Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you know that the Chicago Blackhawks’ season was ended on Sunday night, just one goal away from advancing to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in five seasons.
Although the loss stings of disappointment, the season won’t be chalked up as a failure, according to management. Nevertheless, the Blackhawks will have to come back bigger and better in 2014-15, and try to earn their third Stanley Cup in seven years. Below, we outline five ways the Blackhawks can do just that:
#5: No More Michael Handzus
Michael Handzus was likely the Blackhawk under the most scrutiny in the past season. After signing a one-year contract in the off-season, the 37-year old returned to the ice for the Blackhawks, and immediately settled into the second-line center position left by Dave Bolland. Handzus centering Patrick Kane never seemed right for a single game, as the speed and skill by #88 were never matched by the veteran. Although his solid faceoff percentage got the puck to the Blackhawks star more often, Kane had trouble creating offense, when it seemed that his (ever-changing) right-winger was the only person up in the rush. Handzus went out in the best way possible, scoring a big goal in what will likely be one of his final games of his career. At any rate, it is unlikely that Handzus will be back in Red next season, and that’s good news for the Blackhawks.
#4: It’s (Actually) Teuvo Time
After all the hype surrounding top Blackhawks prospect Teuvo Teravainen died down, it seemed that Chicago fans made quite a fool of themselves, causing a huge fuss over a player that only appeared in three NHL games. Teravainen was shipped down to the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate in Rockford, and after they were eliminated from playoff contention, he set his sights on the Finnish national team for the World Championships. Surprisingly, Teravainen didn’t make that team, and thus, his season was over. Teravainen will be on the Blackhawks next season, likely filling in Handzus’ second-line role. The thought of Teravainen centering Patrick Kane is a dream come true for Blackhawks fans, and for the first time in over a decade, it seems that the ‘Hawks will actually have a solid second-line center situation.
#3: Corey Crawford Will Be Better Than Ever
It was the spring of 2012. The Blackhawks were fresh off a first-round elimination by the Phoenix Coyotes, and Corey Crawford didn’t have his greatest series by any standards. That off-season, he was reported to be working harder than anyone could have imagined, and when the season finally resumed, it showed. Crawford quickly ascended the ranks as one of the NHL’s top goaltenders, eventually leading the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup. Crawford had another great season, but against the Kings, he struggled, averaging 3.71 goals against/game against the Kings. Blackhawks optimists see another summer full of hard work ahead of #50, as he continues to try to shake off the doubt surrounding his play, and if all goes well, 2014-15 will be his best season yet.
#2: Stan Bowman Back Under Pressure
When the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, many praised Stan Bowman as the Blackhawks’ savior, assembling one of the stacked rosters in all of hockey. 2013-14 wasn’t Bowman’s greatest follow-up year. With two trades with the Florida Panthers, Bowman gave up valuable youth in Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes, and Dylan Olsen, while receiving two draft picks and Kris Versteeg in return. Versteeg’s legacy from the 2010 season quickly wore off, and the former super-rookie never managed to reclaim the magic he had in his first go-round with the Blackhawks. Joel Quenneville was forced to play nine forwards for most of the season, and if things weren’t bad enough, the Blackhawks signed Brandon Bollig to a very expensive three-year contract. Bowman doesn’t have to make any major moves in the off-season, although the Blackhawks could be interested in a puck-moving center (Joe Thornton, anyone?). Instead, he will have to solidify the Blackhawks’ depth, and with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane entering contract years, trades won’t be the only thing on his mind in the 2014-15 season.
#1: The Blackhawks Aren’t Invincible Anymore
Since January 2013, the Blackhawks and their fans have enjoyed being the top team in the National Hockey League. That all came crashing down on Sunday, and they will be on the outside looking in, while the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers battle for the Stanley Cup. If the Kings come out on top, it will be two Cups in three years, even better than the two cups in four years that everyone was so excited about when the Blackhawks took Stanley home in 2013. Winning is fun, and the Blackhawks will be among the most motivated teams coming into September, with goals of doing more of just that; winning. Five wins away from the Stanley Cup is tantalizingly close for this team, and everyone (who is left) will want to get back into that position once again in 2014-15. Players like Brandon Saad had never experienced the pain of falling short until Sunday night, and from Jonathan Toews to David Rundblad, and every Blackhawk in between, the drive to bring another Stanley Cup to the Madhouse will be inspiring, entertaining, and successful next season.
LETS GO BLACKHAWKS!
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