Blackhawks Confidential

Blackhawks are Chicago's best hope for a championship

The Stanley Cup.jpg

Which of Chicago's five professional sports franchises will be next to win a championship?  The race to win in the short term is down to two finalists.  Some will put their money on the Bears, but my wager is on the Blackhawks.

A few short months ago the city was filled with optimistic sports fans.  The Cubs where a preseason favorite to repeat in the NL Central.  The White Sox had mixed previews, but where supposed to be contenders in a weak AL Central.  The Bears achieved the unthinkable and traded for Jay Cutler.  The upstart Blackhawks reached the Western Conference Finals and the Bulls played a thrilling seven game series with the Celtics.  Positive vibes filled the air and Chicago fans bursted with pride.

Oh, how the times have changed.

In the spring, the Cubs would have been a popular choice to host the next parade down Michigan Ave. and rid themselves of "the lovable losers" moniker.  Instead, they have morphed into "the unlikeable whiners."  The Milton Bradley experiment is a dismal failure.  Alfonso Soriano is now a defensive and an offensive liability.  The "Big Z" has turned into the "little zzzz's" putting his future in Chicago in doubt.

The change of ownership in Wrigleyville has done nothing to instill confidence in the bleacher bums.  The knowledgeable Cub fans know the truth.  The team is hamstrung with multiple high-end contracts on underachieving players.  There may be only one reason general manager Jim Hendry keeps his job.  Who else would want it?

It is a tall task at hand to rebuild the Cubs into contenders.  Sorry to say it Cub fans, but I believe it will take a few years to untangle the dasterdly web of overspending on the North Side.  Hey, it's already been over 100 years.  What's a few more?

The "rebuilding while still contending" White Sox have suffered from a personality disorder all season.  Who are these guys anyway?  We all know Kenny Williams.  The aggressive general manager has South Siders believing in next year with the acquisitions of Jake Peavy and Alex Rios.  Only problem is if you keep saying that you start to sound like the crosstown rivals.

The Sox can have a formidable foursome on the mound next season with Peavy, Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd.  The lack of confidence is in the guys with the gloves behind them.  No team will ever contend playing the defense the Sox have put on display this summer.  Is Alexei Ramirez a shortstop?  Is Gordon Beckham a third baseman?  Too many questions will remain until they prove otherwise.

The South Side is in the 1-2 year range from being serious contenders for another ring.  Never underestimate Williams.  However, the man can sometimes out-think himself.

The Bulls are the Chicago team furthest from contending for a championship.  Derrick Rose is the lone reason to watch your hometown NBA squad.  The upcoming season will play out as a carbon copy of the last one.  An average team in a weak conference with an ability to claim the 7th or 8th playoff seed.

Is Rose's help on the way in the form of Dwayne Wade?  I'll believe it when I see it.  Even then, Bulls fans will question the capabilities of head coach Vinny Del Negro.  I don't think it's going out on a limb to suggest that Del Negro will not be the coach of the Bulls next championship.

On the surface, the Bulls are 4-5 years out from being an NBA title contender.  Rose will need time to mature and develop relationships with newly acquired teammates.  A Wade signing next summer will change my prediction, but I believe those odds to be long.

The Bears are Super Bowl contenders every year.  Not so much because of who they are, but because of the NFL.  The NFL is all parity.  The Bears run to the '07 Super Bowl is an example.  So are last year's Arizona Cardinals.

Jay Cutler will lead a Bears offense that will produce points even without legitimate threats at the wide reciever position.  My doubts are all on the defensive side of the ball and on the health of Tommie Harris.  The Bears need pressure up the middle in order to protect a secondary that, on paper, is average at best.  The Bears' previous two Super Bowl appearances where compliments of their defense.  Their next trip will be no different.

You can make a strong argument that the Bears will be Chicago's next team to bring home the gold.  They will always remain relevant in the discussion of this city's next title holder.

There are reasons to doubt the Blackhawks as Stanley Cup contenders.  Many of them have been written about in this blog.  However, a focus on the positive aspects of the club reveals an organization primed to drink from Lord Stanley's Cup for the first time since 1961.

Of all the teams in Chicago, the Blackhawks have the strongest core of young talent including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.  Marian Hossa and John Madden will prove to be welcome veteran additions.  Cristobal Huet has proven to be a capable NHL goaltender.  The Hawks did not reach the Western Conference Finals because of their goaltending.  Huet need only be a steady presence.

