When you're one of the 29 teams watching another NHL franchise hoist the Stanley Cup, you can also be learning what you need to close the gap with the new champions. Here are a few areas the 2012-13 Blackhawks are currently different from the Hollywood story in LA.
1) Between the pipes: The numbers say everything as Corey Crawford posted a .903 save percentage and 2.72 goals-against average in the regular season while Jonathan Quick had a .929 save percentage and 1.95 GAA. In the playoffs, Crawford went 2-4 with a .893 save percentage and 2.58 GAA against the Phoenix Coyotes. Quick, the Conn Smythe winner, went 16-4 with a .946 save percentage and 1.41 GAA against the Vancouver Canucks, St. Louis Blues, Coyotes and New Jersey Devils.
2) Size: Having skill and speed is important, but size helps win battles in the corners and create havoc in front of an opposing goalie. The Kings had plenty of it. LA regularly dressed eight players standing 6-foot-3 or taller including Jeff Carter, Dwight King, Azne Kopitar, Jordan Nolan, Dustin Penner, Kevin Westgarth, Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell. The Blackhawks only list five players that size: Bryan Bickell, Jimmy Hayes, Viktor Stalberg, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
3) Strength down the middle: By acquiring Mike Richards in the offseason, the Kings gave themselves a solid 1-2 center punch with Kopitar. They have an effective checking-line center in Jarret Stoll and rookie Jordan Nolan gave more than enough for a fourth-line center. While Jonathan Toews ranks among the best centers in the entire NHL, the second-line center was a void all season for the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane's growth at that position could make this area a lot closer next season, while Dave Bolland remains a terrific checking-line center and Marcus Kruger or Jamal Mayers take fourth-line center duties. This might be the quickest way the Hawks make up ground on the champs, but it all hinges on Kane's adjustment.
4) Quality depth: Colin Fraser, a fourth-liner, scored the first goal of the Stanley Cup Final. King, a rookie, had five playoff goals. Trevor Lewis, another fourth-line regular, had nine playoff points. Penner came alive with three goals and eight assists. This depth helped supplement the Kings core all the way to the Cup. While Bickell and Michael Frolik had a few nice games in the playoffs, secondary scoring on the Hawks was hard to come by all season. Andrew Shaw provided a nice spark, but that was about it. If it wasn't the core putting the puck in the net, it usually wasn't anybody. Contrast that with the 2010 Stanley Cup winners when Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien helped contribute consistently. Even Ben Eager scored a goal in the Cup Final.
5) Defensive pairings: Each of the Kings defensive duos combined one puck-moving, offensive-minded defenseman with one physical, solid, minimal-mistake defenseman. Drew Doughty (offense) paired with Rob Scuderi (defense), Slava Voynov (offense) paired with Mitchell (defense) and Alec Martinez (offense) paired with Greene (defense). This type of balance can only truly be found in one of the Blackhawks pairings -- Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Finding two combinations among the rest of the Hawks defense that achieve this balance is difficult with Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya, Steve Montador, Dylan Olsen and Niklas Hjalmarsson.