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On The Rise

by Van Oler / Chicago Blackhawks

Back in October we looked at the playoff trend line, a graphic tool designed to show the rate at which the Blackhawks would need to accumulate standing points to be in playoff contention in April. This season's magic number turned out to be 91, the points earned by the eighth-seeded Nashville Predators.

In recent years, teams have needed as many as 96 (Calgary, 2007). While it would certainly have been nice to get some help from the St. Louis Blues during the last week of the regular season, the fact is the Blackhawks lost positive control of their own playoff chances seven weeks earlier. 

A February 6 defeat in Edmonton marked the end of a 16-game stretch that had started on January 1 with the ghastly 9-2 crushing in Los Angeles. Happy New Year indeed! During those 36 days the Blackhawks were 4-10-2, earning just 10 standings points, their worst extended run of the season.

On New Year's Day the team was on the playoff threshold; after the defeat in Edmonton they were 11 points under, more of a deficit than their 17-9-3 finish could overcome.

That said, there is simply no way to consider the 2007-08 season anything other than a roaring (as in United Center crowd) success. The impact of the team's first-year players was undeniable. Patrick Kane was the only member of the 2007 1st round draft class to play in all 82 of his team's games, and Jonathan Toews' agent has undoubtedly noted that the Blackhawks' five-week flail coincided almost exactly with his client's absence due to injury.

The Blackhawks earned 40 victories for the first time since 2001-02 and in doing so climbed over both St. Louis and Columbus in the Central Division after finishing last in 2006-07. They were demonstrably one of the NHL's most improved teams:

Winning a Stanley Cup is the true measure of accomplishment for an NHL franchise, so it is difficult to label as a "success" a season in which one's team didn't even qualify for the playoffs. However, championship teams are, more often than not, the result of a process of player identification, acquisition, and development that unfolds over several seasons. Incremental progress toward becoming a championship-caliber team was the goal for this team in September, and measured against that standard 2007-08 was undeniably a success.

Besides, any season featuring United Center appearances by Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Tony Esposito and Ernie Banks is one to cherish and remember.

Van C. Oler is a freelance writer and Blackhawks fan who grew up in Wheaton and currently resides in Cincinnati, OH.

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