Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blackhawks Down?

Recently, Jesse Rogers wrote an article for ESPN Chicago noting the differences in the Blackhawks trajectory just two years after winning hockey's ultimate prize.  I agreed with most of his points about the cast difference in performance just two years removed from the championship.  I reject any notion that a panic button might need to be hit soon.

If we're honest with ourselves, we realize that the Cup-winning team was a collision of pleasant circumstances.  Pivotal pieces Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith were all playing way above their pay.  Kane and Toews were still on entry-level contracts that paid less than a million and Keith earned a Norris Trophy while making less than $2M (he currently makes $8M).  Having such little money invested in those major pieces mad it possible for the Hawks to go out and sign Marian Hossa, as well as pay Brian Campbell $7M.  Since then, Kane, Toews, and Keith have received their due pay raises, making it impossible to keep the Cup team together.

While this is all old news for most of us, people still are apparently shocked that the Hawks haven't won another Cup in 2 years.  Lets get real.  You only get as lucky as the Hawks were in 2010 once in a very great while.  Since then, we haven't been quite as lucky.

If we're honest with ourselves, we also know that we have made some bad decisions since the Cup win.  After winning the Cup on the shoulders of a rookie, we believed that defense was our strong suit and that franchise goalies were obsolete.  So we let Niemi walk rather than pay him the $2.75M that he was awarded in arbitration and paid Niklas Hjalmarsson $3.5M to score a combined 4 G, 21 A in two seasons and whose major contribution is blocking shots.  Meanwhile, we've turned around and paid a lesser goalie (sorry Corey) more money than Niemi's arbitration to play last season.  Granted hindsight is 20/20, but don't act like we didn't screw up.

Beyond goaltending, the Hawks lacked a solid second-line center.  Kane was a solid option at the beginning of the season, but as time wore on, it was clear that the Hawks needed to make a move to acquire someone to allow Kane to go back to right wing.  The only answer Stan Bowman could muster during the season was Brendan Morrison, a guy who barely played the remainder of the season and who is mulling retirement this offseason.

The one thing that Bowman might have serviceably fixed is the defense.  Johnny Oduya was a smart pickup.  His speed and puck-moving ability is something the Hawks have been missing.  That doesn't make up for the fact that Chicago struggled through most of the year without an honest defense.

Is it really so surprising that we haven't won another Cup?  Chalk up 2010-11 to a Cup hangover and salary-cap-dump fatality.  2011-12 has Stan Bowman to blame.  It's not time to hit any major panic buttons.

The most recent panic suggestion is trading Patrick Kane.  Kane has added to his list of immature antics this Spring in Madison.  At the least, he was publicly drunk yet again.  At the worst, he assaulted a woman.  Whatever happened, it shows that Kane hasn't repented of his past mistakes.  This upsets and disappoints many Hawks fans, including myself.  It's even led some to suggest that we should deal him to try to fix one of our other problems.  My favorite is the "Kane for Miller" proposal, which people have been blathering about for years.  It won't happen, and if you ask me, it's not very creative either.  The whole proposal is based on the fact that Kane is from Buffalo and that Ryan Miller is the only player of similar value for whom he could be traded.  But if you look at it honestly, you know that Kane has very little trade value right now.  Sure, he's phenomenally talented, but he's never scored as much as people think he could be capable of and he just came off a disappointing year.  Additionally, he now has a reputation as a problem child.

Not only would Buffalo not go for it, Chicago would be foolish to make such a move.  Let me close with a real life analogy from Philadelphia.  (I know I harsh on Philly a lot, but just hear me out.)  Mike Richards and Jeff Carter also had a party animal reputation.  As you know, Philadelphia shipped them off.  Carter to Columbus, Richards to Los Angeles.  The Flyers used the cap space to pay Ilya Bryzgalov $51M over the next 9 years.  Bryzgalov posted a postseason SV% of .887.  Carter rejoined Richards in LA and they won a Cup together.  How'd that work out?

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