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What About Next Year?

July 8, 2013, 7:40 AM ET [376 Comments]
John Jaeckel
Chicago Blackhawks Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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The Blackhawks are the first NHL team to win two Stanley Cups since the institution of the salary cap.

Last year, throughout the regular season and the playoffs, they were clearly the best team in hockey.

So while it's often taken for granted that no team will repeat anymore as Stanley Cup champs (due to the summer craziness that typically follows a Cup win, resulting salary demands and the cap), it is conceivable that the Hawks have a chance.

Maybe a very good one. And if they were to pull it off in 2014, clearly we would be talking about a Dynasty of sorts, with Cup wins in 2010, 2013 and 2014.

As far as erosion goes, essentially the Hawks' forward ranks have been thinned a bit with the departures of Viktor Stalberg, Dave Bolland and Michal Frolik. Let's assume for a minute that GM Stan Bowman can add a penalty killer like Chad LaRose and Marcus Kruger matriculates into Bolland's role as expected. With the retention of Nick Leddy, Bryan Bickell, Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival—and the signing of Nikolai Khabibulin as Corey Crawford's backup—this is basically the same team that dominated the league in 2013.

I woud argue the Hawks chances next season rest in the hands of their players and the team's doctors. The Hawks came out of the playoffs very banged up. Not only Bickell and Handzus, but star players like Marian Hossa and perhaps Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews need(ed) offseason surgeries.

Last season's lockout forced a compressed schedule and late-running playoffs. This is a short summer.

But I will also say, you get the sense from this group of Hawks, that the party will not be as loud and long as it was in 2010—and that they know there is business to be done again starting 10/1. This team doesn't have quite the cast of characters—especially off the ice—that the 2010 team did. Bon vivant Patrick Kane has seemingly toned it down quite a bit.

Don't kid yourself: the Hawks who wear the C (Jonathan Toews) and the A's (Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp) do so for a reason. These guys are fierce competitors—which was plainly apparent in the playoffs this year.

All three of these guys, not to mention a number of other veterans were not happy with the first round humiliations of 2011 and 2012. And while the rest of the league might think it's their turn in 2014, guys like Toews and Sharp and Keith aren't going along.

They want a dynasty.

Now, wanting it and achieving it are two different things.

But anyone expecting the summer of 2013 to have the same effect on the Hawk roster as the summer of 2010 did isn't remotely paying attention. That team lost Antti Niemi, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, and Kris Versteeg among others. This team lost three lower line forwards, at least a couple of whom will be replaced fairly easily from within the current roster/organization.

The 2013-14 Blackhawks are poised to be a very, very good hockey team. How good depends on a number of factors. As I mentioned before, an albeit shortened summer of rest and recuperation is critical. Will the Hawks take advantage of it? Remains to be seen.

Finding an adequate replacement for Frolik on the league's best penalty kill will be important.

Can Bryan Bickell play as a now well paid top 6 forward like he did in the 2013 playoffs—or at least approaching that level?

Can Brandon Saad equal or surpass the production of Stalberg?

Can Kruger—who still has some unrealized upside—become that reliable shutdown centerman?

We saw the return of THE Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in the 2013 playoffs. Are they sticking around? Was Niklas Hjalmarsson a mirage? Or has he really arrived as a legitimate top shutdown NHL defenseman?

Hossa? How healthy will he be? When he is, he is still a great player. The early whispers I'm hearing are that he will be fine in October.

Who from a bevy of AHL forwards—Jeremy Morin, Brandon Pirri, Joakim Nordstrom, Ben Smith, Philip Danault and Mark McNeill—can emerge as a regular contributor on this year's Hawk club? All have shown promise at various levels of hockey in recent years.

These are the questions. For now, the Stanley Cup is bouncing around from Stockholm to Stara Lubovna to Winnipeg, Buffalo, and other destinations. But business will resume before we know it.

Will the Hawks be ready for another run?

All for now,

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