Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 06/02/14 at 01:16 AM ET
Having a 2 AM-conversation with Franklin Steele on Twitter, I had to amend my take as to why the Chicago Blackhawks weren't able to defend their Stanley Cup championship. As a Red Wings fan, I would argue that a team needs Vladimir Konstantinov and Sergei Mnatsakanov-sized motivation to repeat, and I would point out that the Blackhawks played until June 24th of 2013--and sometimes forget that 90% of the players who didn't make the Conference Final are already beginning their summertime workouts to prepare physically and mentally for the next season.
Chicago played so very late into the lockout-marred 2013 season that the mental and physical challenges the speedy Hawks faced had to feel insurmountable, and then Franklin reminded me that on top of having perhaps nine weeks to re-focus, TEN Blackhawks participated in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi.
Even as a Wings fan, I have to applaud the hell out of the Hawks for getting to Game 7 of the Western Conference Final given the challenges they faced.
ESPN's Craig Custance penned an Insider-only entry as to what the Blackhawks need to do to "reload for 2014-2015," and while I'm sure that you'd argue point 1 of 3, inking Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to contract extensions ahead of the pair qualifying for unrestricted free agency next summer, is job #1, I'd suggest that Custance's second point may matter more than the guaranteed first occurring:
2. Shore up the backup goalie spot: There was a lot of competition to land Antti Raanta, who is an impending restricted free agent this summer. In his first 25 NHL games, he went 13-5-4, with an .897 save percentage, suggesting he still needs some adjustment time to the NHL. The most logical solution is that the Blackhawks sign him to a contract extension and plug him in behind Corey Crawford as the backup, although Crawford’s struggles in the Western Conference finals provided fodder for his doubters (who were quiet in the first two rounds).
Crawford entered Game 7 with a .884 save percentage against the Kings in the conference finals, and then allowed five goals in Chicago’s last game of the season. If Bowman is feeling nostalgic, he could probably pry Antti Niemi away from the San Jose Sharks without too much trouble.
Despite his struggles against the Kings, Crawford entered the game with a career save percentage of .921 in his first 55 postseason games, more than good enough to win future Stanley Cups. This was perhaps an ugly way to go out, but it's also no reason to panic.
As always, the Blackhawks could use a No. 2 center, but they’ve survived pretty well without one during the past few seasons. More seasoning for Teuvo Teravainen might eventually solve that problem.
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