I mentioned in my Quick Quips column two weeks ago that this Blackhawks season has gone remarkably well.  The story of the 2010-2011 Blackhawks season where they recovered from their first Stanley Cup hangover in 49 years is well chronicled.  Duncan Keith came out and admitted that coming off a season that featured a Gold Medal Olympic run and a Stanley Cup championship left him struggling to get up for the monotony of regular season games five months later.  There’s a reason repeating a championship is so difficult – particularly in hockey where it hasn’t happened since the Redwings did it in 1997-98.  Teams often say it’s harder to defend a title than to take it for the first time.  It’s harder to stay on top of the mountain that it is to summit it originally.  As a reigning champ every time you take the field your opponent only sees a bulls-eye as you are the measuring stick they will compare themselves to in order to mark their own progress.

By all accounts this summer’s victory tour of the Stanley Cup was much more subdued than the summer of 2010.  Many of the core Blackhawks were bringing the Cup to their hometowns for the second time in the past four years and in turn they had already used up their ideas for a dream scenario of how to celebrate.  Coming into this season the Blackhawks seemed far more rested and level headed, a dramatic contrast to the group that was still trying to get the smell of alcohol out of their equipment heading into training camp just a few years before.

A very valid case can be made that the lack of turnover in the roster this year has played a big role in the team’s success.  Unlike the vast purge of players and young talent in the last go-around, this year’s team came back essentially in full with only minor role players like Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik & Ray Emery were moved out for up-and-coming talent from the minor league ranks. 

While that certainly has played a large role in the team’s record thus far, I think the reasoning goes deeper than that.  I would argue that there are higher powers at work that are making this season break just right for a would be repeat Stanley Cup champion.

Let’s look at the facts:

Injuries – This generation of Blackhawks have historically done pretty well avoiding the injury bug.  At no point in the last five or six years have there been any long term ailments that the team has truly had to overcome.  Sure there was Hossa’s shoulder injury that delayed the first two months of his Hawks career, and Toews has had a concussion or two that have kept him out for a few weeks on end, but it’s not like they’ve had any of their core player lose an entire season to date.  For the record I am pounding the shit out of every piece of wood within six square miles at the moment.

The injuries they have sustained this year have been the “good” kind believe it or not.  In many ways the injuries the team has suffered have been the kind that perhaps have saved them from themselves.  Nikolai Khabibulin was the most controversial addition to this year’s team as he signed for more than Ray Emery received as he departed in search of playing time in Philadelphia.  Khabibulin did himself no favors by getting off to a rocky start in his return to Chicago (.811 save percentage & 5.00 GAA).  This past weekend in Nashville Khabibulin suffered a significant lower body injury which has landed him on the long term IR.  In his place the Hawks called up Antti Raanta, the Finnish phenom the signed over the summer who many thought should have made the team instead of Khabibulin. 

A similar situation played out as Brad Mills, an AHL journeyman whom Coach Quenneville appeared to have taken a shine to due to his “grittiness” suffered a similar fate landing on the IR which opened more playing time for the likes of Brandon Pirri, Ben Smith, and Jeremy Morin – all young players who should be getting October ice time instead of journeymen with no future like Mills.  It would appear the breaks are breaking just right thus far.

Dale Tallon: Secret Agent – Stan Bowman went out and righted a wrong from 2010 by re-acquiring the feisty Kris Versteeg.  In hopes to improve the team’s penalty kill unit Stan went out looking for pieces that the team knows will fit into both the scheme and the locker room.  Versteeg was the perfect fit but it takes two to tango in any trade.  Luckily for Stan he’s still got his former mentor Dale Tallon in the ol’ Rolodex and Dale is known to be particularly partial to his former Blackhawks draft picks.  For the price of Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen – two prospects that have not been able to claim a roster spot with the Hawks after 3+ years of trying – the Hawks were able to acquire a sure thing fit as they look to bring the band back together for another Cup run.

Keeping Up With The Joneses – While the Blackhawks won the title last season and brought essentially the same team back to defend it this season, some key rivals have shown significant improvement which hopefully keeps the Hawks focused on the task at hand.  With Detroit having moved to the Eastern Conference this season and the divisions being re-aligned, the Hawks newest primary rivals are St. Louis (the old standby), Colorado, and Minnesota.  Each of these teams have gotten off to a hot start this season which hopefully will keep the Hawks on their toes throughout the year as there’s always another rivalry game not too far away on the schedule.

So that’s where things stand at the moment in the Hawks world.  They’ll have their stinkers like the Nashville game this past weekend (you can’t tell me otherwise that the team didn’t have a “Welcome Back” party for Versteeg the night before), but as long as they can play games like the one they put together against San Jose the following night then they’ll be sure to be playing important games in the spring once again.