It pleases my heart knowing that no matter how tonight turns out, this will not be our last opportunity to sip from the Holy Grail

The Blackhawks are in the midst of a wild ride that has taken the city of Chicago on an emotional rollercoaster not seen in these parts since John Stewart questioned the merits of deep dish pizza.  I wish I could tell you how this is going to end tonight (next week?) but my prognosticating skills went out the window somewhere around Game 3.  Truth be told I felt good about their chances as they came home for a do-or-die Game 5 but I had my doubts about how Game 6 back in LA was going to play out.

No matter how tonight plays out I’ve got to things I want to say:

1)      It’s been fun.  Stressful but fun none the less watching this team do what no NHL club has done in the salary cap era in defending their title belt.

2)      It only gets better from here.  The 2014-15 Blackhawks are going to be markedly improved over the squad you see take the ice this evening.

I make the second point based upon the following roster assumptions:

  • Whenever this playoff runs ends, it will be the last we see of Michal Handzus and Michal Rozival in Blackhawks sweaters.
  • Kris Versteeg , while still having two years left on his contract, has probably played his last meaningful minutes for the Indianhead as well.
  • In their place we’ll see some combination of wunderkid Teuvo Teravainen to finally fill the role of a proper second line center, Jeremy Morin will finally be freed from Rockford, and Joakim Nordstrom will become the second most popular Joakim at the United Center as he logs heavy penalty kill minutes left behind in Handzus’ wake.

A lot of information has come out of late as highlighting the meaning of this recent run the Blackhawks have been on and the value of building with youth in the NHL.  The Blackhawks are not only setup for current and recent history success but also for the long term.  As they turn over the roster this offseason, exchanging veteran savvy for youthful exuberance, they should not miss a beat.  Much like notorious Chicago rivals in other sports – the St. Louis Cardinals and Green Bay Packers – the Blackhawks organization is built in the “right” way in that they should be able to replenish their roster from within rather than having to go out to make expensive boom-or-bust free agent acquisitions.  When done properly a roster will turn over naturally as the rookies learn from the sage elders in the locker room and on the ice in hopes that they then become the mentors of the next generation.  The Hawks have this natural evolution is full swing at the moment and the key for management will be to do everything in their power for this cycle to continue.

Believe it or not next season will be the eighth in the NHL for both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.  Despite their relative young ages (25 & 26 respectively) spring chickens they are not.  Their seven seasons to date have been complete with six playoff runs, four of which found them advancing at least as far as the Western Conference Finals.  They each have starred on their respective Olympic teams twice during that span as well.  It’s now the norm for the next generation of eighteen year old players to arrive in the NHL and look forward to playing against the real-life Kane and Toews after playing them in video games since they were eleven.  Scary right?

There was a time when the Hawks brought in Robert Lang and John Madden to tutor their young superstars on the finer points of the game but now those roles are filled by the superstars themselves.  As Brandon Saad emerges into the spotlight of the national media (how smart does Stan Bowman look now for pushing for Saad to make the Olympic team? – the lesson as always is Brian Burke is an idiot), and young Teuvo will follow shortly behind him, they will not be forced to shoulder the burden of the entire city & franchise’s expectations.  Meanwhile Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa will continue their evolution as the even older and more sage advisors to the squad before they gracefully depart from the stage in the next 2-3 years.  The blue line is no different where once wet behind the ears Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will now tutor the next generation of Adam Clendening and Stephen Johns as they come out for their first anthem on West Madison in the years ahead.

As noted above, this has been an exceptionally rollercoaster-esque ride for the Blackhawks this spring.  Nothing has come easy and they’ve had to shorten their bench and dig deep at one point or another in every round to date.  At this point I’ve just come to appreciate the valiant effort the men wearing my favorite laundry put out each evening as I can only imagine the toll it takes to keep lacing up the skates for two back-to-back playoff runs like this (with a trip to Sochi packed in for good measure).  Regardless of how tonight plays out I find comfort in knowing that I’ll be sitting on my couch counting the hours until puck drop next year and the April and May the year after as well.  The Blackhawks are the model of what a sporting franchise should aspire to and I couldn’t be happier to call them my own.