NHL: Hawks Find New Identity Through Adversity
When the Blackhawks entered the 2014 season, they were the top dogs. Coming off their second Stanley Cup in 4 years, the franchise was seen as a dynamic powerhouse. They found ways to win no matter what (17 seconds anybody?). Few thought that they would be defeated. Many were intimidated.
Capturing the 2013 Stanley Cup sparked talks of a dynasty. Chicago fans and hockey enthusiasts alike were speculating that the Hawks could be the first team since the ‘97 and ‘98 Detroit Red Wings to win back to back Cups, often considered the hardest championship to win in professional sports. Excitement was palpable, as sports have come to an age where dynasties are few and far between, due to free agencies and salary caps. This aside, people felt as though the Hawks were filled with enough talent and swagger to indeed become the next great hockey dynasty.
Now, they are almost an afterthought. They are left out in Stanley Cup discussions, fighting for a second place seed in the Central Division with the Colorado Avalanche, a thorn in their side the whole season. They have suffered 15 astonishing overtime losses (3 times the amount of the entire season last year). If just half these games were won, they would be in first place in the West and this debate would not even exist. Questions about the team’s heart and focus are being asked everywhere. How does a team with so much talent lose games they should easily be winning? One thing is for sure- the Hawks are a different team than they were a year ago.
But different isn’t always a bad thing. Different, in this case, means a creating a new identity. After a 2013 season with hardly any injuries, this year the Hawks have experienced the loss of “The Captain” Jonathan Toews and prolific scorer Patrick Kane, both Conn Smythe Winners. This is the first time since 2007 that both players have been out of the lineup. Additionally, the Hawks sent a league leading 10 players to the Olympics in Sochi, where all competed and half medaled. Despite the success the players had in the Olympics, they came back tired, flat and only 10-8-1 since returning.
The silver lining exists in the rising play of players that aren’t necessarily considered to be stars or even marquee, like Kane and Toews. Second and third line players like Jeremy Morin, Peter Regin, and Ben Smith are coming up with big goals in key times. Both Raanta and Crawford are stepping up their play. As a collective unit, the Hawks have become more well rounded, despite missing two of the league’s most prolific scorers. Patrick Sharp is now leading the team with 33 goals.
Could it be the Hawks were purposely playing possum and flying under the radar, only to try and flip a switch in time for another attempt to win the Cup?
It’s hard to tell. Since Toews’ injury on a questionable hit, the Hawks have been criticized as being soft for not retaliating. But as of their recent three game winning streak, including statement-making defeat of lead-leaguing Blues, the Hawks seem to have found new life. This new team identity has shown glimpses of past Stanley Cup winning teams with their resurgence of up-tempo, two way play, indicating that they could be championship material once again. Coach Quenneville mentioned that he was happy to see a “workmanlike”, championship effort in their past three victories. Despite a roller coaster season, they have shown through this recent revival that they have what it takes to overcome obstacles and compete with anybody.
GM Stan Bowman has stated, “You can’t win without great players and it’s so hard to get them. Once you do get them, you’ve got to keep them.” If this is considered a mantra, the Hawks have followed it closely. With these great, core players still in place and some fire under their skates, a dynasty does in fact seem to be a real possibility.