The names of Chicago Blackhawks skaters have now been scrawled upon the surface of the Stanley Cup three times in the past six seasons. In an era of hockey regulated by a salary cap, this is a dynasty by any definition. Not only is it a testament to great young players like Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, and the masterful coaching presence in Joel Quenneville, but an aggressive and diligent front office that has managed to keep numerous expensive players on the same team for the better part of a decade and is never trigger-shy at the trade deadline. Chicago faces quite a few challenges with their roster this offseason, but given their track record, it's not outrageous to assert they'll be back on this stage sometime in the coming years.
Stangely, this should make Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic ecstatic.
Championship hockey is being played in their division -- by a number of teams, really, but especially Chicago. The measuring stick for success is a constant presence all season. It's not an enigma on the East coast you only get to play twice after long flights; it's right there in the Central division -- a division that sent five teams to the playoffs and yielded the eventual Stanley Cup winner. If the Avalanche want to be the best in the NHL, they need to be the best during their 30 games of division play against these teams. They also need to be better than these teams at drafting prospects, developing talent, employing strategy, and making the right adjustments to their roster -- but the litmus test is at arm's length, plain to see.
Colorado beat the Stanley Cup champion in three of their five games this past season, and Semyon Valamov was injured for both of the two losses. The Blackhawks simply didn't beat the Avs last season when they weren't starting a rookie goalie in an injury situation. In fact, only three other NHL teams could also claim winning records against the champs -- Central Division-winning St. Louis, Wild Card recipient Winnipeg, and Metro Division runner-up Washington. All three went to the playoffs.
Yeah, Chicago considerably outshot Colorado during the regular season series, but they also outshot every NHL team this year, leading the league at 33.9 per game. The Blackhawks are a high-volume shooting team, and an increase of 3.6 shots per game above average during the year -- against an Avalanche team struggling to find its identity early in the season -- isn't that big of a leap. This Stanley Cup victory will only further embolden Corsi/Fenwick enthusiasts, but Chicago was outshot during these playoffs, themselves. Despite the undeniable positive correlation between wins and shot totals, there is simply more than one way to win a hockey game.
Also, Russian Goalie Machines aren't impressed by shot totals, or at least 97.3% not impressed.
As the 2014-15 season comes to a close, we congratulate our rivals on yet another championship, but we should also be excited about what our own team can accomplish going forward. There are holes to fix on this roster and other improvements to be made, but the Avalanche beat the best this year more often than they lost. Patrick Roy's squad should be back in the playoffs next year, and they need to make the step forward we all think they can make.
Countdown to October 7th starts now.