Chill out, Blackhawks fans!
BY RICK MORRISSEY Staff Columnist January 15, 2014 10:01PM
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Updated: February 17, 2014 8:48AM
This is one of my favorite times of the year, that stretch in a long season when, faced with very little to grumble about, a segment of the Blackhawks’ faithful clears its collective throat and . . . grumbles.
These are people who could look at a Victoria’s Secret model and say, “You call that a nose?”
The defending Stanley Cup champions are “struggling’’ — i.e., they no longer have the most points in the NHL (Anaheim does), are 4-1-5 in their last 10 games and have dropped to 4-6 in shootouts.
With three weeks until the Sochi Olympics begin and three months until the playoffs start, much of the fretting is devoted to an old, apparently comforting standby — the Lack of a Second-Line Center. This “failing” is the reason for all that has ailed the Blackhawks the last few years, not that there has been much ailing. The Hawks can win a game 6-0, and someone will bring up the deficiencies of Michal Handzus, Marcus Kruger or Andrew Shaw centering the second line.
Still, it has to be a relief to goalie Corey Crawford, who used to be everybody’s target practice. Can’t win a Stanley Cup, they said, until he did. Not tough enough between the ears under pressure, they said, until he was.
But people move on to the next victim. It’s like a bored kid playing with his food.
Self-motivation is difficult this time of year. It’s why coach Joel Quenneville is doing what he usually does during these dead periods. He’s switching lines to look for a spark, to send messages to players, to get the attention of the underachieving. Is it necessary? Probably not, but it gives him something to do between death stares on the bench.
The truth, not that anybody wants it, is that there’s little to complain about, relatively speaking. Compared with what’s going on with the other pro teams in town, any criticism of the Hawks looks like nitpicking.
Cubs fans are outraged that their team seems more concerned with the rollout of a sappy mascot, Clark, than the fact it lost 197 games the last two seasons. Yes, those fans do know that the marketing and baseball operations departments are two distinct arms of the organization. Yes, they do know the mascot is for children. But they’re tired of the emphasis on peripheral things that have nothing to do with winning.
Sox fans want an end to the tedium of what passed for baseball on the South Side last season. And if somebody wants to throw to the right base in 2014, that would be great.
Bears fans want a defense that doesn’t give up rushing yardage like a traitor giving up state secrets.
Bulls fans wonder how much more they’ll be asked to take, why their team never seems to be able to land a premier free agent and whether coach Tom Thibodeau will be around after this season or the next.
Hawks fans? They have to concoct something. I give them credit, though. You would think it would be hard to wring your hands while wearing hockey gloves. Apparently not.
It’s all a bit silly. The team has won two of the last four Stanley Cups. It has 10 players going to the Sochi Olympics, and a few others who had a real shot of making their country’s teams but didn’t. That’s a ridiculous amount of talent. This could be a dynasty in the making, provided players stay healthy and hungry. And don’t you just naturally assume that hunger is always there with hockey players?
This is Chicago, where things don’t always go as dreamed. See Rose, Derrick. I get it. But between Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and a very deep team, the gnashing of teeth seems like a waste of time and nervous energy.
Save the feelings of imminent disaster for the playoffs, when anything can happen. The Hawks will be one of the favorites, if not the favorite, to win the Cup again, which will bring its own stress. Lower seeds regularly beat higher seeds in the NHL playoffs. Put that in your worry pipe and smoke it, Hawks fans.
At least there won’t be much to concern you during the Olympics, other than the possibility of 10 of your favorite players getting some bad borscht in Russia and missing real NHL games because of a lower-body injury. Or is that an upper-body injury?
Uh-oh. Sounds like Februworry to me.