I’ve got to be honest, the premise of this post is in direct contrast to the implication of the title.  I just liked the title, that’s all.  As mentioned above, I actually think the reigning Stanley Cup champions are handling this post-Cup season about as well as one could ask.  I’m sure Coach Q finds nits to pick and that there are issues and events that crop up from time to time behind the scenes, but generally speaking this team has come into this season and handled their business exactly as you would have drawn it up in the pre-season.

I thought now to be a good time to write this as with the Hawks dropping their third straight game on Tuesday night to Colorado, it’s probably about time for the fan base to start finding something to flip out about.  Fear not Blackhawk fans, all is still well with the world.  Despite losing 5 of their past 7 games, the team will wake up this morning with the second best record in the NHL and exactly where they want to be.

As Avalanche forward Matt Duchene stated before the game to Mark Lazerus, “the Blackhawks are the big brother team that the Avalanche want to model themselves after.”  I don’t think the Avs are alone in that sentiment either.  The Blackhawks play a fast paced puck possession brand of hockey that is both fun to watch and play.  They don’t get snippy or take cheap shots but they also won’t back down from a fight.  There’s a reason the Kris Versteeg’s of the world celebrate when they return to Chicago and the Dave Bolland’s and Mikael Frolik’s are heart broken when they are sent out of town.

At this point the Blackhawks know what it takes to reach the promise land, especially in an Olympic year.  Finishing with the best record (and thus home ice advantage) is a “nice to have” feature come the end of the regular season than it is a requirement.  For their opponents however my guess is they see it as their only chance to topple the champs.  This means that while the Hawks and their ten Olympians are resting at the end of March, St. Louis and their ten & Anaheim with their seven will need to be pressing to ensure they end the regular season with more points than the Hawks can muster.  This will pay dividends when the meaningful hockey starts this spring.

In the meantime, here are some random thoughts that I hope are being rolled around Stan Bowman’s office in the weeks ahead:

  • Can we just call the second line center situation what it is: a debacle.  While the Michal Handzus acquisition turned out to be exactly what the doctor called for last year, it does not appear that he’s going to offer the same lightning in a bottle effect this time around.  Unfortunately Shaw nor Kruger seem to be the answer in that spot either.  Once Coach Q gets over his fascination with trying Saad and Versteeg in that spot as well, the team is eventually going to realize that something needs to be done.  Rather than trading a prospect for a rental player in the weeks ahead, I can’t come to terms with why they’re not turning to their in house option of Brandon Pirri by this point.  Pirri did well in his cup of coffee earlier in the season but for some reason he did not fall into the “Quenneville’s Guys” camp during his stay.  This isn’t like baseball where by coming up they’d be using any of his service time or making him more expensive in the short term.  Now, and particularly immediately after the Olympics, is the time to bring both Pirri and Jeremy Morin up to get NHL reps under their belt before the real fun begins in April.
  • Is anyone else the slightest bit concerned about the fact that the Blackhawks played some of their best hockey during the month of December when both Corey Crawford and Bryan Bickell were out with injuries.  That’s a good sign of the team’s depth but I’d feel a whole lot better about it if those we’re the two big ticket players the Hawks chose the retain this summer (they earn $10M combined).  I was not in favor of either of their deals and seeing how well the team can do without them did nothing to assuage my concerns about those contracts in the long run.
  • I’m all about Olympic hockey and playing for your country.  I get it, I really do.  If given the option of a ten year NHL career or one memorable Olympic run, I’d have to think long and hard about which path I’d prefer (as always the money would probably be the deciding factor but I think from a pure experience standpoint the Olympics would win out).  With that said, would it be terrible for Marian Hossa to respectfully back out of his commitment between now and February?  He’s played for the Slovaks since 1997 and he’s been through this ringer before.  Seeing how he broke down last spring I’d much rather see him take two weeks off now than try to carry a weak team through a seven game tournament half a world away.
  • If you’ve got 20 minutes to kill I would strongly suggest absorbing this behind the curtain look at the selection process for Team USA as captured by ESPN’s Scott Burnside.    It provides a very interesting perspective on the process (one that I guarantee will not be granted again due to the fallout of this article) as well as an interesting take on the powerbrokers within the league.  What I thought most interesting was the high regard that Brandon Saad is held in throughout the league (he was the last cut and was referred to as a future Hossa) as well as the fact that Stan Bowman appeared to be the smartest guy in the room for most of these meetings.  You always want that guy on your side going forward.
  • I’ve been very impressed by Patrick Kane this season.  Playing essentially without a center (see the first bullet above) he’s on pace for a career year and what most likely will be a second place finish in the MVP voting (damn you Sidney Crosby).  It would appear that Mr. Kane was being truthful about his maturation process after all.
  • I’d like to see Nick Leddy take the next step forward in his progression as he can’t be satisfied being a fifth defenseman and not even included in the discussion for the US team.  There’s a ton of talent in there and I can only imagine that he has no interest in getting bench during the Stanley Cup Finals again anytime soon.  Now is the time to step forward Nicholas.

That’s what I’ve got on the Hawks thus far.  With 71 points in the standings they’re doing just about everything right.  The key will be smart and remember that it’s how you play in April and May that’s important.  With their talent and brain trust in place I don’t see why we can’t be celebrating in the park once more when June rolls around.