Outhustled, outmuscled and out of cash: Blackhawks see another first round exit

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April 21, 2017 by scia9

The Chicago Blackhawks’ 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators locks in a first round exit; their fourth in nine consecutive playoff runs. (Courtesy of CSNChicago)

Written by Andrew Sciascia

Yes, the Chicago Blackhawks have seen a lot of postseason hockey since their incomprehensible franchise one-eighty just a decade ago.

Once the two-time recipients of ESPN’s “Worst Franchise in Sports” award (and rightfully so), the Hawks have seen three Stanley Cup championship victories since 2009 when they broke the 49-year championship drought.

Honestly, the Blackhawks haven’t seen a bad season since the turn of the decade, but it’s oft’ overlooked that when they aren’t hoisting Lord Stanley’s cup they may as well be non-starters in the postseason.

Facing down a hard-nose Nashville Predators in the Central Division semifinals this season, the Hawks, without a doubt, found themselves in the same hole they’re in every down year.

Of nine consecutive playoff appearances Chicago has seen two Western Conference final exits, three Stanley Cup victories and four, count’em four, devastating first round exits.

For a team that couldn’t have purchased a trip to touch the Stanley Cup just 15 years ago, this is a phenomenal postseason track record.

The Blackhawks have been on the verge of dynasty since their 2014-15 cup win, but there’s one thing standing rock solid between the team and the title; themselves.

From ownership on down to the bench, the Blackhawks are the only thing standing in the way of the dynasty. It comes down to two key concepts: salary cap management and roster selection/free agency.

Let’s start with the low-hanging fruit; the Chicago Blackhawks aren’t tough. In the time since they saw their explosive expansion, the Blackhawks have established themselves as a roster chalk full of speedy, skill guys. They’re a team that pushes the tempo and are always looking to score.

It’s a star-studded cast of flashy passers and scorers from veteran guys like Marian Hossa (1089 career pts.) to young all-stars like Patrick Kane (Art Ross and Hart Memorial Trophy recipient.) But the Hawks have seen toughness and grit fall to the wayside as they’ve established themselves.

Yes, hockey is evolving. Fast-paced, skill teams are quickly becoming the norm. That’s what wins championships these days. But the days of hard-nose hockey are not long gone, and so long as that is the case those grinders and fighters are a necessity in the depth chart.

Just look closely; in winning years the Blackhawks also rotated in players like Bryan Bickell, Dustin Byfuglien, or even the “super pest” Andrew Shaw.

(Courtesy of Jonathan Daniel/GettyImages)

As the Blackhawks have lost players of that nature following winning seasons, the early exits have become more prevalent. Each and every time it has come at the hands of bigger, stronger teams like the Kings, Predators or Blues; teams that can bang out those 20-40 hit games and wear down the opposition.

And that brings us to the second problem; salary cap management.

With stars like Kane and Toews taking 80-something percent salary hikes following peak performance seasons, the Hawks have rapidly run themselves out of room to wheel-and-deal come trade deadline and free agency.

Going into the 2015-16 season, more than half of the team’s cap room was eaten by a measly six players. Six all-stars? Without a doubt. But in a 20-23-man roster, this is a troublesome scenario.

Following each Stanley Cup victory the Hawks have seen this as a recurring problem.

In winning years, the roster sees depth. Alongside the typical cast of all-stars, the money is there for young talent, a couple of hard-nosed veterans and a grinder or two. Yet, when the money isn’t there for the supporting cast, the Blackhawks can’t seem to bring together a team that can weather the storm for a long, enduring season.

It’s simple; if the Chicago Blackhawks want to take up the mantle of “dynasty” they’re going to need to recognize what made them victorious; not just stars, but depth and design.

If the Blackhawks don’t try to renegotiate some contracts, they’ll keeping losing hockey’s future; players like Teuvo Teravainen and fire-starters like Dave Bolland and Patrick Sharp.

Money Management and Muscle; if the Blackhawks don’t reinstate these values, they’re going to see less of Lord Stanley and more of what they saw this past week with the Preds; stifled, frustrated hockey.

(Courtesy of Joe Lewnard/DailyHerald via AP)

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