What is the definition of depth?
Is it having five of the first six electees for the 2015 National Hockey League All-Star Game? Or is it sending 10 players to the 2014 Winter Olympics?
What if a franchise such as the Blackhawks can claim both distinctions? What do you call that? Deep depth?
“Exciting” is what Jonathan Toews calls it. He and four of his teammates, on merit and by popular demand, will represent the Blackhawks at the sport’s somewhat-annual showcase event in Columbus on Jan. 25. That is not a record for the organization, but it is the largest contingent this side of the host Blue Jackets, who have three.
The Chicago Five is internationally renowned. Toews is arguably the most complete player in the league. Patrick Kane is on pace to register his best of many excellent seasons. Duncan Keith is a two-time Norris Trophy winner. Brent Seabrook is a rock, a leader without a letter on his sweater. Corey Crawford is vastly underrated, except by those who play with him.
Now consider what is transpiring in this era of an intransigent salary cap. The Blackhawks sent 10 players to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and only one of those individuals – Michal Handzus – is not still on board. Neither Seabrook nor Crawford was on Canada’s team, although both received serious consideration. Seabrook participated in the 2010 Winter Games at Vancouver, and contributed mightily to Canada’s gold medal.
All five of this year’s Blackhawk All-Stars were among the first six in fan voting. The Sabres’ Zemgus Girgensons led with 1,574,896, obviously dominating precincts in Buffalo and Latvia. But Kane followed with 1.2 million plus, and his teammates all exceeded 1 million.
Duty compels us to speculate that the innovative “Exercise Your Right to Vote” video on chicagoblackhawks.com had an effect on local ballot boxes. Chicago fans deserve a bow, as do the players, who feast on winning but can handle an occasional side dish of ham. Such extracurricular ventures make Blackhawk athletes, who are very good at their real jobs but are not bubble-wrapped away from the public, even more likeable.
Meanwhile, six active Blackhawk Olympians from 2014 will not go to Columbus for the NHL showcase. There are, after all, 29 other franchises and only 37 other spots to fill. Niklas Hjalmarsson, for one, is worthy. You can count his off nights on one hand and have fingers left over. But Hjalmarsson probably could use a few days without diving in front of pucks. Whatever, the Blackhawks currently have 11 players – almost two-thirds of their locker room – who were either 2014 Olympians or are 2015 All-Stars.
Now fasten your seatbelts. At the last All-Star Game in 2012, the final score was Team Chara 12, Team Alfredsson 9.
In 1972, the NHL All-Star Game was staged at the Met Sports Center in Bloomington, Minn. The Blackhawks, in the middle of their second season after switching to the West Division, sent a record nine players, plus Coach Billy Reay.
Bobby Hull, in what would be his final NHL All-Star Game before joining the rival World Hockey Association later that spring, was joined by his brother, Dennis, and his industrious sidekick, Chico Maki, plus fellow forwards Stan Mikita and Pit Martin. Three defensemen from Chicago suited up: Pat Stapleton, Bill White and Keith Magnuson, along with goalie Tony Esposito.
The East won 3-2, on a score by Phil Esposito, who beat Tony O’s successor, Gump Worsley, of the hometown North Stars. In the first period, Bobby Hull scored, assisted by Maki and Martin. Each player on the victorious East received $500, twice the windfall awarded to the vanquished West participants.
One other historical marker: This year’s All-Star Game in Columbus will be conducted on exactly the 20th anniversary date of the Blackhawks’ debut at the United Center. That season was delayed and truncated because of an impasse between labor and management, so it was on Jan. 25, 1995, that the Blackhawks finally took the ice in their new building. Joe Murphy opened the scoring in a 5-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers. For that half season, the Blackhawks averaged 20,833 fans – the first team in NHL annals to break the 20,000 mark.
There has not yet been an All-Star Game in the United Center. But apparently, in a city loves its hockey and has a storied affinity for ballot boxes, there is an abundance of All-Star Game voters at the Madhouse on Madison and well beyond.