Blackhawks' postmortem | Bleader

Blackhawks' postmortem

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Aint no more Kane on the rise -- not this season, anyway.
For the second straight season, following their 2010 Stanley Cup championship, the Blackhawks were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Last season was sort of a hangover following the overspending of the previous title campaign, with the Hawks having to jettison players to get back under the salary cap, but even so they took the Vancouver Canucks to the seventh game of the opening round, where they lost in overtime to the team that eventually lost in the Cup finals, so it didn't seem as if the required fixes were that dramatic. The Hawks definitely seemed improved this season, with a bit more grit and a shored-up defense, and they pulled themselves up to the sixth seed in the Western Conference playoffs, after just making it in a year ago. Yet they went out in six games to the Phoenix Coyotes, who had never before won an NHL playoff series, so the prevailing mood at the moment is the Hawks took one step forward and two steps back.

I can already hear the complaints that the Hawks should have swapped Patrick Kane at the trade deadline for an elite goaltender, as was rumored, and it's hard not to say that the Hawks would have fared better if they had followed that course. Goalie Corey Crawford cost the Hawks two home games by surrendering soft goals in overtime, and Kane never scored a goal in the series, although he did have a team-high four assists, including one strong shot on goal that was redirected in.

The Hawks may well have to look into a change in the net, even though Crawford and backup Ray Emery are both in the fold for next season. Yet, no matter the course they choose, they shouldn't dangle Kane as trade bait. The Hawks' strength—and main source of popularity—remains their four core offensive players, including Kane, captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa, and they'd benefit from a strong second-line center, perhaps someone swift to complement Sharp and Viktor Stalberg, who were playing almost telepathically at the end of this season.

Yet that brings up another subject: lines. Coach Joel Quenneville likes to juggle his lines, from game to game and even within games when the goals just aren't coming, but this group—and Kane especially—could probably use a bit more continuity in line assignments. Lines that are always in flux emphasize the overall system, the players as interchangeable parts, but linemates kept together are more likely to produce unique chemistry and improvisation, Kane's strengths.

I'd also like to see the team get away from Quenneville's "cycle" play, which calls on forwards to circle into the corners to dig out pucks for each other. Every team in the league is on to that device now, and it's become a pinch point for the Hawks' underperforming power play.
The Hawks will once again have to tighten up the defense — with new tactics and new personnel — but offensively they could probably benefit from a freer hand. The Hawks won the Cup two years ago when Quenneville prevailed on them to get away from their more freewheeling style and play a more disciplined system, but now the pendulum should probably swing a little the other way. Going forward, let Kane be Kane and the Hawks be the Hawks.

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