The Chicago Blackhawks have been a staple in the playoffs for a solid seven years now. After being in the dumps for a while, they’ve managed to turn it around using young talent and seasoned veterans. Guys like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are two of the best players in the league and have been there since the beginning. But what makes this Chicago Blackhawks team special is the fact that they have had so much roster turnover in the last few years and continue to get it done.
Currently, the Blackhawks are on a 12 game winning streak, their longest in franchise history. They’ve leapfrogged the Dallas Stars to take command of the Central Division by five points. They rank in the top five in goals scored, goals allowed, power play percentage and rank 10th in penalty kill percentage. Chicago has won three Stanley Cups in the last six seasons and are certainly the favorite to win it again.
In an era where teams are now controlled by the salary cap, it’s amazing that the Blackhawks can stay consistent despite losing key players year in and year out. Just this offseason, the Blackhawks lost rising star Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya, who had been key players over multiple seasons for Chicago. Sharp had been one of the Blackhawks most productive players, in terms of scoring, each of his years swearing the red sweater. The continued roster turnover would have definitely had some affect on just about any other roster (i.e. the Boston Bruins) but Chicago just finds ways to keep getting better and better. This team has somehow replaced the production of Saad and Sharp with Artemi Panarin, Artem Anisimov and Teuvo Teravainen. Panarin and Teravainen have the look of potential stars while Anisimov is on pace to shatter his career high in points. The fact that three guys who have never been NHL standouts are some of the most impactful high quality role players in the league.
From front to back, the Blackhawks are truly in the NHL’s elite. The aforementioned Kane has been an attention grabbing name on and off the ice since he was drafted first overall in 2007, but this year has been his best if he stays healthy. Through 49 games Kane has 71 points, with 30 goals and 41 assists. Earlier this year, the Buffalo native had a 26 game point streak that lasted two months. He’s playing the best defense that he has his entire career and it has worked wonders. The 27 year old winger has shown great chemistry with Panarin on the power play, which has led them to the Kane leads the league in goals, assists and goals, the triple crown of hockey, and is certainly the MVP frontrunner to this point.
Jonathan Toews was ice cold to start the season, but has rebounded nicely. The captain only had 15 points through the first two months of the season, but so far in January he’s got 11 points in 10 games, all wins by Chicago. Clearly when Toews and Kane are healthy the engine that is the Chicago Blackhawks runs at 100%, but the dirty work being done in the defensive end is also stellar.
Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith are two of the best players in the NHL, not just on defense. Both of them play both ways at the highest level and log a huge amount of important minutes for the squad. They both rank in the top 10 in defensemen for points. Keith and Seabrook. Both of the defensemen were drafted by Chicago and broke into the league in the same year, way back in 2005 and have been a top defensive line ever since. They are both on the wrong side of 30, but they haven’t seemed to have lost a step at all. Their ability in the defensive zone is what allows the playmakers like Kane, Toews and Panarin to have the freedom to create offensively, but with Corey Crawford in net, Keith and Seabrook have some freedom on the back end as well.
The evolution of Corey Crawford over the last few seasons has been a sight to see. He still has a weak high-glove, but the rest of his game is about as strong as it gets. He excels moving post to post across the crease and always gets square to pucks on net. His goals allowed average continues to go down, while his save percentage, confidence and win totals go sky high. This season, Crawford has 27 wins (2nd in the NHL), a 2.14 goals per game average and a 93% save percentage. He’s on pace to shatter his career high in wins and if his other numbers hold to form the rest of the year they’ll be career bests since he’s become the true number one goalie on the roster. Crawford, like the defensive stalwarts in front of him, is on the wrong side of 30, but he still continues to get better. If Crawford can keep up this pace, and there’s no reason to think that he can’t, he could find himself holding the Vezina Trophy when the season comes to an end.
What the Chicago Blackhawks have been able to do in a day and age where team have only a few years to win a championship before the window closes is remarkable. They’ve been able to draft and develop their own talent, regardless of where they are picked, and all of them seem to have some sort of personal success in the NHL. They’ve been able to move key pieces and keep chugging forward while acquiring players who play well above their expected level. And that is the sign of a good team. Like the New England Patriots in football, San Antonio Spurs in basketball and St. Louis Cardinals in baseball, the Blackhawks will always be competitive with their core, regardless of who they bring in. The core of Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook and Crawford already have three rings, and now it looks like they’ll add a fourth to their collection.
Photo via SportWire/USA Today
Stats via ESPN and NHL.com