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New-look Hawks still have core group to rely on

by Brian Hedger / Chicago Blackhawks

Visitors to the Chicago Blackhawks' dressing room should heed two pieces of advice.
First, remember to step around -- not on -- the multi-colored logo stitched into the carpeting. Second, try not to compare the Hawks to the 1997 Florida Marlins, who gutted their roster after winning the World Series that year.

Though the Hawks hacked 11 players and a lot of salary off their payroll following a Stanley Cup title this past June, they don't want to hear the "M" word (Marlins) anymore. Unlike the 1997 Marlins, the moves Blackhawks Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman made were in response to the League's $59.4 million salary cap -- something Major League Baseball teams don't have to worry about.
Bowman also left behind a core group of impact players to build around this season, which is also unlike the Marlins -- a depleted team in 1998 with zero chance of repeating.
"We're just focusing on the players we do have here, which is what I'm trying to get across," Bowman said at the Hawks' summer fan convention. "We've got a great group of guys here, and a lot of the guys that everybody fell in love with are still here."
Bowman refers to those returning players as the "core group," which consists of team captain and Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Toews, star forward Patrick Kane, Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Duncan Keith, Olympic gold medalist defenseman Brent Seabrook and highly-skilled veteran forward Marian Hossa. Also in that group are young defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, defense partner Brian Campbell, scoring forward Patrick Sharp, two-way center Dave Bolland and talented power forwards Troy Brouwer and Tomas Kopecky.
The way the Hawks see it, that's plenty of star talent to mix with solid veterans and promising newcomers that include goalie Marty Turco and forwards Fernando Pisani, Ryan Potulny, Viktor Stalberg, Bryan Bickell, Jack Skille, Jake Dowell and others.
The goal this season is clear -- win the Cup, which would be the first repeat since Detroit did it in the late 1990s.
Tough? Yes, but not impossible in the Hawks' estimation.
"Our goal is to defend," Campbell said. "That's what we're after, and it's ours until somebody takes it away. It's going to be a long 82-game schedule and long playoffs, so it's not going to be easy. (But) you watch the playoffs last year, and until Pittsburgh got knocked out ... they owned it. That's definitely our goal and our No. 1 goal."
If they're going to achieve it, the core group must pave the way. While the Hawks handled their payroll reduction carefully, making sure to get quality prospects and draft picks in trades, those moves mainly were for the future instead of the present.
What they're banking on for this season is the talent and experience that returns from the Cup team -- which does look promising on paper. The Hawks return their top four defensemen and can dip into a pool of veterans or up-and-coming prospects for the third pairing. Coach Joel Quenneville also plans on keeping the versatile Sharp at center, where he excelled in the playoffs.
That means Toews would center the first line, Sharp the second and Bolland the third -- with Dowell or veteran free agent Potulny centering the fourth. Sprinkle in the likes of Pisani, Skille and promising young newcomer Stalberg, and the potential is there for another deep, two-way lineup.
Is there enough talent left to overcome the League's top challengers for a second summer with Stanley?
"Absolutely," Keith said following the team's first training camp scrimmage. "Every year that's the way we think. We have a good team. There's a lot of good players here and we've got a lot of skill. Look at our forward lines, with Hossa, Toews, Kane, Sharpie ... the list will go on. Don't forget these (other) guys coming up, who are hungry and have a lot to prove. They could surprise some people."
People outside the Hawks' locker room, that is.

Author: Brian Hedger | Correspondent

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