The rebuilding of the Chicago Blackhawks
has gone faster than anyone could have expected.
Just three years after drafting Jonathan Toews
with the third pick and less than 48 months following the No. 1 selection of Patrick Kane
, the Blackhawks found themselves in the Western Conference Finals. As they enter the 2009-10 season, the word "rebuild' isn't even a part of the Hawks' vocabulary. These days, Kane believes only two words should be used.
"It's probably (Stanley) Cup or bust this year, and that's what we want," Kane told NHL.com. "I think you've got to play for those expectations. The better you get, the more the expectations are going to grow. Expectations are probably to the ceiling, but that's the way it should be. That's the way we want it."
Chicago certainly got off to a rough start last season, as Denis Savard
lost his coaching job just four games into the campaign. He was replaced by Joel Quenneville
, who implemented more of a defensive style that forced players to be held accountable on the ice. The Blackhawks ended up finishing the season with 46 wins and 104 points, good for fourth in the Western Conference.
"They're definitely two totally different coaches," Kane said of Savard and Quenneville. "I think Savard was more kind of flow-and-go. When Quenneville came in, at first it was just, 'You guys play in the NHL. Go out and do your thing.' As time went along, he developed a system where you had to be held responsible. You definitely learn a lot from a guy like that. It seemed like every day, we were getting better."
Indeed they were. After a solid regular season that saw them finish fourth in the Western Conference, the Blackhawks knocked off the Calgary Flames
and Vancouver Canucks
in the first two rounds of the playoffs -- officially putting the Windy City back on the hockey map.
"Going into the season, it was probably, 'Let's make the playoffs, let's get the experience and maybe win one or two rounds,'" Kane said. "But then we went on these 10- or 11-game win streaks during the season and was like, 'Wow … maybe we can do some damage here.' It was a fun year, a great year. It's a tight team."
It's also a team that will have somewhat of a different look this season. Nikolai Khabibulin
signed with the Edmonton Oilers
as a free agent over the summer, which means Cristobal Huet
becomes the team's No. 1 goaltender. Up front, Chicago opened some eyes with the 12-year deal it gave to Marian Hossa
, who scored 40 goals for the Red Wings in 2008-09. Kane can't wait to skate alongside the talented Slovak, although that won't happen until at least December as Hossa recovers from rotator-cuff surgery.
"He's been around a while and came in as a hyped-up player, too," Kane said of Hossa. "I've met him a few times. He's a really nice guy. It seems like he's going to fit in pretty well. We're lucky to have a guy like that, for sure."
It's certainly a far cry from earlier in the decade, when the Blackhawks struggled both in the standings in the box office. But with Kane and Toews heading the resurgence, Chicago is primed to contend for years to come.
"It's a huge difference," Kane said. "We were getting 7-8,000 a night (when I started). Now, the building's packed. It's a tough ticket to get. Even just walking down the street, people notice you. It's really cool to see and it's fun to be a part of. That's the way you want it. Chicago's a hockey city."
Contact Brian Compton at: email@example.com