Baltimore, Blackhawks fans feel your pain

Baltimore, Blackhawks fans feel your pain
March 15, 2013, 2:00 pm
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I’m not sure if Ravens fans saw it coming like Blackhawks fans did three years ago. I know Chicagoans didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it turned out to be.

There’s something about the absolute gutting of a championship roster that definitely takes some of the luster off, but at least it was a championship roster. Better that way than having to do the deed without feeling the glory.

They knew Ray Lewis would be retiring. Veteran Center Matt Birk followed. The Ravens calmed some nerves by signing Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco to that record six-year, $120 million contract. But that also had an effect on what’s happened since.

Backup guard Bobbie Williams (who made six starts) was the first to feel the cut, but his was the kindest one. Starting wideout Anquan Boldin (6-107, TD in the Super Bowl) was shockingly sent off to the Niners team they beat in New Orleans –- and all they got was a sixth-round pick in return. Two other key defenders were lost on Tuesday’s opening day off free agency when Paul Kruger got his money in Cleveland (5 years, $40 million) and Dannell Ellerbee (5 years, $35 million) had money thrown at him by Miami that the champs couldn’t match. Then Wednesday, they released starting safety Bernard Pollard. Thursday, free agent starting cornerback Cary Williams was off to Philadelphia. Ed Reed looks bound for Houston.

Ozzie Newsome has become one of the best general managers in NFL and had tough choices to make, just as Stan Bowman did in 2010. Newsome chose his “core”: Flacco, Ray Rice, and Jacoby Jones on offense, and Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Courtney Upshaw on defense. But the rebuild is on.

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That 112-point Stanley Cup winner kept its top-five point scorers – all part of the core the Blackhawks wanted to build around. Their 6th, 8th and 10th-leading scorers (Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien) were traded away. Key depth components like John Madden, Colin Fraser, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel and Adam Burish also departed. Then there’s their rookie Cup-winning goalie, Antti Niemi. This year’s Hawks may finally have that kind of depth back, thanks to the maturity of some of the kids who were thrown into the fire after all those departures.

I’ll still say the best job Joel Quenneville’s done in his first four years as the Blackhawks' coach was that 2010-11 season that followed the Cup. The roster was gutted. The summer was short for all who returned. Yes, they barely made the playoffs as an 8th seed, thanks to some help in the final game of the regular season schedule. But that ripped-up roster had 44 wins and 97 points to “squeak” in. That’s just four points fewer than last year’s team! And they scared the you-know-what in the playoffs versus the President’s Trophy winner.

John Harbaugh’s guided the Ravens to the playoffs in all five years as head coach in Baltimore, with the help of a lot of those players who are now gone. I’m just one who’ll be curious to see if his team can find a way into the six-team AFC field in 2013 like the Blackhawks, who fought, scratched and overcame to be one of eight in the Western Conference two years ago.