It’s been a tough few years for the Chicago Blackhawks organization, who had seemingly become synonymous with winning. But there are signs that the winning recipe isn’t too far off after all.
When the Chicago Blackhawks were at their best during their three most recent Stanley Cup runs in 2009-10, 2012-13, and 2014-15 respectively, anyone who followed along the way would certainly agree that they were a fun team to watch.
From mixing up the lines at untraditional effective points in the game to re-sparked rivalries that grew as they battled through each series, to overtime dramatics that saw the Blackhawks leave the building with the unexpected comeback win, the successful storylines seemed never-ending.
This team just couldn’t be beat, especially when it mattered the most.
With the salary cap in place, these successes seemed to parallel with tough-off season decisions. Winning inevitably meant some of those involved would be lacing them up in a different jersey the next season.
Teams just can’t afford to keep all of their stars. They have to get creative with building around the ones that remain. Some notable players, who were key in the recent Cup run only to face a team departure immediately after, including Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Patrick Sharp, Kris Versteeg, Johnny Oduya, and Brandon Saad. Chicago missing these pieces of those team puzzles would leave a void that would be near impossible to fill as their old teammates moved forward.
With these players gone, it instantaneously broke up the synchronicity that the team they once played for worked so hard to achieve. That mix of players that created the perfect balance of successful collaboration was no longer and the team would have to scour to replace what could easily be seen as irreplaceable.
Those that remained were left building the team back up with a new roster around them, finding ways to try to make it work. All the while, the core continued to get older, slower, and more fragile, as stamina, endurance, and strength continued to remain essential in any winning formula.
It’s been nice to see some fan favourites return over the years (e.g. Sharp, Versteeg, Laad), but they would never flip right back to the page they all left off and continue to write their winning story together. That’s an unrealistic goal. It’s also been energizing to witness the caliber of youth that the team has been able to cultivate and fit right into their system.
Players like Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome, Dominik Kubalik, Adam Boqvist, Alexander Nylander, Collin Delia, and recent third overall pick in the 2019 NHL entry draft, Kirby Dach, have already helped make an immediate impact on this organization. They still have so much more progress ahead of them. What’s, even more, is that they have seemingly infused a fountain of youth back into the Blackhawks locker room, and when the veterans choose to take a sip the results speak for themselves.
The vets are still doing what they’ve always been there to do. Whether it’s those shorthanded defensive zone faceoff wins by Toews, Kane’s spectacular breakaway goals to take over the lead, Keith’s stamina to drive a play but get back into position, timely saves by Crawford amid an onslaught or Seabrook’s slappers from the point that is only seen once the horn goes off and the Chelsea Dagger starts up.
These plays may not seem as frequent as they once were, but that’s because times are changing. The kids are taking over (and that’s ok). Because when the younger stars like DeBrincat and Kubalik get into gear, the whole system speeds up and the joy ride begins to smooth out again like it used to.
The enthusiasm this team has illustrated has never been greater than in their moments en route to lifting the Stanley Cup. Although some of those players have come and gone in the meantime, there are still those here who can pick up where they left off.
The Blackhawks also have quality acquisitions that can play big roles to fill voids, while the development system continues to provide optimism and opportunity from those that come up to play in the pros. Even amidst the lack of success attained throughout the 2019-20 season, they’ve shown us that they can be better.
We’ve seen first hand what this team can still accomplish. If they do less thinking about the factors surrounding their team, and focus more on playing as they have proven they are more than capable of, this Chicago Blackhawks team will be better.
They need to get back to having fun – it is a game, after all.