New Year, Same Blackhawks

As the 2013 calendar year has come and gone, nothing has changed in Chicago. The mentality for the Blackhawks remains, from their storied 2010 and 2013 Stanley Cup winning seasons, “One Goal.” With the Blackhawks once again sitting atop the NHL, that “One Goal” seems to be well within reach.

Not since the 1997 and 1998 winners, the Detroit Red Wings, has the NHL seen repeat champions. Chicago had the opportunity to go back-to-back after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup. However, Blackhawks fans were heartbroken the following year after they saw their defending champs eliminated in a decisive seventh game in Vancouver. Eighth-seeded Chicago had trailed the series 3-0 before storming back to force game seven.

Now, holding the league’s best record, the Blackhawks are well on their way to consecutive Stanley Cup runs. If Chicago can accomplish this feat, it would put them with the ranks of the Miami Heat as sports’ most dominant franchise, a dynasty of sorts if you will.

Let us give much of the credit to general manager Stan Bowman, who has managed to not just keep this team competitive after losing four key pieces but keep them as the class of the NHL.

Backup goaltender Ray Emery left Chicago for a chance to compete for the starting job in Philadelphia. Emery went 17-1-0 last season with the Blackhawks, and 32-10-4 in a two-year span. Dave Bolland, who scored the 2013 Stanley Cup winner for the Blackhawks, was traded to Toronto. Michael Frolik, a key member of the penalty kill unit, was traded to Winnipeg. The Predators grabbed up and coming winger Viktor Stalberg in free agency.

However, Bowman was able to fill the missing pieces thanks to grade-A talent development while also signing playoff hero Bryan Bickell and starting goaltender Corey Crawford to long-term deals.

Even more important, the Blackhawks have not lost a single step, despite the team’s depth being tested after a hectic offseason and numerous injuries this season. Backup goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin went down with an injury early in the season, prompting the Blackhawks to call up Finnish prospect Antti Raanta and trade for goalie Jason LaBarbera from Edmonton. Soon after, Crawford went down and missed an extensive period of time. With Crawford down, Raanta made the most of his chance, going 11-1-3 and being named the NHL co-rookie of the month of December along with Martin Jones of the Los Angeles Kings.

The difference between the 2013 Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks and this team? Well, there is none. The Blackhawks are once again dominating the NHL, as they try to reach that elusive “One Goal” of repeating.

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