackhawks allow their youth to make an impact, but leave the big responsibility on the reliable shoulders of the veterans.
- Confident Goaltending
It is no secret that quality goaltending is needed for success, and the Blackhawks had that in 2013. Corey Crawford was outstanding, proving all the critics wrong with a massive bounce-back season that put him in the same conversation as the NHL’s elite net-minders. He learned many lessons during the season, including bouncing back from weak goals that would have handcuffed him in the past. With the defense playing great, including a stellar penalty kill, Crawford was able to manage the season well, with help from back-up Ray Emery. With Emery gone, Nikolai Khabibulin will fill in, and the Blackhawks will not have to rely solely on Crawford. Crawford now knows that his hard work he put in during the 2012 off-season will have to be duplicated, and when the puck drops on the 2013-14 season, he will be ready.
- Lessons Learned From 2010 Hangover
The Blackhawks will attempt to defend their Stanley Cup win, and become the first team since 1999 to do so. The ‘Stanley Cup Hangover’ has happened to almost every team following their championship, including the ‘Hawks in 2011. With a far less experienced team that season, the Blackhawks struggled to get into the playoffs, and sneaked in on the final day with help from the Dallas Stars. They earned themselves a first round visit with the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks, and fell behind in the series 3-0, eventually losing 4-3 in Game Seven overtime after a near comeback. Joel Quenneville and his staff know what needs to happen to ensure another successful season; don’t change. The Blackhawks beat teams because of great depth, penalty killing, and tremendous defensive play. In 2011, with only two surviving lines, the players had trouble adjusting to Coach Q’s style of play, and had far less success. For the ‘Hawks to have a chance at repeating, all these will need to happen once again.
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