It still may be too early to call it but it looks like the Blackhawks are in for a rough season. Following their four-game winning streak, they played several inconsistent games. Following Wednesday night’s disappointing loss to the New Jersey Devils, the league’s worst team, spirits sank low in the locker room. After the three-game losing streak on home ice, the player’s were visibly beginning to lose their fervor. Quenneville cut Saturday’s skate short due to his frustration with the lack of effort he saw on the ice.
“Personally, I’m not happy,” the team’s captain Toews sighed “I’m pretty sure that everyone feels the same way. Maybe that’s our problem. People keep saying, ‘It could be worse.’ Well, I think this is, in our minds, as bad as it can get”
So, how did the defending champions end up here in this position and how the hell do they plan on making it back to the top?
By: Harrini Krishnan
Going into this season, things weren’t looking too reassuring for the Hawks. Sure they had a strong core, full of fresh raw talent, which has proven time and again to be invaluable. The six-pack, consisting of Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa, Keith and Seabrook, was the focal point of hope for the team to make it through the playoffs with unrelenting power.
However, not months after their tremendous victory, the franchise started shedding off a good chunk of the team including Antii Niemi and Huet who had proved himself worthwhile in the net, last season. After signing Toews, Kane and Keith with long-term deals, the Hawks entered the offseason well over their salary cap. With low cap space, the team started off with bargain-priced players and rookies who arguably, on more than one occasion, proved to be more than just a good deal.
Seeming inconsistent at the least to start off the season, then progressing with a disgusting loss to the Oilers, a win over the Wild, another loss at the Garden and yet another loss to the Devils at home, the team’s prospective began to get shaky and confusing. Then, with Hossa, one of the team’s hottest players with 7 goals and 11 points this season, out with an “upper body injury,” the team was rattled once again.
“You’ve got to learn to play with injuries and we’ve done that with Campbell already this year,” Toews said after Friday morning skate. “We’ll make adjustments. It’s not the end of the world. He’s been playing great for us, but again, he’s just one guy and we’ll try our best to make up for that void.”
The thing with making these dooming predictions is that it’s only November; it’s still a bit too early to tell where this team is going. They have a great coaching staff that knows more than it lets on and good leadership with captain, Jonathan Toews, aptly nicknamed “Captain Serious.”
Even if the Cup is a stretch at this point in time, the coaching staff has obviously been smart enough to look into the future and prepare. The most glaring issues with the franchise are mainly contractual and financial. The biggest concern they face right now is with Brent Seabrook.
After the 2010-2011 season, Seabrook becomes a restricted free agent. He has a market value of around $5 mil; however, the Blackhawks will only be able to afford $1 mil per player to fill out their active roster. With Seabrook gone, there will be a large void for the team to have to fill. This will force the Blackhawks to have to call back talent like Leddy or Morin from the minors and make use of key young players like Stalberg.
Viktor Stalberg, the newly acquired young forward, went from fourth line on opening night to skating out with Toews and Kane. He has refreshing speed, great hands, and a promising career. With his lack of exposure in the league, his cap hit is still under $1 mil, which makes him a perfect addition. In addition to Seabrook and Stalberg, Brouwer, Skille and Crawford are also set to be restricted free agents.
As if the situation wasn’t chilling already, Sharp, who is leading the league with 9 goals and leading the Hawks with 12 points, is also on the third year of his four-year deal. His cap right now is about $3.9 mil; however, he has obviously outperformed this cap, reaching a market value of over $5 mil. It doesn’t look like the Blackhawks can afford to have the team that they want—the team that they need. It would seem the Hawks are in a bit of a bind but if there’s one thing the Blackhawks have that overrules most everything else, it’s passion for the game.
“Maybe we just need to up our standard as a team, expect more and demand more from ourselves,” said Toews. “It just seems like these mediocre efforts, especially at home, are becoming acceptable—and that’s definitely not the case. We just need to have more fun, play a little looser and with a little more energy.”
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