Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Is There A Reason To Keep Living Or At Least Watch The Rest Of The NHL Playoffs?

So, the Chicago Blackhawks were eliminated in game 7 of the first round to their arch rival, St. Louis Blues last night and it couldn't be more painful. Much like the bitter pill of the 2014 Western Conference Finals loss to the Kings in game 7 in overtime, it's hard to face the reality the Blackhawks are done for the season. The loss to the King kept the Hawks from repeating from their 2013 Cup win and the Blues prevented the Hawks from repeating last year's championship. When you think of this whole modern dynasty talk, it is incredible the Hawks could have won three cups in a row if not for the loss to the Kings. The Kings went on to win the cup easily in 5 games in the finals and it could have easily been Chicago. The loss to the Blues very much could have been the reversal with a bounce or two going their way. Seabrook's late third period "double goal post" was inches from tying the game last night and the feeling they would still tie the game was still confidently in my mind even in the dying seconds.

 As a lifelong Blackhawks fan (since 1970), I've suffered through the Stanley Cup losses to the Habs in the early 70's, the wondrous Denis Savard era in the 80's when they had some competitive teams (damn you Oilers!), in the 90's, Eddie Belfour and JR drove the Hawks to a Cup final in 1992 and the rebuild began in the early 2000's. When the Hawks captured their first cup in decades in 2010, it felt like my dedication and passion for the Hawks was finally getting rewarded. When the Blackhawks made their Stanley Cup run in 2013, my daughter obsessively followed the playoffs and along the way caught the Blackhawks fever and together we gasped, screamed and celebrated their Cup victory. That summer we lined up in +30 c heat to get a glimpse of Jonathan Toews and the Cup at the Jonathan Toews Community Centre in Winnipeg only to be disappointed when they turned away hundreds of people still in line for an autograph...but it was worth it! Since then, we've streamed and watched every Blackhawks game, pre-season, regular season and playoffs and went to as many Jets games as possible against the Hawks.

Last season truly was a dream year. Another Stanley Cup victory and besides watching every game, my daughter and I flew to Chicago and attended the Blackhawks Convention last July. She had bought the passes and booked the room as my Christmas gift, without thinking they could possibly win the Cup in the same year. Best gift ever! We found our place with our type of people, like-minded Blackhawks fans, young and old all celebrating and embracing the players and coaches from the organization with the bonus of the Stanley Cup in the room. Wow, it was an amazing experience that I highly recommend to any die-hard Hawks fan! How many teams in the league do anything as interactive and personal for their fans. The Blackhawks are a first class organization who knows how to treat their fan base and truly appreciates their support. I tell you, Winnipeg Jets fans are left high and dry with no kind of fan appreciation events, player appearances (apart from car dealership promos) or an opportunity for fans to get together and mingle with other fans or with the players from the organization. Makes me feel like the Jets organization wants to cheap out, take your cash, but doesn't reward dedicated fans with quat. They are missing out the opportunity for fans to make a connection with the team and they should be trying to make lifelong fans who will dedicate a large proportion of their lives to worship the team. Perhaps that was the problem with the Jets 1.0, they had a fan base, but a lot of that fan base turned on the team when the team didn't perform that well. Winnipegger's don't feel sure about anything unless they get a deal and if the present team doesn't improve soon, their fans will definitely turn on them. Two hundred dollar gala dinners and fashion shows don't count because it's not the real fan that can attend, it's an event for the elite and to appease sponsors. At the Blackhawks Convention, I told Troy Murray (former Hawks and Jet) they should have something like this in Winnipeg and he said he would be interested in coming if we had one.

So what went wrong this year? In this age of the tight salary cap, the ability to maintain a winning team is difficult. The Blackhawks have built their team around a core of players that are top players in league and justifiably well paid. They are a cap team, which means balancing salaries and term for the rest of team requires a tricky balancing act. Last summer, the team parted ways with many top players, not because they didn't want them, but because they couldn't afford them. The loss of Sharp, Oduya, Richards, Vermette, Saad and Versteeg hurt, and the quality players lost in the turnover in the roster was higher than any other team in the league. To keep within the cap these players were replaced with younger less experienced players, especially on defence. This hurt and to add insult to injury they resigned Michal Rozsival. The Hawks unearthed a rookie phenom named Artemi Panarin, signed as a free agent from the KHL. Panarin's outstanding season most definitely will earn him the Calder Trophy and will contribute to Patrick Kane's   nomination for the Hart. It's too bad this season was wasted with the achievements of Kane who had a career season and earned him the Art Ross (leading scorer) and became the first ever American born winner. Not to be overshadowed, Corey Crawford had a great season both the regular season and the playoffs. With the Hawks weak D, Crow kept the team in games and without his outstanding season who knows if the Hawks would have made the playoffs. He has to be considered as a top candidate for the Vezina, but he'll be in tight with Braden Holtby who helped lead the Caps to a Presidents Trophy. There is lots to be proud of this season from Patrick Kane's amazing point streak of 26 games, the team's 12 game winning streak (franchise record) and a top 5 regular season finish. I knew the odds were stacked against the team with so many changes in the off-season, so my expectations weren't as high as previous years. This team has some work to do in the off-season this summer, finding a top 4 defenceman, extending Panarin's contract, dumping the rest of Bickell's contract and freeing up some salary to hopefully sign Shaw and maybe one or two of Ladd, Weiss and Panik. I'm very optimistic for next season as I know getting back to the playoffs and making another run for the Cup will be high priorities for the team.

It's too bad the Hawks ran into a hot Blues team in the first round. This truly was the best series of the first round and many believe this could have been the Cup final if the old playoff format was still used. The level of play from the Blues and the Hawks leads me to believe there won't be another series as exciting. The Hawks came back from a 3-1 game deficit to even the series with a game 6 rally and comeback (from a 3-1 first period lead) that I thought the momentum would carry over to game 7. One goal, it was just one goal that determined the series. It's ironic, because the Blackhawks motto the past few years has been, "One Goal" as in the one and only goal is the Stanley Cup. It was one goal that eliminated them this year and one goal in a game 7 against the Kings in 2014 and you know what happened the following year...the CUP.

One goal.

No comments: