Don’t touch the Blackhawks
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org | @MorrisseyCST June 2, 2014 11:04PM
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Updated: June 3, 2014 2:20PM
Keep calm and don’t carry on like overwrought reactionaries.
That message is meant for Blackhawks management and Blackhawks fans alike.
For both groups, the knee-jerk response to what happened Sunday night at the United Center would be a call for change. The defending Stanley Cup champions have nothing to defend anymore, not after falling to the Kings in Game 7 of the Western Conference final. But it doesn’t mean they have reason to alter a very potent roster in any significant way.
They came within a deflected overtime goal of getting to the final again. They blew three leads in Game 7 and a bunch of leads throughout the playoffs. How do you react to that if you’re Hawks general manager Stan Bowman?
You don’t. The blown leads don’t point to any bigger problem.
Standing pat is not being weak or indecisive, not when you have Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Brandon Saad, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Corey Crawford. It’s being smart. Patrick Sharp, who became a whipping boy for his subpar postseason, is a streaky scorer. His streakiness happened to pick a very bad time for a down cycle. He’ll be up again. So will defenseman Brent Seabrook, who struggled at times during the Kings series.
I’ll leave the nuts and bolts of the offseason to others. Roster tweaking will be necessary. If the Hawks find the elusive second-line center that their fans have been yammering on about for years, it means there will be a lot of fans with nothing to do for the rest of their lives.
The team brought in hotshot prospect Teuvo Teravainen for three games toward the end of the regular season. In the minds of the dreamier Hawks fans, he was going to be that long-sought-after center, but he didn’t look quite ready for the rigors of the NHL.
The window for more Hawks championships is not closing. It’s still wide open, and fresh air is still breezing through. Saad raised his game in the playoffs and showed he can be a star in this league. If the 35-year-old Hossa slows down, Saad, 21, will be there to pick up the slack. Big if. Hossa looked as strong with the puck as ever this season. Ben Smith is a keeper.
This is the most talented team in the NHL, and that’s not going to change in the course of an offseason. It’s why you stay the course if you’re the Hawks.
“The road to the Western Conference goes right through Chicago,’’ Kings coach Darryl Sutter said after Game 7.
And if the Kings beat the Rangers for the Cup, as expected?
“[The Hawks are] going to have to come through us,’’ Kings forward Justin Williams said.
The Hawks get to be the hunter instead of the hunted. Not a bad thing to be.
They’ll meet with the media Tuesday, and I’m sure we’ll hear about various injuries they hid from public view during the regular season and playoffs. It’s an NHL tradition. Somebody will have been dealing with two broken legs, a lacerated kidney and malaria. Maybe the Hawks finally will admit they were tired. It took me much too long to come to the conclusion that they probably were dealing with fatigue more than any other team in the league. They didn’t look like themselves in the playoffs.
Ten Hawks played in the Sochi Olympics in February, and the truly amazing thing was that most of them performed well when they returned to Chicago. Next season will have no Olympic interruption. The Hawks should be fresher all around. They won’t be coming off an intense, condensed schedule the way they were this season, nor will they be coming off a summer of partying with the Stanley Cup. Expect them to show up much more zeroed in next season.
There’s a portion of Hawks fans that spends a lot of time unhappy with life. It’s hard to understand. It’s as if they’re not pleased unless they’re complaining about something. As Mark Lazerus, the Sun-Times’ Hawks beat writer, so rightly put it, this is the Golden Age of hockey in Chicago. Some of you might want to stop and enjoy it.
The team may part ways with the ineffective Kris Versteeg, which should placate some of the pitchfork wavers. For a while.
The Hawks will have plenty of time to rest and get back to it next season. They will be Stanley Cup contenders from Day 1. As long as nobody panics.