This morning’s scattered showers might have well been the collective tears of Chicagoland as denizens woke up to realize that the bad dream they had Sunday evening has in fact come true: the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals kickoff tonight sans our beloved Chicago Blackhawks.
The malaise overhanging Chi-Town since the end of the Hawks’ 2014 season has been more than palpable for their fans, and for good reason. The Blackhawks were on the cusp of having their shot at making history for the first time since killing their historic Stanley Cup drought. However on that note, it’s important for all Hawks fans to put things in perspective.
First and foremost, making as deep a run in the playoffs as the Blackhawks did this year is highly commendable. There are 12 other teams in the NHL that would have loved getting as far as the Hawks did in the post season, so Blackhawks fans, as high as their expectations are shouldn’t hang their heads to low. Perhaps most importantly though, the Blackhawks falling short of expectations this year has provided a critical service to the franchise: scrutiny.
Ever since their 2010 Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks as a team have by and large been immune to any really deep critical examination. Due to the post-Cup roster purge, no one expected much from the Hawks in 2011 season, as they needed to rebuild their ranks. The Hawks also more or less got a pass for their one and done performance in the 2012 post-season for multiple reasons: still trying to form chemistry with a new roster, reigning in Patrick Kane, the goalie situation, etc.
However, after they won the Stanley Cup again in 2013 the Blackhawks put themselves on a whole new pedestal. The proved they were an elite hockey team and not just another single fluke championship team so common in the NHL. After 2013, the Blackhawks can justifiably be in the same conversation as the 1990’s Red Wings, the 1980’s Edmonton Oilers, and the 1970’s Philadelphia Flyers.
That being said, in order to maintain prolonged success that the aforementioned teams experienced, there needs to be the upmost levels of scrutiny and culpability at the United Center, and this a relatively new realm for the Blackhawks franchise, because for the first time since perhaps 1960’s, the Hawks are a known quantity.
The full potential of the Blackhawks’ foundation wasn’t truly realized until after 2013. Whereas 2010 was more or less shooting an arrow and painting a bullseye around it later, 2013 was a result of prudent decisions by the Blackhawks management; this season’s end results were a result of a lack thereof.
Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville and GM Stan Bowman were gods among men in Chicago after 2013, but now more are questioning the gospel. This wasn’t a rebuilding year, and though Coach Q and Bowman made some questionable moves this year (Michal Handzus, Brandon Pirri, Brandon Bollig, etc), many defaulted to their wisdom, because after all, they had brought the Cup back to Chi-Town.
Unlike years past however, Bowman and Quenneville by and large had the same tools to work with this year, and there was little to any excuse for them not to build the same success as last season. Yet, as we know, they failed. Bowman and Quenneville have entered a whole new level of culpability when it comes to the Blackhawks’ success.
Bowman and Quenneville must now be keener in their perception of the Hawks’ weakness, faster in addressing them, and overall be quicker to adapt in the face of adversity. Luckily the talented and young core of the Blackhawks isn’t going to go away anytime soon, so it’s the coaching and support staff that will make the difference between a Stanley Cup winning season and an early playoff exit down the road. This is relatively foreign territory for Bowman and Quenneville, who have worked on building a team from the ground up for the bulk of their career, not renovating, updating, and maintaining a championship roster.
The good news however is that the old adage of learning more from failure than from success is not lost on Bowman. After the Blackhawks fell to the Red Wings in the 2009 Western Conference Finals, in the offseason Bowman grabbed Marian Hossa to provide veteran leadership and better two-way play, and the rest was history. Given such past successful acquisitions like this (i.e. Patrick Sharp), and one of the best farm systems in the NHL, there’s certainly no reason such bold and successful moves can’t happen again with the Blackhawks and bring with them a whole new level of success.
Bottom line, now’s the time for Blackhawks Nation to remember that success should not be measured by how high you climb, but rather by how high you bounce when you hit the bottom.
FOR THE DAGGER!