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Rebuilt depth has keyed Blackhawks' remarkable run

by Dan Rosen

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 because their goaltending was solid and their depth players played just as big of a role on a nightly basis as their stars.

Shortly after they paraded the Cup down Michigan Avenue, their goalies and depth were gone, victims of an anticipated and unavoidable purge resulting from salary-cap constraints. The Blackhawks were not even close to being the same team over the next two seasons, and they went one-and-done in the postseason in 2011 and 2012.

They're back now, though, back to being the best team in the National Hockey League largely because of -- wait for it -- excellent goaltending and depth that has taken some pressure off the stars.

What was lacking for two seasons has been rebuilt and has helped propel the Blackhawks to a record-setting start to the 2012-13 season. Chicago puts its 30-game point streak (27-0-3, dating to last season) on the line Friday against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center.

Here's a then-and-now look at the streaking Blackhawks:


The core four -- Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp -- were given big contracts to ensure their futures in Chicago, so even after the Cup run Hawks fans knew those four weren't going anywhere.

However, five of the 12 forwards that played for the Blackhawks on June 9, 2010 -- the night they won the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia -- did not return the following season; another two were gone by the summer of 2011.

Dave Bolland is the only depth forward that played regularly left from the championship team. Now he's a second-line center, playing primarily between Sharp and Kane.

The Blackhawks had to go about rebuilding their front-line depth because Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, Tomas Kopecky, Troy Brouwer, Ben Eager, John Madden, Adam Burish and Colin Fraser all left after the championship season.

Those nine forwards combined to score 30 of Chicago's 78 goals during the 2010 postseason run.

It's taken some time, but Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman has got the team's forward depth in order, and the Blackhawks again are able to play the type of up-tempo, on-the-puck style that carried them to the organization's first Stanley Cup in 49 years.

Rookie left wing Brandon Saad has filled Ladd's role on a line with Toews and Hossa. He's the exact type of hard-on-the-puck, big forward Hawks coach Joel Quenneville wants to use with the two superstar forwards.

Saad had his first career three-point game Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild, and he has six points in the last five games.

Bolland has jumped into a new role as the second-line center and is helping to provide some offense between Sharp and a resurgent Kane, who has a team-best 27 points in 24 games. Bolland also hasn't lost any of his effectiveness in the defensive end, the part of his game that became borderline legendary in Chicago during the 2010 Cup run.

Dave Bolland
Dave Bolland
Center - CHI
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 4 | PTS: 9
SOG: 25 | +/-: -1
The only other bottom-six forward that was part of the Cup-winning team is Bryan Bickell, but he played only 16 games during the 2009-10 regular season and four more in the playoffs. Bickell was scratched for the final two rounds.

However, Bickell now has emerged into a key third-line role. He has five goals and seven assists, arguably filling the hole left when Byfuglien departed for Atlanta following the 2009-10 season.

Second-year center Andrew Shaw has provided the type of energy, aggressiveness and defense that Bolland gave the 2010 Hawks when he was in a third-line role, and Viktor Stalberg essentially is playing the role of Versteeg in that he's offering some offense (13 points) and playing reliable defense.

Chicago's fourth line, with Marcus Kruger between Daniel Carcillo and Michael Frolik, arguably has more skill than the 2010 fourth line of Eager, Madden and Brouwer.

Carcillo, who scored the game-winner Wednesday in the final minute against Colorado, is an in-your-face energy guy. Kruger, in his second full NHL season, has nine points and has become one of Chicago's top penalty-killing forwards. Frolik, another skilled fourth-liner, also is one of the Blackhawks' most effective penalty killers.

Chicago, by the way, enters Friday's game second in the NHL on the penalty kill at 89 percent.

And anytime Quenneville feels his lineup needs some more toughness, he can turn to Jamal Mayers or Brandon Bollig. Mayers has played in 12 games, Bollig 11, and they've combined for two assists and 54 penalty minutes.

Saad and Shaw were shrewd selections in the 2011 NHL Draft. Stalberg arrived from Toronto in the Versteeg trade. Carcillo and Mayers were both signed July 1, 2011 when Bowman had more financial flexibility a year out from winning the Cup.


Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook were the stalwarts in 2010 and remain that in 2013. The blue line is built around these two stars.

Johnny Oduya has replaced Brian Campbell as Niklas Hjalmarsson's partner, giving the Hawks a similar second pair to what they had in 2010. Oduya skates and moves the puck much like Campbell, while Hjalmarsson's game has evolved to combine physicality and some skill.

Duncan Keith
Duncan Keith
Defense - CHI
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 11 | PTS: 12
SOG: 42 | +/-: 3
The fact that Bowman had to give up only draft picks (this year's picks in the second and third rounds) to get Oduya from the Winnipeg Jets at the trade deadline last season speaks to the standout scouting Chicago has done to re-acquire the depth they lost.

Chicago's third pair notably is better than what it had in 2010 with a combination of Brent Sopel, Jordan Hendry and Nick Boynton.

Nick Leddy, 21, is showing signs that one day he'll be considered one of the top puck-moving blue-liners in the game. He's playing only 16 minutes per game because the Hawks' top four has been so good.

Leddy is another example of Chicago's top-end scouting. The Hawks gave up Cam Barker, who now is struggling to keep a regular job in the NHL, to get Leddy and Kim Johnsson on Feb. 12, 2010.

Veteran defensemen Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival rotate as the sixth man on the blue line. Both are stable and experienced.


Instead of keeping Antti Niemi in Chicago, Bowman chose to match the four-year, $14 million offer sheet Hjalmarsson signed with the San Jose Sharks. It was essentially a trade because Niemi wound up signing with San Jose and has continued to develop into one of the top goalies in the NHL.

Ray Emery
Ray Emery
Goalie - CHI
RECORD: 10-0-0
GAA: 2.02 | SVP: 0.925
Two and a half years later, the Blackhawks' goaltending finally has caught up to what Niemi is doing in San Jose.

Corey Crawford and Ray Emery are providing the steady play and timely saves a team with this much talent needs in order to win. It's exactly what was missing last season.

Bowman and Quenneville showed their faith in the duo after each had rocky 2011-12 seasons, and they've responded by making Hawks fans put the loss of Niemi behind them and forget about the failed experiments with Cristobal Huet and Marty Turco.

Crawford is tied for 22nd in the League in starts, but tied for first with 11 wins. He's also second in goals-against average (1.53) and save percentage (.940).

Ottawa's Craig Anderson leads both categories, but he hasn't played since Feb. 21.

Emery has won all 10 of his starts, posting a 2.02 GAA and .925 save percentage in the process.


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