The Chicago Blackhawks stars are the same age or younger than stars on recent Stanley Cup winning teams. If Corey Crawford gets back in the net, do they have the right stuff to win this year?
My Brother and I talk Chicago Blackhawks hockey before virtually every game during the season. He lives in the Chicagoland area and I out in California, but we always find time to discuss the ‘Hawks. A couple weeks ago, my brother mentioned how many times he’s read that the Chicago Blackhawks core players are too old to win a Cup.
If you watched the team’s play last year, it seemed to confirm it. Johnathan Toews was not producing, Brent Seabrook looked slow and even ironman Duncan Keith scored only twice all year. Too old, so we’ll have to wait for a new core right? Well the good news for Blackhawk fans is the data tells another story.
Around the league
Per the website Capfriendly.com, here are the ages of some of the star players of some recent Stanley Cup winning teams:
- ChicagoBlackhawks : Johnathan Toews 30, Patrick Kane 29, Duncan Keith 35, Brent Seabrook 33.
- Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby 31, Evgeni Malkin 32, Kris Letang 31
- Washington Capitals: Alex Ovechkin 33, Nicklas Backstom 30
- Los Angeles Kings: Anze Kopitar 31, Jeff Carter 33, Dustin Brown 33
- San Jose Sharks: Joe Pavelski 34, Brett Burns 33
Da Windy City
The Blackhawks core is no older than most of the stars on playoff teams around the league, in some cases even younger. Have you ever heard anyone say Brett Burns is too old? How about the top scorers in the league – must all be young studs right?
Five of the top ten in scoring last season were 30 years old or older (quanthockey.com). So if the data shows the ‘Hawks core is not too old and some of the best players in the league are 30 and older, why are the Chicago Blackhawks picked by many to end up in last place in the Central division standings by seasons end?
Aging in the NHL
Having a long career in the NHL is rare. Check out these stats per Quanthockey.com. For 5% of NHL players, their first game in the NHL is their last. Additionally, 50% of players play in 100 games or less (a season and a quarter) and only 4% of players (4 in every 100) have long careers – over 1,000 games played.
To achieve this longevity, many things have to align perfectly. Talent, dedication, health, and attitude are all areas a player must excel in to produce consistently in the league. Add salary/cap implications and you can see why only 4% of all players make it as a “core” player.
Most players in the league are not superstars. They get pushed out of the league by younger, faster players. That’s the case in all professional sports, and the NHL is no exception. However in some circumstances it’s not that the player can’t play, it’s more about the investment.
From a team perspective, there’s more upside to play a kid who has the potential to turn into a great player rather than use that roster spot on a veteran who has an established level of play. Invest in the next Mark Giordano – undrafted player who is now the Calgary’s Captain – (he’s 35 by the way) or keep a serviceable player like Cody Franson.
Easy decision in most cases.
The other aspect of ageing in the NHL is the difficulty of staying in elite shape. In today’s NHL, every player, no matter what age, needs to improve during the off season. This is another reason why only 4% of players reach 1,000 games. It takes an immense personal drive to maintain your career. Take a summer off and it may be your last summer being a NHL player.
What this means for the ‘Hawks
So if the age of our core players is not the issue and the team overall seems healthy, maybe other areas were missing.
First, you need a great goalie to win in the NHL. We all know this is a key to the team’s success and we wish Corey Crawford a quick return to his elite status. Taking that off the table, the other two areas that seemed to be missing last year were dedication and attitude.
After winning Stanley Cups (multiple, that is) and getting a big payday, human nature is to slow down and take it easy. Every player says they’re in great shape and ready to give it all at the start of every year, but when you looked at the ‘Hawks play last year that “hard work” didn’t show.
When you discuss hard work in the offseason, Patrick Kane always stands out. I read that he’s up at 5 am six days a week working with experts trying to get quicker, stronger and better. He plays in virtually every offseason tournament there is.
All in all, the man lives for hockey and as a Blackhawk fan, we’re lucky to have him on our team. Is Brendon Saad doing the same? Maybe, but his play doesn’t seem to show it. On the flipside, after three games this year the Captain looks like he’s shot out of a cannon. Likewise, Mr. Seabrook looks lighter and much quicker to the puck. That hard work is showing big time.
The other area that was lacking last year was attitude. Going to the net, blocking shots and finishing checks is not easy work. It hurts. It puts a player in areas where the potential of injury increases. In game two this year against St. Louis, you can see what a hard check can do.
Patrick Maroon crushed Seabrook against the boards and the next thing you know the puck is in our net.
Going to the net? How about Mr. Toews this year. He’s in front of the net seemingly on every shift and the whole line (and team) is benefitting. Some say coaching can change attitudes, but I believe that fire is internal. Q didn’t change his coaching style with Toews this year. Rather, Toews made the decision to change.
Bottom line is there are some players who pull up so they don’t get hit (Nick Schmaltz) and need to learn you don’t win Cups playing like that. Championship teams have players dedicated to do all the little things to win every shift. Every player. As a fan, we know because we’ve seen it.
Cup winning teams have a few things in common. Core players playing with excellence, veteran players who fit a specific role and younger players who elevate their game when it matters most. Remember Jake Guentzel in Pittsburgh’s cup winning season of 2016-17? He had 16 goals in the 40 games he played in the regular season and then lit up the playoffs with 13 goals.
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If Corey Crawford is back healthy, the ‘Hawks have a similar roster to some recent Cup winners. Kruger is back to win draws and shut down the opposition, a core who looks ready to play at an elite level and a group of young players who have the skills to make a material impact (how about that young 28 – wow). Do the Chicago Blackhawks have that perfect mix to make a run? Only time will tell. Time and hard work.
Oh, and Corey.