Returns in Red

Believe it or not, the Blackhawks are a frustrating team to root for, due to reasons acceptable, arguable, and stupid.  Then again, as many non-Chicago fans remind me with reckless abandon, the Blackhawks have been the class of the NHL since 2010 and the core of the roster has three Stanley Cup banners hanging in the United Center – pretty hard to find anything wrong with that, but there are issues that I as a fan have wanted addressed for awhile.

The main one of which is that I want a new page in the book.

Since the 2010 championship season, Stan Bowman has been in the unique position of hoarding a cluster of elite hockey talent that need to be paid fairly, supplementing the bottom half of the roster with a championship-worthy supporting cast, and maintaining a competitive & youthful underbelly throughout the non-NHL universe.

This, to say the least, has not been easy.  It would explain the drained look that Bowman often wears to his press conferences, his sleepless, burning eyes surrounded by flat-tire rings stare out with a look that is simultaneously intense and vacantly displeased.

Reading through the trades & free agency moves is dazzling.  To see familiar names (Ladd, Versteeg, Oduya, Morin, Carcillo, Campbell, and now Saad) depart and return is worrisome.  Ladd and Oduya were re-acquired near the trade deadlines of respective seasons to bolster a cup run.  Neither player had much left to give, and it showed on the ice.  These failures cost the Blackhawks a 1st round pick, and great prospect in Marko Dano.  Oduya came back to town for much less (apologies to the McNeil family).

Versteeg couldn’t find a groove in his second tenure, but he provided the occasional utility in his second Blackhawks cup run.  Was it really worth losing Jimmy Hayes in that exchange?  Hard to say.

I’m convinced that Morin is something of a practical joke between Bowman and Quenneville.  He is potentially an IceHog hall of famer, however.

Carcillo was one of Q’s patented, “I punch guys in the face and play a modicum of hockey between concussions” dudes that he adores so, so much.  Carcillo provided these services at a great discount, however.

Brian Campbell signed a team-friendly deal to have a pre-retirement hockey honeymoon with his favorite franchise.

Having the red sweater on can only do so much, it appears.  The violent sport is noticeably wearing away on Jonathan Toews, whose career may ultimately smack more of Troy Aikman than Mark Messier if these concussions keep up.  Patrick Kane’s scandal is still fresh in the minds of many, and even if he’s still setting the ice on fire, this fan can’t look at him in quite the same light.

Hossa’s retiring, essentially.  Seabrook’s in an albatross contract that he won’t finish thanks to brain damage.

“The Core” is in flux, aging and breaking.  Then all of a sudden today happened.


Whether Stan Bowman re-acquired Brandon Saad for the sake of re-invigorating Toews’ game, replacing Hossa’s size and two-way play, or simply to angle the franchise in a younger direction, it doesn’t matter.  Every excuse is valid.  Saad is still only 24 years old and if you can harness his career potential while awakening Toews career before the decline hits, you win on all fronts, cup or not.

Trading Hjalmarsson is difficult, but you’re gaining younger, cheaper, grittier talent in return.  At some point Hammer will start feeling the effects of 100+MPH slapshots, and in time Bowman may look quite clever for getting good value out of him while the market was good.

Maybe.

The Blackhawks are still in Cap Hell, still need to get younger across the board, and still need to stop clutching so hard at 2010 and 2013, but today was a step in the right direction, even if Q bristles at the youth movement.

Whether it pays off in Cup Lifts is another thing altogether, but today I was excited about the Blackhawks for the first time in awhile, and that excitement transcends the one-timers of Panarin & bruised thighs of Hjalmarsson.

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