The Chicago Blackhawks thought they had it figured out. They thought they had found the right supporting cast, the right group of grit and veteran presence to balance the star power that has been in place for several seasons.
But for the second consecutive season the role players just didnt play enough of that role. And it looks like the Blackhawks will be working on that again in the offseason.
The Blackhawks tried to get a little wiser a little deeper and a little tougher when they signed defensemen Sean ODonnell, Steve Montador and Sami Lepisto, forwards Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers and Daniel Carcillo and goaltender Ray Emery entering this season. But whether it was due to injuries or an inadequate fit, it just didnt seem to work.
Its unlikely most of that group will return in 2012-13; and the Blackhawks getting the right ensemble next season is imperative.
Chemistry going forward should be a concern. When I say a concern, a priority, coach Joel Quenneville said Wednesday. When everybody pushingpulling together is a priority, that will make you stronger. I thought we addressed (our needs) last year. I thought they did a good job in that role, but I just think that every year is a different type of mix on our team.
The mix in the Cup season worked, obviously. The role players did their part, buoying the Blackhawks when their stars had rough nights or slumps. But the past two years, thats been missing. When the stars slumped, so did the team see their nine-game winless streak. The same happened last season.
Of the above group, Montador and Carcillo were injured for most of the seasons second half. Both are also signed or extended through the next several years. Emery, who signed a player tryout contract in the summer and then a one-year deal as training camp ended, is also set to return next season.
But the rest are probably gone. Brunette said Wednesday that the Blackhawks were moving in a different direction, and was not holding my breath that theyre going to call. It didnt help that his place on the team was never clearly defined.
The 40-year-old ODonnell was an on againoff again scratch. The same went for Lepisto. Mayers was a solid player all season but was suddenly a healthy scratch after Game 3 of the playoffs. Rumor swirled that Mayers was scratched because he didnt do anything to Raffi Torres, whos vicious hit on Marian Hossa has left the Blackhawks right wing a concussion; but Quenneville said that wasnt a factor at all.
Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik, who have been with the Blackhawks for two-plus seasons now, are also part of that support. And they were there in the postseason, Frolik especially. But both were ineffective in the regular season and talked about how that needs to change in 2012-13.
I had meetings (with the coaches), and they talked about consistency, Bickell said Wednesday. This year was a roller coaster, up and down. Come playoffs, I picked up my game and did what needed to do. What I did in the playoffs, I need to do at the start of the year next year.
All stars need a supporting cast. The Blackhawks thought they found the right one this season. Instead, theyll be searching for the right one for the third consecutive campaign.