We wrote the following for the final regular season issue of “The Committed Indian.” As an aside, let me also take the time to apologize for our lack of a presence for the majority of this season. Amazingly, sometimes life gets in the way of this sort of thing. With the playoffs drawing ever closer, there will be a game recap to follow for each game and perhaps some thoughts in between games as well.
Hopefully, the Hawks season will mimic that of the second season of “The Walking Dead”: early promise, a big lull in the middle, and a tremendous finish.
And here we stand again, another regular season gone by and another post-season awaits. Seems like a lifetime ago when we would reminisce of the days of yore when the Hawks were a perennial playoff team and dream of when they would be again as we watched the ABC line drunkenly stumble its way across the finish line to the tune of 12th place in the Western Conference.
We obviously don’t need to throw a parade for another year of postseason hockey in Chicago; they should be expected after all, but it’s also important to remember where we came from. After all, it’s only been five years since the Hawks traded the great Karl Stewart (he of the 2 goals and 3 assists in 37 games) and sent Barry Rozner into a homicidal frenzy about what an injustice it was to the fanbase. Good God, let’s never relive those days ever again.
Even with a horrendous 9-game losing streak in the regular season, even with some of the worst goaltending in the league, and even with some of the most uneven play seen this side of Calgary, the Blackhawks still stand as one of the four teams with the best chance to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Don’t believe us? Let’s take a look at what the competition holds.
St. Louis Blues– Nothing is going to make us happier than watching the Blues top defensive pairing of Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Pietrangelo try to keep with the likes of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski. And just wait until Martin Havlat gets an extended look at Barrett Jackman and every other big slobbering turd on the Blues second and third pairing. The Blues only saving grace in this post-season will be how far Jaroslav Halak can carry them. Because right now, the Blues look like the poster-child for the President’s Trophy winner that can’t get out of the first round. And other than Bob McGill being resurrected from the heavens to join the Hawks third defensive pairing, nothing will give us more pleasure.
Detroit Red Wings– Sure, this may seem like tempting fate but have you seen the Red Wings play in the last two months? It’s like watching your father’s once great 16-inch softball team try to turn a double play without breaking a hip. After a tremendous start and an incredible home record, the Wings are barely hanging on to home ice advantage. And while history would suggest this might make them more dangerous, it’s simply not true. With an average age of near 30 years old, the Wings don’t have the legs nor the defensive depth to last another four rounds of playoff hockey. Their only hope lies in Jimmy Howard and Pavel Datsyuk. And we should know by now it takes more than two guys to hoist Lord Stanley. Even Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr at the height of their powers couldn’t do it.
Vancouver Canucks– The Canucks are one of the four teams in the West that has a legitimate shot of winning the Campbell Trophy again. However, they also might be missing Daniel Sedin and are most definitely in store for a goalie controversy. And we all know how well the Canucks handle any kind of adversity. That said, the Canucks appear to have, depending on where Los Angeles ends up, the most advantageous first round match up. It will take them less than four games to dismantle whatever magic sauce the Phoenix Coyotes are once again conjuring up. While the Dallas Stars or Sharks will likely give them a bit of a rough ride, if they win more than one game, it will be an upset. But the first round was never the problem for Vancouver; it’s that whole running into Chicago thing and from the moment Duncan Keith’s elbow connected with Daniel Sedin’s jaw, it was written in the stars.
Los Angeles Kings– The Kings are another team that are going to be very difficult to hand four losses. Jonathan Quick is arguably the best American goalie on the planet, their top defensive pairing can play against any other team’s top line, and the Kings boast two scoring lines that are going to pose match-up problems for a lot of teams. Their big problem lies in their lack of a legitimate shutdown checking line. Excuse us if we don’t believe Jarrett Stoll and whatever slobs he’s skating with are capable of handling a top line assignment. Darryl Sutter can’t throw Anze Kopitar and company against the opposition’s top line and reasonably expect anything more than a stalemate. Meanwhile, when his team goes on the road, the Canucks, Hawks, Predators, and even the Wings will be able to match their checking line against Kopitar while their top line will dong-whip Jarret Stoll’s line back to Orange County. So basically, if the Kings go undefeated at home in the playoffs, they have a very good chance. Otherwise, they’re in trouble.
Nashville Predators– When did the Nashville Predators become the Minnesota Twins of the NHL? Like the Twins, the Predators do a lot with a little even when it seems like a minor miracle they’re able to field a team, let alone a winning team. Also like the Twins, they get a lion’s share of credit for being amazing at something they’re not really good at. In the Predators’ case, people can’t wait to tell us how great defensively they are. The truth is, the Predators give up a ton of shots, rarely possess the puck and use their all-world goalie Pekka Rinne to bail them out. Shea Weber and Ryan Suter are a terrific defensive pair. They’re also the most overrated. In the 2010 playoffs when matched up against Jonathan Toews, they ‘held’ him to 2 goals and 6 assists in 6 games. In 2011, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf were each point per game players. The Predators strength lies in their special teams and unfortunately for them, teams play the majority of the game 5-on-5.
Which brings us back to the Chicago Blackhawks. Yes, they were incredibly frustrating to watch during this season. Yes, their special teams are more disorganized than a Lambs Farm JV practice. And yes, they have a giant gaping hole standing in their crease that is liable to explode on any given night. But since the acquisition of Johnny Oduya, they’re also playing the best puck possession hockey in the West. Marcus Kruger is turning into an actual second line center before our very eyes. Dave Bolland, Bryan Bickell, and Andrew Shaw are a legitimate checking line with the ability to put points on the board.
Even though it took a lot longer to get here then we may have wanted and it wasn’t always pleasant, the Hawks are now, officially, one of the top teams in the West. Only Nashville, Vancouver, and Detroit pose a realistic threat to knocking them out. That means two things, the Hawks will have a say in who represents the West and if it’s not them, it’s going to be someone very annoying but, hey, at least it won’t be St. Louis.