Here are two memories I have of the Chicago Blackhawks as they relate to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
I remember the Chicago Blackhawks were the opponent when the Leafs played their final game at Maple Leaf Gardens in 1999. Chicago won the game and the late, Bob Probert, scored the last goal in the building.
I also remember a game in the late 90s – it was in Chicago. The Leafs scored 10 goals. The Blackhawks goalie was Jeff Hackett. A couple of days later, he was traded to Montreal. I would always remember that game as the game we forced them to trade their goalie.
I just did some research. The game was November 12, 1998. Toronto won 10-3. Hackett let in 6 of the 10 goals.
Four days later, Hackett was traded.
Do I have a good memory or what?
As for the current Blackhawks, it’s almost unfair how many future Hall of Famers are on the team. By my count, I see at least 5, possibly 6.
Chicago traded away budding superstar, Artemi Panarin, in the off-season. He went to Columbus and back came a familiar face – Brandon Saad.
After winning the Western Conference and then getting swept in the first round, this was a drastic move. From my perspective, Panarin was a duplicate talent on that team. His scoring and creativity was great, but they already had that. They needed all-around players like Saad.
Jonathan Toews (C) – I mean, what is there to say? He’s lead them to three Stanley Cups in the last eight years. He’s one of the best captains in the league. He’s the youngest player to ever gain entry into the Triple Gold Club – Stanley Cup, Olympic Gold Medal, and World Championship Gold Medal. You could put him in the Hall of Fame tomorrow and no one would question it. Oh yeah, he’s only 29-years-old.
Patrick Kane (RW) – Patrick Kane produces year in and year out, yet is often overlooked as one of the best players in the game. Perhaps it’s because he’s not the captain of his team? I’m not sure. He’s averaged over a point per game in 7 of his 10 NHL seasons. Kane scored the game winning goal to win the Stanley Cup in 2010.
Patrick Sharp (LW) – Sharp had the best years of his career in Chicago and was a member of all 3 Stanley Cup teams. His second season in Dallas last year was nothing to write home about. At the age of 35, he’ll look to reignite his scoring touch back where he’s been most comfortable.
Brandon Saad (LW) – Saad is only 24-years-old and has 6 NHL seasons under his hockey pants. After two years in Columbus, he’s back in Chicago where his career began with 2 Stanley Cups. Throw him on the top line with Toews and let them do their thing. Simple as that.
Notable: Artem Anisimov (C), Marian Hossa (RW)
There is no point in me breaking up this section by player. Duncan Keith (31) and Brent Seabrook (33) have been attached at the hip since the 2005-2006 season. They’ve won Stanley Cups, they’ve won Gold Medals, and they’ve grown a lot of facial hair.
They are essentially each other’s work wife.
An early exit in the playoffs last season has given them an extended off-season and time to rest. I believe they’re the best defensive duo in the league and will be for a few more years.
Notable: Connor Murphy (24), Michael Kempney (27)
Corey Crawford (32) – Since taking over the starter’s role in 2010-11, he’s started between 55-59 games in every season since, except one. He is one of the best goalies in the NHL and has proven he can win in the playoffs. For the Blackhawks, that is what matters. For them, the regular season is just something that needs to happen before the real challenge begins.
Anton Forsberg (24) – Forsberg came over from Columbus with Saad in the Panarin trade. He has played in 10 NHL games, has 1 win, and a GAA of 4.02. It’s a small sample size, so don’t jump to conclusions. On the bright side, he’s been terrific in the minors.
Look, the Blackhawks have been spoiled with quality backups, whether it was Scott Darling or Antti Raanta. Realistically, Chicago needs Forsberg to make 22-26 starts this season to keep Crawford fresh for the playoffs.
Notable: J.F. Berube (26)
1. Their mascot is named, Tommy Hawk. No relation to Tony.
2. Head Coach, Joel Quenneville, is known as Coach Q. This means, whenever he points something out to his players, it’s known as a Coach Q Tip. I made that up.
3. Stan Bowman is the General Manager of the team. His father, Scotty, is the winningest coach in NHL history with 1244 wins.
4. The fans in Chicago are known for cheering loudly during the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner.
5. The Blackhawks’ Penalty Kill was ranked 24th last season, however they were the second least penalized team in the league.
WHAT CHRIS THINKS
Chicago is what I hope the Leafs will be in five years. They will compete for the Cup again as legitimate contenders.
LAST MINUTE OF PLAY
After two consecutive first round exits, the band is back together and the redemption tour is on, so look out everyone else.
Who am I to question a core of Toews, Kane, Saad, Sharp, Keith, Seabrook, and Crawford? On top of that, the Blackhawks have a knack for bringing up talent from the AHL and inserting them into impact roles.
Alex DeBrincat could be that player for them this season.
I think Chicago will win the Central Division, while the top spot in the Western Conference is up for grabs.
Bottom line: Chicago is making the playoffs and they’ll be a favourite to go to the Conference Final once again.
ONE WILD PREDICTION
Anton Forsberg loses five games or fewer this season as a backup (minimum 22 games).