Rumors of the Chicago Blackhawks dynasty’s demise are greatly exaggerated
The Chicago Blackhawks are going to miss the playoffs. However, critics shouldn’t be too quick to write off the future of a club with three Stanley Cups in the past eight seasons. For the first time since Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were rookies together in the 2007-08 season, Chicago won’t be playing in the postseason. However, to consider the Blackhawks dynasty dead would be a foolish mistake.
Although it’s been an awful year in Chicago considering the standard the Blackhawks have set over the years, a quick bounce back next season is far from out of the question. Look no further than the Los Angeles Kings and how they were written off last year. This season, they are one of the last team anybody wants to see in the first round of the playoffs.
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Last season, the Kings lost star goalie Jonathan Quick to a long-term injury in the very first game of the season. He’d ultimately return in late February to play 16 games. But the damage was done, as Los Angeles was forced to rely on Peter Budaj for 53 games. Without Quick, the Kings tried to hold their own without their number one goaltender but it became an uphill battle all season.
Just like how Quick was lost a year ago for the Kings, the Blackhawks lost Corey Crawford at the end of December and haven’t been the same since. He hasn’t played since Dec. 23 due to a concussion and given Chicago will miss the playoffs it’s unlikely he returns this season.
Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, the team’s struggles can be traced back to as soon as Crawford went down. Not long after Crawford was sidelined Chicago entered a losing stretch of 3-11-2, including eight losses in a row. Just like the Kings had learned the year prior, it’s a lot harder to win games without a star goalie capable of stealing the occasional contest for his team.
An injured goaltender wasn’t the only story in Los Angeles last year just like it isn’t the only story in Chicago this year either. Anze Kopitar had the worst season of his career with only 52 points in 76 games while many began to question if he was grossly overpaid. Kopitar has bounced back with a remarkable year of 76 points through 70 games this season.
Another King was highly criticized a year ago as Dustin Brown was rumored to be an expansion candidate. The first King in history to ever hoist the Stanley Cup over his head had fallen so far out of favor, some thought it’d be ideal if he was simply lost for nothing in the expansion draft.
After all, Brown posted only 36 points in 80 games last season. However, this year Brown has looked rejuvenated and appears to have turned his career around with 46 points through only 69 games, while also being a plus-22 compared to a minus-four from a year ago.
It wasn’t even 12 months ago when Kopitar was overpaid, Brown was underperforming, and Quick’s health was questioned. Now the Kings have the potential to begin the playoffs on home ice and nobody is questioning the trio of players or the pair of Stanley Cups the core have captured together. It’s a storyline so eerily similar to Chicago that it should be foolish for anyone to question the future of the Blackhawks.
It’s been no secret that Duncan Keith hasn’t had a great year, Marian Hossa is desperately missed, Patrick Sharp looks to be on his last legs, Brent Seabrook has struggled, and the team needs a little bit more offensively from Toews. It’s also been the worst kept secret in hockey how badly the Brandon Saad for Artemi Panarin trade has hurt the Blackhawks’ depth.
The loss of Panarin has essentially robbed Kane and Artem Anisimov of 20 additional points each as the trio were one of the best lines in hockey. Last year Kane had 89 points in 82 games, while Anisimov had 45 points in 64 games.
This year, without Panarin those point totals have fallen as Kane only has 66 points in 70 games, while Anisimov only has 28 points in 60 games. Kane and Anisimov were also a combined plus-20 last season and are now a combined minus-19.
Chicago lost two of their top-five point producers from a year ago in Panarin and Hossa. Then the other three in Kane, Toews, and Keith have all underperformed by double-digit points. Pile on the loss of Crawford for multiple months and it’s no wonder the club is where they are today.
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However, just like the Kings have shown this season it’s impossible to count out a team with proven Stanley Cup winners on the roster. Given the talent and pride within the Blackhawks core of Toews, Kane, Keith, and Crawford it shouldn’t surprise anyone if next year they once again emerge as Stanley Cup contenders.