The development plan is in the works and appears to be paying off for the Blackhawks. However, this year should be about more than that, and no, the goal isn’t winning the cup. This year, Chicago’s top players should selfishly aim for personal records, as well as mentor the new guys.
Watching the game against Carolina on Friday, February 19, the contrast between where the Chicago Blackhawks are now, versus where they need to be was stark. Even in the press conference after the game, or as Paul Thompson at the Chicago Tribune said,
"“The Chicago Blackhawks got a sobering reminder that for all their progress there’s a reason hockey pundits aren’t yet fully embracing them as playoff contenders.”"
Chicago’s veterans acknowledged the gap between the two teams when talking to the media. That understanding though means that Chicago has been afforded a bit of slack about what success is going to be defined as this season.
If the youngsters show growth on the ice, then this season is a winning one, despite not chasing the Stanley Cup. With so much focus on tomorrow’s stars, there doesn’t seem to be much for the veterans to look forward to, except maybe for personal records.
Since the Blackhawks are not going to win it all this year, why not make this season one to selfishly pursue their individual objectives?
It could be anything, and it would really depend on the player, but there’s no better time. If Patrick Kane wants to try and go for a hundred points in a 56-game season, he absolutely should. Maybe Duncan Keith just starts firing pucks on the net like crazy to raise his own offensive numbers, or goes after some kind of iron man goal? Most minutes in a season for a 37-year-old? Again, why not?
I would personally like to see players take more risks on plays. We saw Kane’s absurd spin-o-rama goal against Carolina. That highlight is almost certainly everywhere by now, but it’s so ridiculous that’s it almost impossible not to watch it maybe just one more time. I’d love to see more of that, and not just because it’s fun.
The best way to learn is to try stuff and see what happens. The younger players should be doing this right now, but so should the vets. Taking risks and succeeding is exactly the kind of thing that will keep the season entertaining for Chicago’s most-established players.
Kane is a great example. Incredible cheat-code goals aside, the season is longer than a single tally. Maybe Kane tries to push himself to add to his highlight reel of a career. It’s obvious that he wants to win, but he has to be aware of the team’s deficiencies.
At the very least, he’s been in the league long enough to know the difference between a mediocre team and a Cup contender. He knows that Chicago isn’t a particularly talented group right now, and he likely didn’t need to lose to Carolina to know that. With that understanding in place, how do the veterans like Kane make the best of the situation?
Whether it’s points, hits, takeaways, ice-time, or whatever this year should be about veteran players working to achieve their own personal goals, as much as it’s about developing younger players and helping the team win when it’s possible. Chicago will win games this year, but probably not the Stanley Cup. That’s OK. The team can focus on other stuff to keep it interesting for themselves and the fans watching at home.