It was "media day" on Monday of this week for the Chicago Blackhawks. This is better known as clean up your shh...tuff and get out of here.
Jonathan Toews made an interesting comment about how there needs to be a unified room between the young and old players. This line alone is exactly what I want to focus on for today's blog.
After watching this team all year, I've come to the realization that those "older" players have declined more than most wanted to see. For this Blackhawks team to be successful moving forward and get back to greatness, one of the more underrated areas that need to be discussed is the changing of the guard movement within the locker room and on the ice.
Since their arrival, Toews, Kane, Keith and Seabrook (I'm going to focus on the "Core-4") have been leading the way. They have proven to be big-time performers and will go down as the foundation of one of the best runs by any team in the salary cap era.
Well, now things are changing and they have to all be honest with themselves about it.
Sure, Kane is still an elite player, so it's a little unfair to lump him in here but Toews, Keith and Seabrook have seen a drop in their play. Could they bounce back next season?
Kane - will be Kane next year again and should post better numbers. I'm not worried about him but getting him some new and/or consistent help up on his line should be a priority.
Toews - needs to redefine himself a little and get back to the strength/cycling game he dominated for so long. He needs to stop focusing on trying to pull off Kane-esque type dekes and revert back to what has made him so successful in the past. He also needs to get back to focusing on the defensive side of the game like he used to. He's slipped in this area since his Selke days.
Keith - he can be better and him being in shape is not the problem. I found more this year than most, it was his decision making on the ice. He needs to clear his head and start fresh in the new year. Also, finding a consistent partner on his right-side would be ideal.
Seabrook - had his ups and downs this year (mostly downs), but in an isolated role, he should be fine. If all goes to plan, he should be in the bottom pairing (with some time on special teams) because Stan is going to go out and acquire/sign at least 1 legit defender (c'mon Calvin de Haan!).
Regardless if these Core-4 all have huge rebound seasons, the "new core" has arrived. Stan spoke a lot about this and really singled out Schmaltz, Debrincat and Hinostroza.
These players, along with the Haydens, Sikuras and Forslings of this team have no other choice than to emerge as leaders with their play doing the talking for them. But they also can't be scared to speak up and take a shot when Kane is coming down the other wing.
There's no room for hesitation (Schmaltz, I'm looking at you! Shoot that DAMN puck!) and they should all be more comfortable as pros now.
If the "old guys" in the Core-4 know what's good for them (and the team), they will make way for this next wave and mentor them into stars. It already sounds like they did a bit of that this year and will need to continue that heading into rebound year in 2018-19.
Finally, congrats to the Rockford IceHogs for clinching a playoff spot. Their 2016-17 season saw them finish with a mere 62 points (25-39-9-3) which was good for last in the Central.
Since then, they have gotten younger and more talented, as well as brought in an excellent coach to work with those younger players. Complimenting this youth movement and thanks for a couple guys not working out in Chicago, they have a steady veteran presence in Cody Franson and Lance Bouma.
This team has 17 points in their last 21 games and could really make some noise in the playoffs. I'm excited to watch them as well as the NHL playoffs. Keep an eye as the playoffs go on, which teams are having success and why they are winning. You know Stan and Joel will be watching for the same thing.
See ya out there!