On Monday afternoon NHL Network broadcast their review of the Blackhawks’ 2013 Cup run. Once that season did finally begin in January of 2013 you all remember what happened: the insane 21-0-3 start, the consistency throughout that shortened regular season, the scare against the Detroit Red Wings and the eventual Cup.
Considering the end result it’s easy to forget how much uncertainty there was entering that season – past the uncertainty of if there even would be a season. The Blackhawks were coming off two consecutive seasons that ended with first-round losses, their attempts to bolster roster depth had fallen short in both of those seasons and the chances of the core group getting another Cup didn’t look promising.
Fast forward to this fall with the Blackhawks facing a lot of uncertainty again. They’ve once again looked to free agency to try and boost their depth. They’ve once again looked to former players (Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad) to help rekindle what worked so well from 2012-15. And once again, the pressure is on to get back to where they were not so long ago.
But there are a whole lot of differences between then and now. Hindsight confirming now what we weren’t sure of then, that 2012-13 team was pretty deep. Bryan Bickell had a career year. Johnny Oduya, acquired the previous season, bolstered the Blackhawks’ defense. Andrew Shaw came into his own. So did Saad. Michael Frolik and Marcus Kruger became steady and reliable penalty killers. The core players were in the prime of their careers and still had a lot of hockey in front of them.
Can the Blackhawks have a rebound season like 2012-13? Right now, it would be a surprise. Key players have logged a lot of hockey since the 2008-09 season, including two conference finals and three Stanley Cup runs. Marian Hossa is gone. The Blackhawks’ depth past the top two lines is a concern. So is the defensive lineup. While the Blackhawks surged to claim the Central last season, others have increased their chances of taking the top spot. Nashville made its statement last spring, starting with that first round against the Blackhawks. The Dallas Stars enter this fall having addressed their most pressing concern (goaltending).
To say this Blackhawks season is going to be interesting is an understatement. They could live with the seven-game, first-round elimination against St. Louis in 2016 but they couldn’t stomach the first-round sweep to Nashville in April. The pressure the Blackhawks are feeling now is very much like the pressure they felt entering the 2012-13 season. Alleviating it this time around is going to be a lot tougher to do.