Sidney Brown provides dispatches from the front lines of Blackhawks fandom every week during the hockey season.
Defending a championship is a major burden to carry in general, a big part of maintaining such a defense is being able to project confidence to fans and media that you can get that job done even when things overall don’t look so certain.
In their third attempt to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the current championship era began in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks’ franchise has followed its well-known slogan of ONE GOAL and pasted the slogan in bold on itself — at times its reflected in their play on ice, but in recent time the Hawks’ play hasn’t engendered the most upheld belief that in 2015 Lord Stanley wouldn’t take another year off before returning to its rightful Illinois home.
Moves needed to be made and messages needed to be sent — not just to the fans, but to the players: the Hawks are going for the silver trophy once again, no matter what it takes. With goal in mind and an NHL trade deadline approaching on Monday, Hawks general manager Stan Bowman went to work and pulled off three key trades over the past week to improve the current roster.
Move No. 1 — Trading for one-time Hawk Andrew Ladd (from Jets – 17 goals, 17 assists) from Winnipeg to improve the team’s top line, already featuring Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa.
A member of the ’10 Champs, Ladd brings solid experience on and off the ice and will help with much needed scoring to balance the top scoring line.
Move No. 2 — Acquiring defenseman Christian Ehrhoff from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Rob Scuderi for Salary Cap considerations.
Erhoff is expected to fill the “fifth” defenseman role after the failed experiments of Trevor Daley, Viktor Svedberg and Scuderi. Erhoff has scored only 2 goals and tallied 8 assists with the Kings this season but this 11-year veteran hopes to be the answer in a much-needed spot on the blue line. This move reminds me a bit like the trade for Kimmo Timmonen from last year. Hopefully Erhoff, like his predecessor, will enjoy the success of a championship by seasons end.
Move No. 3 — Acquiring forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise from the Montreal Canadiens for Phillip Danault. Fleischmann, a 10 year veteran, brings much needed scoring to the third line (10 goals, 10 assists with Montreal) and help on the penalty kill while Weise brings energy along with his scoring and skill (14 goals, 12 assists with Montreal) to help solidify the line currently led by Teuvo Teravainen.
Once Marian Hossa returns from injury, all the pieces will be in place and all four lines will be balanced to help establish consistency. Let’s not forget that the trade deadline deals also bring depth to the roster, giving head coach Joel Quenneville options to give some players rest and form unique combinations among the lines against certain opponents.
Entering the last full month of the season and with the drive to the playoffs at full gear, the 39-20-5 Hawks are primed to make a run at the top spot in the Western Conference.
In the 13 total games for the month, five of them are at the United Center while eight are on the road. The schedule makers made this month very interesting and major tests are ahead for Chicago with home games featuring Detroit, Los Angeles, Minnesota and Dallas.
The road schedule isn’t much easier, with games slated at Detroit, St. Louis, Winnipeg, Minnesota and Dallas. Keep in mind that the Hawks have six division games and their record of 11-9-1 against the Central is nothing to look over. Also, the Hawks’ road record of 16-12-3 isn’t the greatest, but it needs to improve in a hurry and their opponents will give them a much needed battle test in preparation for the playoffs.
With the roster now complete after the trading deadline, the process of incorporating the new additions into the lineup may take time, but with veteran leadership established among the ranks of captain Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Marian Hossa all team transitions stand to go smoothly with the purpose of getting better as a team each day at the top of the list as this confident champion prepares for the playoffs.
As I’ve said in the past, among better competition, the Hawks usually raise their game and there’s no better time than now to start re-establishing oneself as the team to beat in the Western Conference.
Points: Patrick Kane (85); Goals: Kane (36); Assists: Kane (49); Penalty Minutes: Andrew Shaw (49); Goals Against Average: Corey Crawford (2.25)
Goals Per Game: 2.8 (7th in NHL)
Goals Against: 2.4 (8th in NHL)
Power Play: 22.6% (2nd in NHL)
Penalty Kill: 79.4% (22nd in NHL)
The Road Ahead (Through 3/11)*
Tonight at Detroit Red Wings — 7 pm
Thursday at Boston Bruins — 6 pm
Sunday vs. Detroit Red Wings — 4 pm
3/9 at St. Louis Blues — 7 pm
3/11 at Dallas Stars — 7:30 pm
*All times central
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