The transition to the Chicago Blackhawks marks the start of top tier teams of the 2013-14 season, with just 10 points separating the top seven teams. Chicago’s 46-21-15 record and 107 points were good for just third in the Central Division and and fifth in the West thanks to a slew of elite teams at the top of the standings.
Although the Blackhawks and fans in the Windy City are likely disappointed that they didn’t get an opportunity to defend their 2012-13 Stanley Cup championship, the playoffs were successful, yet again. In a tough first-round matchup against a St. Louis Blues squad that was in contention for the Presidents’ Trophy all season long, the Blackhawks won four-straight after losing the opening two games in St. Louis in overtime. Chicago then went on to win a competitive six-game series against a Minnesota Wild team that seemed to hit its stride and live up to its potential in the postseason. This led to a Western Conference Final clash against the LA Kings, which was described by some as one of the best postseason series of all time. The Kings eventually won the series in seven but we were left without a doubt that the Chicago Blackhawks are certainly among hockey’s elite.
- Duncan Keith, in my opinion, was the best two-way defenseman in the game this season and this opinion was validated when Keith was awarded the Norris Trophy as top defenseman. Keith’s 61 points (6 G, 55 A) were second only to Erik Karlsson among defensemen and his 55 assists were sixth among all skaters. Among top defensive point producers, Keith was also the most reliable in his own end.
- After another solid regular season and an even better postseason, we can officially rank Corey Crawford among the NHL’s elite netminders. His 2.26 GAA and .917 SV% show he’s much more than just the by product of a good team playing in front of him and has really stepped up his game in the postseason- when it matters most.
- Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane get all the accolades up front- and deservedly so. But major contributors to the Blackhawks’ success were two other stars in their own right- Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. Sharp actually led the Blackhawks in points (78) and goals (34), setting or tying career highs in all major offensive categories. Meanwhile, Hossa showed that he’s far from being done, potting 30 goals (and 60 points) despite missing 10 games.
- The Blackhawks might have the best defensive pairing in hockey and, sure, having the Norris Trophy-winning d-man in the pair helps. But Brent Seabrook is no slouch. Seabrook was a major omission from the talented Team Canada defensive group and stepped up offensively this season by contributing 41 points (7 G, 34 A)- the second-highest total of his career. He is among the best defensive-end players in the game and has consistently stepped up his game in the playoffs.
- It’s not easy to identify weaknesses when a team is one goal away from reaching the Stanley Cup Finals but there was one area this season where the Blackhawks were in need of improvement- defensive depth. The core five defenseman of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Nick Leddy, Niklas Hjalmarsson, and Johnny Oduya was certainly strong but a major drop off was seen whether it was Michal Rozsival, Sheldon Brookbank, Michael Kostka, or David Rundblad cracking the lineup. This is an area Chicago has yet to address this offseason and it’s only notable defensive prospect (Adam Clendening) has yet to see NHL ice since being drafted 36th overall in 2011.
PRONOSIS FOR NEXT SEASON
Since winning the Cup in 2010, Chicago has been the class of the NHL. With it’s core still in tact (and in its prime) there’s no reason to think this successful stretch will end. With Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane re-upping with matching 8 year, $84 million contracts, the Blackhawks will likely be at the top of the NHL landscape until 2023. As for next year, Chicago has the depth and talent to once again compete for the Cup. They have tremendous depth up front in Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Kris Versteeg, and Teuvo Teravainen, as well as a nice (cheap) addition in Brad Richards, to insulate their aforementioned stars. The West is certainly a killer conference and although I think Chicago can earn a first-round home playoff series, they have proven that they can make a deep run no matter what the road is.