Monday, Aug. 9, 2010
By Chris Boden
So how have I been giving myself a break over the summer from what turned into a nine-month hockey season (or was it 10-12, considering free agency, trades, and following the Cup)? Watching every one of the NHL Networks 35 years of Stanley Cup-clinching games, dating back to 1975, that theyve been airing each weeknight. Theyre all the way up to the 2000-2004 clinchers this week. The power of the DVR makes the games move even more quickly through the commercial breaks. But its been a good way to refresh the historical hockey memory bank of what the great teams were about, who was on them, and any common threads they shared (besides the postgame, Cup-hoisting emotions).
There is a lot of Scotty Bowman through the years, and even going back to his great Canadiens teams of the mid-to-late 70s, you can see the template that we saw in the Blackhawks championship. The handful of elite players. The one or two very good, if not great, defensive pairings. The third- and fourth-line guys who all contributed in their own ways. And while those traits are pretty common among every Cup winner, theres one quality the Bowman teams seemed to have that stood out above the rest: the puck possession style weve seen the Hawks employ the last couple of seasons. They looked a lot like the Red Wings and Penguins teams he won with. Yes, each of those teams also included a handful of highly-skilled offensive stars: Yzerman, Shanahan, Federov, and Lidstrom. Lemieux, Jagr, Coffey, Stevens, Tocchet and Mullen. Lafleur, Shutt, Robinson, and Lapointe. And thats not even getting into the leaders, grinders and unsung heroes any title team in any sport needs.
As great as the Drydens, Parents, and Fuhrs (and Espositos) were back in the day, these replays confirm how Patrick Roy took goaltending to the level and standard we see today. His athleticism and consistency in net raised the bar that the Belfours, Haseks, and Brodeurs had to pursue. But its interesting to also see how Bowman went from veteran Mike Vernon as his guy on Detroits97 Cup champs, to the relatively-untested Chris Osgood the next year. Its the opposite of what the Blackhawks will try to pull off now with the untested Antti Niemi gone after winning the Cup, and turning to the Cup-hungry veteran, Marty Turco.
The Blackhawks core that theyve wanted and needed to keep together remains, up front and on the blue line, and theyll have to take charge in carrying the momentum from the Cup out of the gate when they begin to defend in less than two months. As much as the kids who are replacing the departed depth guys may have earned the opportunity at Rockford, theres no doubt it will still be a learning process early on. Theyre capable of and certainly confident enough filling those spots, but a seamless transition for the likes of Skille, Dowell, Bickell, Stalberg, etc. might be a bit much to expect at the outset. They all have the upside, along with Kyle Beach, Shawn Lalonde, Marcus Kruger and others. This team will still be a force in the West, and the coaches are excited about the off-season moves creating new challenges that should keep the team hungry, with something to prove. The regular season ride will have a few more bumps, and the goal will be to have the newcomers continue to improve and hit their stride by next April, while at the same time having that Cup-winning core healthy and hungry.
There have been no repeat Cup winners since the lockout and the salary cap era began, and no champion the previous four years has gone through the level of turnover these Hawks have been forced to experience. That will be an incentive to the returning group, and with the moves Stan Bowman has been forced to make, hes added quality in restocking the farm. If some of his new and existing prospects reach or come close to - their upside, the franchise should keep contending for the Cup for several more seasons. Financial decisions will be a continuing process every year with the commitments theyve made to that core, and theyd at least want youthful, talented options. Whether its the guys getting opportunities this year cycling onto the roster, or a Morin, Leddy, Olsen, or Hayes being ready to step up down the road, they want and need to keep the minor league system strong, which it appears to be again. If you havent read some of the reviews of Jeremy Morins recent performance at the U-20 Evaluation Camp in Lake Placid, look it up.
Stan Bowman recently revealed some additional maneuvers he was forced to make around last seasons salary cap to keep the roster as deep as it was, knowing it would make this off-seasons job more difficult. The call he made paid off in the end. His busy summer job is over. The curiosity about how good the defenders of the Cup will be, is only beginning.
Stay with CSNChicago.com and watch SportsNite on Friday and Saturday, as we travel to Buffalo and share Patrick Kanes day with the Stanley Cup