The Blackhawks were supposed to make a deep run. They were supposed to contend for another Stanley Cup. They were supposed to start a dynasty with young stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane leading the way.
Instead, they were eliminated in the first round for the second year in a row, bowing out to the Phoenix Coyotes, a team many thought the Hawks should be able to overcome with their speed and skill. As a result, they will have another summer filled of discontent and change. It will be another summer of finger pointing and revamping.
"When you don't reach your goal, which is to win the Stanley Cup, it's a big disappointment," general manager Stan Bowman said during the Hawks' year-end press conference. "I can speak for myself as well as the organization that we set out every year to win the Stanley Cup, and we didn't do that this year. So, it's a disappointment clearly."
A lot of blame falls on Bowman's shoulders. His offseason acquisitions failed to work well enough or ended up on the injured list and he failed to address the team's holes at the trade deadline.
Defenseman Steve Montador missed ample time with a concussion. Agitator Daniel Carcillo tore his anterior cruciate ligament and was suspended twice. Jamal Mayers, who was consistent during the regular season, was a healthy scratch the last three playoff games. Defensemen
Sean O'Donnell and Sami Lepisto were healthy scratches often this season. Veteran forward Andrew Brunette failed to have a positive effect on the power play and spent most of the season among the bottom two lines.
"Now that we're not playing anymore is when the time starts to look at what we need to improve upon," Bowman said.
Coach Joel Quenneville also is at fault for what transpired this season. He was admittedly too lenient when the Hawks were outscoring opponents, but their defensive play was terrible. It backfired and turned into a nine-game losing streak that exposed the Hawks and raised serious questions about their makeup.
The Hawks' special teams also were brutal under Quenneville. The power play and penalty kill were both among the worst in the league. Quenneville wanted to take the blame for their horrendous results, but it's possible that one of his assistants, notably Mike Kitchen, may be dismissed because of the failures on special teams. Quenneville, though, also blamed his players.
"Going forward as a staff, we've got to absorb responsibility, but players have to absorb some responsibility as well because they're the ones that execute it," Quenneville said. "Sharing that going forward has got to be important."
There were some positives. Rookie forward Andrew Shaw and Jimmy Hayes look ready to be full-time contributors. Patrick Kane proved he can play center. Jonathan Toews was able to recover from his concussion. Viktor Stalberg had a breakout year. Young defensemen Nick Leddy and Dylan Olsen look ready to be the Hawks' next top blue-liners.
But there also are many negatives.
Star winger Marian Hossa and Montador both ended the season with severe concussions. Michael Frolik had an erratic season after being signed to provide depth scoring. Corey Crawford experienced an up-and-down campaign in his first full year as the Hawks' No. 1 goalie.
Bowman said the Hawks will rely on their star-studded core -- Toews,
Kane, Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook -- to lead them next year. In other words, a complete overhaul is unlikely.
But Bowman will have to find the right pieces to fill in around them,
after failing the last two seasons since they won the Cup in 2010.
"When you're looking at the guys we're talking about, they're All-Star type players and difference makers in the organization, and it's really difficult to remove one of those pieces unless you've got somebody you think can fill that person's spot to try and fill a different hole,"
Bowman said. "They've got a lot of character. They've got a lot of ability. They're young. They're proven winners. That's something that is very valuable."
The Hawks were the first team to reach 50 points, which was helped by a 10-2-1 record in December. The Hawks were outscoring teams at will as Toews, Sharp and Hossa all had great first halves of the season. That strong start helped them stay ahead of teams when they hit a rough patch.
Starting just before the All-Star break, the Hawks went on a nine-game losing streak that raised many questions about them. It started on Jan. 21 against the Predators and ended Feb. 16 with a win over the Rangers. There was even talk about whether Quenneville deserved to be fired. The Hawks plummeted from the top spot in the West to sixth, where they finished.
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