Phew, We Are The Champions (And by “We” I Mean the Chicago Blackhawks Are, and I Watched It Happen), A Stanley Cup Playoffs Postscript and Look At The Off-season

Enjoy him while he lasts, because Patrick Sharp is likely to be the first Hawks’ cap casualty! Image courtesy of Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning have a hell of a team, one that’s sure to be the model for eastern conference teams to emulate in the coming seasons. This is interesting in part because they’re evidently modeled after the Chicago Blackhawks, a team that just won its third Stanley Cup Championship in six seasons (in case you weren’t aware of that fact). The fact that this was one of the most tightly contested and entertaining Stanley Cup Finals in years and these two teams’ playing styles were so similar isn’t a coincidence.

I won’t lie, I was sweating through the last few games. You might have noticed this in my most recent post, in which I lamented the Hawks’ being down 2–1 in the series. To be fair, it was lamentable, if not unprecedented, for the Hawks to be in that position during the finals. But fortunately for me and the tenuous grip on sanity I hold when it comes to all-things sports and my favorite teams, the Hawks ultimately prevailed.

But I’m happy two teams that play the sport and are less concerned (evidently) with how many hits they put on their opponent and more on actually scoring and moving up and down the ice with the elan of skilled athletes who make their sport look simultaneously, somehow, effortless and intense in but a few fluid movements.

I long for teams like the Blues, or Blues players who aren’t Vladimir Tarasenko, at least, to vanish from the NHL. Teams that emphasize pounding their opposition with hit after hit, and the kind of brute physicality that in some ways has made football (a sport I once played and loved) increasingly difficult to watch and find any excitement in. Hockey is at its best when teams are just playing pure hockey, making plays. The fighting I can take or leave.

And now comes the part of the year that’s almost as interesting for me, as a fan, when the front offices of various teams prepare to rebuild, retool or reload. And again, this is when I hope they’re thinking about building teams like the tried and true model of Blackhawks and Lightning teams have proven can get you the kind of postseason success every franchise covets.

There’s already talk of a “Capocalypse 2.0 (the first came after the 2010 season)” coming to wreak havoc on the Blackhawk’s roster, particularly now that Kane and Toews’ twin 10.5 million a year over 8 years contracts are set to kick in. Stan Bowman will have the uneviable task of determining which Hawks stay and which go.

I hate to think of losing great players, but I also keep things like this in perspective. After a certain point, any player has to be expendable, no matter how much you enjoy what they’ve brought to the team in previous seasons (ok, maybe not every player; Kane and Toews will never retire!), but guys like Patrick Sharp (who is all but gone by most accounts) have to be considered.

Brandon Saad, who is a restricted free agent and important young player who should play a crucial role in Chicago’s future, is Stan Bowman’s priority this offseason, so change is coming. My hope is the Hawks will lose just enough pieces that they can regroup with a few younger players in the organization’s minor league system and foreign additions (Artemi Panarin is an interesting Bowman signee from the KHL, the Russian hockey league).

Should be interesting…