By Paul M. Banks
Now that being a Chicago Blackhawks fan is as trendy now as it was in the 60s during the franchise’s glory days, the team’s marquee players: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and (to a lesser extent) Brian Campbell are all essentially local celebrities. But this team has some other All-Star level talent that you’ve never heard of. They’re currently fourth in the Western Conference despite having no one among the top 40 in the league in scoring- a testament to their depth. Beyond “Kaner,” “Taser,” and “Soupy,” (are you picking up the unofficial hockey player nickname generating formula yet?) these are the names you should know.
Patrick Sharp- “Sharpie,” the team’s leader in goals scored may be the most underrated player on the squad.
Duncan Keith- not to be confused with 90s one-hit wonder Duncan Sheik, he’s the Hawks other blue-liner with an All-Star appearance on his resume.
Kris Versteeg- Hawks bench boss Joel Quenneville described the NHL’s rookie scoring leader thusly: “He’s a competitive guy that doesn’t get distracted by any of the stuff that goes on during a game: got good quickness, good imagination without the puck.”
Martin Havlat- started slow, but came on in January, when the team badly needed an offensive lift and is now second on the team (behind Kane) in scoring.
Goalie tandem of Cristobal Huet and Nikolai Khabibulin- Although they tried to shop Khabibulin earlier in the season, the fact that he’s playing solid hockey here now is a warm, fuzzy feeling. When the playoffs come, having both the Bulin Wall and Huet, another goalie the Hawks acquired via a big money free-agent contract, sharing the net will be advantageous over other teams that lack fresh goaltending.
In addition to hosting the NHL’s marquee regular season game (Winter Classic), the Hawks have the premier position in three key off-the-ice criteria. The Indian head was voted the most recognized logo in NHL and the Hawks currently lead the league in attendance and merchandise sales. This shows how much they’ve built the brand. If they go far in the ’09 Stanley Cup playoffs, and later make an annual habit of doing so, the names I mentioned above will be instantly recognizable in this city.
See more of Paul M. Banks’ work at the Washington Times and The Sports BankFollow paulmbanks