Unlike last season, the Chicago Blackhawks have stealthily climbed to the top spot in the NHL; presently in first place in the President’s Trophy stakes.
The season before they were the story in the NHL; dominating the league standings; threatening the 1979/80 Flyers unbeaten streak; winning the Stanley Cup in a stunning triumph of the will.
Now, they have re-embarked on the same course, albeit in a more covert fashion. Still this season has the potential of taking the Blackhawks franchise to a newer, rarified level of existence. They’ve already become the first NHL franchise to win two Stanley Cups in this decade. They are going for their third and if they do so then they will exist on a greater hockey plane than ever before.
Offensively, the Hawks have not slacked off one iota, presently leading the NHL in goals scored. The usual suspects: Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith lead the cannonade with their usual proficiency; with Patrick Kane particularly effective on the power-play.
The Hawks are getting excellent two-way play from Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, and, again, Duncan Keith.
Goalie Corey Crawford leads the NHL in wins.
On the ice the Blackhawks display excellent discipline in their play, second only to the New Jersey Devils in team penalty minutes.
Still there are some causes for concern: last season the Blackhawks had the best defense in the NHL and the third best penalty-kill; today they are presently 17th in defense and 28th in the penalty-kill. Can a team repeat as Stanley Cup champions with a defensive decline like that?
The losses of goalie Ray Emery and Dave Bolland cost the team part of its veteran depth however Hawks GM Stan Bowman did a solid job in retaining the core of the team (unlike what happened in 2010 when the team had to let several players go in order to free up cap space). Indeed if the Hawks maintain their present pace and win the Stanley Cup then Bowman has the chance to move up several steps in rank and close in on the top twenty ranks even though he has only managed for five seasons thus far—an amazing pace.
But the biggest question remains is whether the Hawks can maintain the gnawing hunger and desire it takes to win the Cup? Do they have the psychic discipline to will themselves once more to Stanley Cup glory? Are they emotionally acclimatized to remain in the cold, thin air of the NHL summit? Do they have the inner reserves of strength to continue to thrive and excel in the rarified, unforgiving atmosphere that is the Stanley Cup playoffs like they did last year?
It takes a special kind of team to do this and a special kind of coach to make it happen.
Last season propelled Joel Quenneville upward ten places in the top fifty coaching ranks (according to my rating system). He is the best coach of the 2010s (again, according to my rating system). He surpassed Detroit’s Mike Babcock as the best coach in the NHL and has a chance to surpass Babcock as the best coach of the 21st century (in my eyes at least); he is poised to ascend even higher.
If the Hawks maintain their present pace then that means Joel Quenneville will surpass Al Arbour in terms of coaching value according to my rating system. If the Hawks maintain their pace and repeat as Stanley Cup champions then Quenneville will become only the 11th man in NHL history to coach three Stanley Cup winners. (Last season Quenneville became the 15th man to coach two Stanley Cup winners; the first time that has happened since 1985 when Glen Sather coached his second Stanley Cup winner). To see how tough a feat that would be then consider this: there has been no repeat champion since the Red Wings under Scotty Bowman did so in 1998. The last coach to repeat before Bowman was, again, Glen Sather, in 1989.
Joel Quenneville is entering the ranks of the NHL coaching elite. He ranks among the top ten in games coached; the top five in coaching wins; the top ten in playoff games coached and playoff wins.
A repeat Stanley Cup win will bring Quenneville within breathing distance of Glen Sather based on my rating system. Quenneville turned 55 last September and shows no signs of flagging or failing. He has the team and the opportunity to rise even higher in the pantheon of NHL coaching.
He is writing an incredible chapter in the annals of NHL coaching and we the hockey fans of the world can only watch and wonder and wait until he finishes his masterpiece but the wait will be well worth it.