Blackhawks need to keep core of roster intact

Tweaks are all that's needed to make a run at 3rd Stanley Cup in 6 years

  • Pin It

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman on what's next after elimination from Stanley Cup playoffs.

From the sound of things, the biggest cosmetic change to the Blackhawks next season will be obvious at the first team meeting — by looking at Patrick Kane's beard.

"I told some of the guys I'm going to grow it out for the summer," Kane kidded Tuesday at the United Center.

Everybody in the room laughed because that would look silly. And so will the Hawks if they return for training camp in September without every core player who helped put them on the threshold of an NHL dynasty.

"I don't think anybody in the room has the feeling they're sick of winning yet," Kane said.

How about you, Chicago? Raise your hand if you think four Western Conference finals appearances in six years under coach Joel Quenneville requires a different approach to season No. 7.

I didn't think so.

Unloading complacency this offseason figures to make a more positive impact than trading, say, Patrick Sharp or Brent Seabrook for players who may or may not fit. Don't underestimate the return of hunger to the Hawks dressing room. That already was obvious on a day players were saying goodbyes at the UC instead of hosting Stanley Cup Final media day.

"You get that feeling of winning the Stanley Cup, and then you really realize what you're missing," captain Jonathan Toews said.

Sharing failure can bond a team as tightly as experiencing success. While the city debates what the Hawks are missing, the rest of the league still looks with envy at their roster. The Hawks' nucleus didn't suddenly become worth breaking up because Kings defenseman Alec Martinez's shot in overtime bounced off Nick Leddy's shoulder and past Corey Crawford to end the season.

Sure, general manager Stan Bowman faces offseason questions. How Bowman answered Tuesday's first one should clue in people curious about the rest.

"I don't think we're going to have wholesale changes," Bowman said. "That's certainly not warranted."

Addressing the defense is. Too many times in the playoffs, opposing forwards knocked in goals directly in front of the net as Hawks defensemen arrived late or neglected to clear the crease. Quenneville stood behind the podium, still stinging from the season-ending loss, and bemoaned his defensemen's awareness and attention to detail. He sounded like a disappointed coach but hardly one demanding blue-line changes.

"I'm always comfortable with what we have (defensively)," Quenneville said.

Maybe the Hawks trade Johnny Oduya and his $3.38 million contract to clear salary-cap space as they begin to plan for forthcoming contract extensions for Toews and Kane. Maybe they dangle the 23-year-old Leddy in the right deal for that elusive second-line center. Maybe Michal Rozsival finds a new home. All of those potential moves fit the definition of a tweak.

The Hawks remain a couple of tweaks from winning their third Cup in six years. If Bowman tinkers too much, he runs the risk of ruining a good thing. Realizing this, Bowman objected to the notion the Hawks must add size and a "jolt" to the lineup.

"I don't know if I'd characterize it that way," he said.

Bowman's most important summer project involves getting signatures from Toews and Kane on new, cap-friendly deals expected to be identical and probably signed with the same pen, as early as July. Consider it a matter of when, not if. While Toews reaffirmed his commitment – "Who could think of a better situation?" he said — Kane nonchalantly acted like someone who has yet to consider any other option.

"I don't think it's something I or Jon play for, the contract," Kane said. "We're playing to try to win."

Winning it all again will come easier once the Hawks roll four lines like they were able to in 2013. Bowman and Quenneville gave disappointing forward Kris Versteeg a surprising vote of confidence, predicting the $2.2 million winger will return to form after a summer spent conditioning rather than rehabilitating. They also expressed hope several qualified prospects emerge the way Ben Smith did this season.

"It's exciting when you look at some of these young players," Bowman said.

Perhaps for the GM, but Quenneville never will be accused of being overly excited by the presence of youth on his bench.

"I don't mind playing young guys," Quenneville said, and his skeptics laughed.

An encouraging sign came when Quenneville referred to Jeremy Morin, a forgotten rookie forward in the playoffs, as "Mo." Nicknames imply acceptance. Quenneville's honest assessment of 19-year-old Finnish phenom Teuvo Teravainen also could be interpreted as an endorsement.

"He's got skills to play here," Quenneville said. "As you go along, he's going to have to find a way to get stronger."

Quenneville guaranteed nothing about Teravainen's timetable. But then he couldn't because of a roster with a core capable of competing for another Cup.

As is.

Twitter @DavidHaugh

  • Pin It