While it became official this week that the Blackhawks will be home for the playoffs, that's not the case for their minor league affiliate, the Norfolk Admirals.
Recently, the Admirals became the first team in the AHL to clinch a playoff berth, and they're one of the favorites to bring home the Calder Cup. And why shouldn't they be? At 45-18-6 (as of this writing) they have already surpassed their very respectable win total of last year (43) and seem primed for a long playoff run.
So while you can't root for the Hawks in May, maybe you can for the future Hawks as the prospect list of possible NHL players is longer than at any time in recent memory.
I know what you're thinking, we've been down this road before. Certainly the Hawks have not developed bona fide NHL studs as much as we all would like. But a closer look at things might persuade you the Hawks drafting hasn't been all bad.
First and foremost, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook look like long term mainstays on the blue line. Tuomo Ruutu is a top six forward and James Wisniewski has had a solid first year in the league. All were Hawk draft picks and all are solid players.
It doesn't sound very impressive in terms of numbers, but I think it's fair to add Mark Bell and Kyle Calder to this discussion as those players brought you Martin Havlat and Michal Handzus. If they're not drafted and developed, there's no sure thing the Hawks pick up those players.
Having said all that, there needs to be more. This is where Norfolk comes in. There's almost no way to predict (save Sidney Crosby) how a player will make the jump to the NHL. But the more success they have down there, the better I feel about who's coming.
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if a team is winning, then individuals are having good years. And if individuals are having good years, then they're gaining confidence and getting closer to the next level. At least that's what logic would dictate.
Things don't always go accordingly, but it's obvious there are plenty of guys contributing in Norfolk and will soon deserve a real chance here. If you're contributing to a losing effort, do you think the powers-that-be are more likely to look at you in a positive light? I doubt it.
One of the under-publicized topics when Denis Savard took over as head coach was that Dale Tallon wanted to have better synergy between the minors and the Blackhawks. What is being taught down there is also being stressed here. You could say Denis Savard and Norfolk's Mike Haviland are teaching similar systems and philosophies.
With the move of the Admirals to Rockford next year, I believe its just a continuation of that synergy. They will be "right there" in terms of geography and mindset as we move forward. The bottom line is that the Blackhawks' minor league system is going to play a big part in the Hawks success (or lack there of) over the course of the next several years.
Again, there are no guarantees, but at least having the best minor league team is a start to having a good NHL one. And IF the success down there can translate to more victories up here, the future will be bright. Notice how that was a BIG if.
Email Blackhawks pre- and post-game radio host Jesse Rogers at: firstname.lastname@example.org