Our beloved Blackhawks really could have repeated as Stanley Cup champs this year. It stinks, it sucks, but the feeling will pass.
Mistakes were made, calls were blown, but there is more light than darkness for Hawks fans everywhere. It says a lot about the team we're lucky enough to watch that when they don't win the Stanley Cup, the year is a failure. And with the talent they have, that's exactly how it should be.
The good news is the Hawks really are who we thought they were after they won the Cup in 2010. They are that good and they will get back to the dance of all dances sooner than later.
When putting the 2013-2014 season under the microscope, there were a lot of positives. Many more takeaways worthy of hanging your hat on than throwing out the window.
The negatives that did surface, particularly in the playoffs, will most likely be identified by a very busy Stan Bowman come free agency July 1st. Then the hockey world that exists outside of Chicago will be very, very afraid.
The Stadium Series - It wasn't a Stanley Cup Final game, but the Hawks dominated the Pittsburgh Penguins on a very large stage and in insane weather conditions. The Blackhawks whipped the Penguins 5-1 as Soldier Field became the world's largest snow globe.
Patrick Kane - He just gets better and better. Kane finished the regular season with 29 goals and 40 assists. He was a constant threat with 8 goals and 12 helpers in the playoffs. He introduced a catchphrase this postseason that perfectly captures his play... SHOWTIME!
With stellar game-winning goals late in periods and with the electric play we've grown accustomed to, he continued to put on a show and it will only get better. Kane set an NHL record this postseason tallying 9 points while facing elimination in one playoff series (2G, 7A in 3 games) against the LA Kings.
Brandon Saad and Ben Smith - We knew they were good, we knew they always play hard, but they looked like superstars in the Western Conference Final. Saad finished the playoffs with 6 goals and 10 assists. Smith only grabbed 4 goals and 2 assists this postseason, but he was as strong on the puck as Saad and always brought his A game too.
The Monster Line with Saadzilla, Shawthra, and Kane Kong - Q can assemble the trio of ghastly creatures at a moment's notice to spark the same ultra productivity they displayed towards the end of the WCF.
Possible roster upgrades - A few key personnel changes can vastly improve a team mostly superior to the entire league. Tuesday Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman said they won't rush forward Teuvo Teravainen back into a Hawks' sweater next season. It's likely you may see him get several cracks by mid-season.
Bowman may try to make up for the obvious disadvantage against the King's and try to snag some bigger, more physical forwards as well. It's likely a Blackhawks defenseman like Oduya could be trade bait for offensive size or even a much needed 2C for the Hawks.
The Hawks could rely on some young blood to fill the defensive holes that surfaced this season. Stephen Johns, Adam Clendening, and Klas Dahlbeck are big d men that all had solid seasons for the Rockford IceHogs (Blackhawks' AHL officialte).
Several overplayed players - You have to wonder why Q overplayed several players through out the regular season and more costly... the playoffs so often. Michal Handzus was a great last year. He was vital to special teams through out this season, and you can't forget how huge his Game 5 OT goal was against the Kings, but he was Kryptonite to Patrick Kane and should not have logged so many minutes next to him.
Kris Versteeg and Brandon Bollig were given beyond infinity to prove themselves as valuable and they never really did. Perhaps the worst overplaying went with the key players.
Q predominately ran with 9-10 forwards through out the playoffs. One could argue it was the overplaying of the (obviously fatigued) star players that made holding a lead such an issue this postseason...
Wasted roster spots - Q obviously lacked confidence in the team's 4th line this postseason. Kris Versteeg and Brandon Bollig barely saw the ice in the playoffs. This was not the case last year as the 4th line was responsible for last year's Stanley Cup-winning goal scored by Dave Bolland.
If Vertseeg and Bollig didn't gain Q's trust, why weren't others who were fully capable get the shot? Jeremy Morin was playing like a superstar towards the end of the regular season... Why not keep a physical forward with great hands in the line up for the playoffs?
He got a chance later on in the playoffs, but he had cooled off and saw limited as time as well. Peter Regin and Joakim Nordstrom proved to be very reliable on the ice during the regular and postseason for the Hawks in a variety of key situations.
If the majority of the 4th line didn't play anyways, why not throw them into the mix. Going with any of them would have helped preserve the other 9-10 forwards who were obviously exhausted by the 3rd round of the playoffs, if not sooner.
Size, size, size - There's no arguing the top shelf skill the Hawks forwards possess. Last year they were able to out-maneuver bigger teams like the Kings and the Bruins to hoist the Cup. This year, that wasn't the case.
With Handzus leaving and Versteeg severely under-performing this season, possibly because he never fully recovered from knee surgery, you have to think Stan Bowman may attempt to get at least one big, physical forward to drive teams off the puck the way the Hawks fell victim to against the Kings.
The Hawks d men could use some size as well. Don't be surprised to see the blue line also get bigger next season. As previously mentioned, there are some big d men in the system starving for the opportunity.
2C - The Hawks were unable to win 2 Cups without a 2nd line center that was set in stone, but they maxed out on their success with the vacancy. It seemed everybody and their cousin got an opportunity to try out for the gig this season.
Some did better than others, Saad and Shaw certainly played well in the middle, but they could be more useful elsewhere. The Blackhawks need a closer to permanent, dependable fixture to GET KANE THE PUCK and win faceoffs. Like I said, this could happen with a big trade. Cue the Ryan Kesler rumors!
Defense - The defense just has to be better. Though Duncan Keith had another stellar year overall and may be the Norris Trophy favorite, the rest of the d crew greatly under-performed and hung goaltender Corey Crawford out to dry way to often, especially in the WCF against the Kings when it cost them the most.
There were way too many costly turnovers through out the season and problems with clearing the puck. Allowing the Kings to camp out in front of Crawford was a reoccurring issue in the WCF and perhaps the biggest reason the Hawks are no longer playing.
Power Plays - Sometimes they were good, sometimes they were bad. But it seems to be an issue that surfaces way too much each season. If you're yelling "SHOOT!!!" during any Blackhawks power play, you are probably right.
Costly officiating - You can't blame the Hawks for the many blown calls during the regular season and the postseason, but you certainly can blame the officials. The awful officiating cost them games, and eventually, a chance to repeat as champs.
Jeff Carter was indeed offsides before he scored the Kings 1st goal in Game 7 that also could have been disallowed as he seemed to score it with a high stick.
Also in Game 7, Nick Leddy's stick was slashed out of his hands and he was unable to defend the GWG goal in OT. Additionally, it seems every post season innumerable goals are either taken away from the Hawks or given to the other team that shouldn't be.
Again, nothing the Hawks could do, that's just the way the puck rolls with the brutal officiating in the NHL. It happens to other teams as well.
To wrap it up, be glad we have the core we do, be glad we have the team we do. The roster issues will be fixed, they will be fresh and they will be hungry. This is the Golden Age of Blackhawks hockey.
Thanks for reading. Have a great offseason.
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