On Sunday, the third team from the Central Division was bounced out of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs when the LA Kings swept the division-winning St. Louis Blues.
What we've seen is the Kings, who were the eight seed, hammer the top two teams in the Western Conference with ease; they have needed only nine games to move into the conference finals. We've also seen an evolution in the Western Conference as whole, as the formulas that worked so well during the regular season have been regularly destroyed in the playoffs.
So how do the Blackhawks approach this summer's free agency? Let's take a look at 10 players that could fill a role on the 2012-13 Blackhawks and get them closer to competing for a championship, and who (importantly) will be unrestricted free agents this summer.
First of all, there are two unrestricted free agents you won't find on this list: Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Both are obviously the top of their respective positions this summer on the open market, and (unfortunately) rumors are that both could end up in Detroit. The Blackhawks don't figure to be major players for either of them this summer.
1. Dennis Wideman, defenseman
2011-12 $: $3,937,500
We already discussed Wideman at some length on this site. He's physical and can handle the puck well. The biggest question with Wideman, a 2012 NHL All-Star, is how much a 46-point defenseman is worth after Suter signs. His 20 power play points would certainly be a catalyst the anemic Hawks unit could use moving forward.
2. Matt Carle, defenseman
2011-12 $: 3,437,500
Carle's the odd man out in Philly, who have already thrown money at too many defenseman to keep him around. He blocked 164 shots last year and skated an average of over 23 minutes per game, making him an ideal top-four guy that could cut down on the minutes of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Carle was also a big contributor to the special teams in Philly this year, averaging 1:43 short-handed and 2:38 on the power play.
But being younger than Wideman, he'll likely be asking for a longer-term deal that the Hawks might not want to give with the prospects coming up through the organization. Carle might be the biggest winner this summer as the consolation prize in the Suter Sweepstakes.
3. Chris Kelly, center
2011-12 $: $2,125,000
Kelly might be a diamond-in-the-rough that has potential to become a second line center for the Hawks. In just 14:44 per game last year, Kelly was plus-33 for the Bruins and scored 20 goals in a checking line role. He won 51.8 percent of over 800 faceoffs and blocked 56 shots. Also of note, he's average 80 games per season over his seven years in the NHL and has always scored double-digit goals for Ottawa and Boston.
He might be on the "wrong side" of 30, but Kelly has shown offensive flashes that make him an intriguing name for the Blackhawks to consider.
4. Josh Harding, goalie
2011-12 $: $750,000
Maybe he doesn't appear to be the grand slam people want with a 13-12-4 record for Minnesota last year, but he would come cheaper than many other potential "fixes" between the pipes and his .917 save percentage was certainly better for a more porous defensive group than either guy Chicago had last year. He has a .916 career save percentage, but has only played in 117 games.
5. Jarrett Stoll, center
2011-12 $: $3,600,00
Maybe the price point is a bit high for a team that claims to have pretty good depth coming up at the center position. And maybe his six goals don't scream "second line center" enough. But consider he won 55 percent of over 1,200 faceoffs last season and was credited with 165 hits while averaging over two minutes on both special teams and 16:40 total ice time per game.
6. Jason Garrison, defenseman
2011-12 $: $675,000
They probably want him back in Florida, but Garrison fits the Blackhawks need for a defenseman that will impact the power play. He exploded onto the scene next to Brian Campbell this year for the Panthers, posting 16 goals while averaging over 23 minutes on the ice per night. He had nine power play goals and three game-winners from the blue line while racking up 124 hits and 127 blocked shots.
The tricky part with Garrison is how trendy he'll be on the market this summer (if Dale Tallon lets him get there). At 27, he's only played 190 games in the NHL. But coming from a bargain basement cap number, he could be an affordable fit on the Hawks second pair.
7. David Jones, forward
2011-12 $: $2,500,000
Jones has scored 47 goals over the last two seasons in Denver, and could be an interesting right wing candidate if the team decides to stick with Patrick Kane as the second line center. His name also makes the list because he was one of the secondary players on an Avs power play unit that ranked ninth in the NHL last year (Jones averaged 1:52 with a man-advantage last season). He had three power play goals, one short-handed, and five game-winners for Colorado last year.
Listed at 6'2 and 210 pounds, he might be looking for a longer-term than the Hawks are willing to give this summer... but the Avs have to deal with almost their entire roster in free agency this summer and odds are he'll be wearing a different sweater next season.
8. Johnny Oduya, defenseman
2011-12 $: $3,500,000
Oduya's a bit of a known commodity now after the Hawks acquired him at the trade deadline. He was fantastic next to Nick Leddy after the deadline and was spoken about at length by Stan Bowman at the end-of-season media sessions, but his playoff performance left a lot to be desired.
Oduya's return will likely depend on how much money - and how many years - he wants, and if the Hawks can move a veteran in a trade this summer. If the front office thinks a guy like Adam Clendening is going to be ready within the next 2-3 years, it's doubtful they'll sign a 30-year-old Oduya for longer than that timetable.
9. Olli Jokinen, center
2011-12 $: $3,000,000
Is he older? Sure. Does he have a history of disappearing at the end of seasons? Yup. Certainly those two concerns, couple with recent abdominal surgery and winning under 47 percent of his faceoffs last year, make this a tough sell.
But his 61 points and nine power play goals would be the reason to buy on Jokinen with a short-term deal. He's coming off a strong offensive season on a bad Flames team and could be viewed as a rental at the second line center position if he would take a shorter term deal.
10. Jonas Gustavsson, goalie
2011-12 $: $1,375,000
Still very rough, Gustavsson's career record (39-45-15, .900 save pct) doesn't look like one of a guy that will get an enormous raise this summer. But that's where the gamble becomes interesting. Despite his struggles last year, he did post four shutouts and could be a guy that pushes Corey Crawford for the top spot on the depth chart more than Ray Emery was able to last season.