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Holdover talent, driven newcomers spur Hawks' hopes

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO --  By now, we already know the bad news for the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
They're coming off a summer in which 11 players weren't brought back to defend the Cup, including several impact players who not only were fan favorites, but key role players. Hulking 6-foot-4, 257-pound net screener Dustin Byfuglien, hard-nosed multi-Cup winner Andrew Ladd, playmaking forward Kris Versteeg and unflappable goalie Antti Niemi are just a few of the big names on the list of departures.
What's not as obvious is the good news for the Hawks, at least as they see it -- despite adding veteran goalie Marty Turco and returning their top-five point scorers and seven of the top 10, not many outside Chicago believe they can repeat. And for a team full of young stars who thrive on proving people wrong, that's exactly the kind of motivation they need.
Who needs "hair of the dog" to cure a Stanley Cup hangover when there's plenty of doubt to go around?

"As far as I've heard, no one is picking us to win this year, which is something that will work in our favor."
-- Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews

"As far as I've heard, no one is picking us to win this year, which is something that will work in our favor," said Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, whose upper-body strength ought to be bolstered by the sizable chip he places on his shoulder each game. "Everybody wants to talk about the short offseason, the changes, and on and on. The most important thing is that we're all ready to go."
They're ready to prove themselves all over again, even though it seems like just last week they were parading down Michigan Avenue, with celebratory confetti making the city look like a giant snow globe. Before long they will raise the first Cup banner in Chicago since 1961, and then the fight will be on to do it again.

Defenseman Brian Campbell thinks the Hawks will be up to the task. There are a slew of hungry, young prospects on the cusp of joining the mix, plus a few select veteran additions that could be key contributors -- starting with Turco, who was signed to replace Niemi when the club walked away from his arbitration award. Turco's puck-handling proficiency and knack for stretch passes could be a dangerous combination with the Hawks' fast-skating, puck-moving defensemen -- especially against teams that like to forecheck deep in the zone.
Changes like that are what have players like Campbell confident in the possibilities.
"You look at the pieces that we have in place and you add some different elements through trades and signings, at the beginning of the year you'd have to say we're a contender," he said. "I think we're going to be a contender for a lot of years in a row, and that's all you want is the opportunity to be a contender for a lot of years."
Forward Troy Brouwer sees no reason to disagree, even with a shortened offseason to heal the bumps and bruises of a daunting championship run.
"You don't get as much of a chance to recover," he said, "but when you take the proper amount of time off … there should be no reason why a team such as ours, with so many good players -- and good returning players -- can't win the Stanley Cup again."
Doubters think Chicago will fall short because the Hawks dropped so much talent and proven depth in order to get under the $59.4 million salary cap. The Hawks, meanwhile, see motivation being the biggest potential pitfall.
"I've talked to some (other) coaches who have won the Cup as head coaches," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "The one thing about it is that you want to make sure throughout training camp you gauge what's going on, and as you march into the season you're guarded for that hangover. I think the freshness of the new guys coming in could alleviate that concern, and hopefully that's the case."
Motivated newcomers, plus the star-studded "core group" just might be enough for the Hawks to again compete for the Cup.
"It's still going to be a really good team, and we're still going to have a chance at winning the Stanley Cup again," Brouwer said. "That's what we're focusing on now. It's tough to see friends go, but at the same time we've got to focus on ourselves. We've got a lot of good players coming up, and they're going to be real important keys to our success this year. They're excited to win a Stanley Cup."
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