The Blackhawks took an important first step in their title march last season.  The promise is there for the team to reach the Cup Finals for the first time in almost two decades.  The organization understands the urgency to strike now before the salary cap forces the break-off a crucial parts of the team.

For those reasons, my money is on the Hawks to grab a crown for Chicago before their fellow sports brethren.  All the other teams are welcome to prove me wrong.  I'll take any celebrations I can get.  Anything would be better than the miserable baseball season we've all had to endure.

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5 Comments

Dave Morris said:

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Mark, pretty darn good article. Keep this up and you're gonna make Mike look bad.

I agree the Hawks are as well stocked with talent as they've been since, perhaps, those terrific teams of the 60s, and the 70s that won multiple Conference and Division Championships...but somehow, in all that time, only one Stanley. This club evokes the Billy Reay years for me...(OK, call me a cranky old guy clinging to past glories, eh.)

The key is that their toughest opposition is entering the season with an aging defense, the loss of eighty goals from their offense, and a rookie backing up Chris Osgood. So the Hawks can, in principle, close the gap with Detroit and obtain that favorable home ice advantage going into the post season.

After that, it's a crapshoot. But just as bird was the word last year, this season could be pleasin' for fine feathered teams.

The Penguins demonstrated that solid coaching and team play, in addition to depth and youth, not only get you to the Final Four, it means you have enough gas in the tank to win in June. Yeah, they have Crosby, Malkin and Staal, but it was Mad Maxie Talbot, Tango Letang and Jordie Staal who stuck it to the Winged Wheels. And Marky Andy Flowery has more than a touch of Huey Huet in his game, or should I say vice versa?

The Blackhawks, for the reasons you enumerated--among others--are as good as the Penguins, and in many ways, better.

So no excuses this year. Really. And I mean that, babe.

Forklift said:

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The Hawks have a good, solid young core. They also have guys like Dylan Olsen, Akim Aliu and Kyle Beach in the pipeline.

They need to (and will) sort out the caps situation this season, and show last year wasn't a fluke. At least back to the conference Finals.

2011 is the year they skate with the Cup, and Jonathan Toews gets his name on the Conn Smythe.

Mark Kiley said:

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Forklift, I don't disagree. However, Olsen is probably three years away from the NHL. Aliu and Beach may see limited time this year, but both are at least another year away from having an impact on a Stanley Cup contender.

Another trip to the Conference Finals may be in store for the Hawks before they land the elusive Cup in 2011.

That being said, does another Chicago team beat them to a championship?

Dave Morris said:

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Mark, I think this year represents the Hawks' best chance to snatch the Mug...simply because the Wings are in a transition phase, there is no so-called 'dominant team' in the West, and Chicago has its 'core' all together.

The Hawks have the talent right now...probably more total talent that any team in the Western Conference.

But Blackhawk fans who saw Chicago win the last one know talent isn't everything...it's a higher level of desire and committment that take you to the top.

Are Toews, Kane, Huet, Keith, Madden and Burish this year's Crosby, Malkin, Fleury, Letang, Guerin and Talbot?

Is The Hoss Man so fired up he's vowing NOT to become the first player to go to the Finals three years in a row and not win on all three tries...or putting it more positively, is he determined to be the first one to go to the Finals three years in a row AND win?

Where's that crystal ball of Madame Zara's, anyway?

Geez, it's enough to make you start drinking...that is, if Rocky wins that tax fight.

Forklift said:

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Beach is a longshot, because of his age - it's either the NHL or Juniors. Aliu will get some ice time in the UC at various times this season, especially is Stan is able to deal one (or more) of the 1000 forwards who will seemingly be in camp.

Olsen and Lalonde are each 2-3 years away, but it shows organizational depth. The Hawks have the luxury of not having to be in "win now" mode.

As far as other Chicago teams winning championships, the Cubs? Who knows what the Ricketts family will do, as far as spending goes. If whomever sits in the GM office is ordered to cut payroll, and depending on how much, we might wind up back in the 70s. The Sox won't win anything more than a division title, the league is so tilted to New York and Boston.
The Bears aren't very deep - their starters are damn good, but if injuries start, they're headed for sevenandninesville.
And the Bulls...oy.

So, yeah, the city is pretty much there for the Hawks' taking.

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