CHICAGO | Like any other team cherishing its talented core, the Blackhawks still will regularly make tweaks and freshen up a roster as part of the endless sports cycle.
Comcast/WGN/NBC-TV analyst Eddie Olczyk wants the Hawks to do a bit more than tinkering in the off-season just started. The Brother Rice alum, ex-Hawks player and former Penguins coach believes the dethroned Stanley Cup champs require a “jolt” and need to get “bigger,” ostensibly to ward off intruders in the crease and muscle up in the corners.
But when Hawks general manager Stan Bowman was offered up Olczyk’s scouting report in a season post-mortem Tuesday at the United Center, he seemed to beg to disagree while proclaiming wholesale changes are “not warranted at this point.”
“What we need to do is stick to what we’ve done in the past,” Bowman said. “We certainly know our team very well. We understand the strengths of our team. We play a fast game. We have a lot of skilled offensive players.
“There will be some new faces coming next year. The most important thing for is to maintain that same style of play. It’s been successful for us obviously the last few seasons. We’re not going to deviate because that’s what the core of our team does well.”
The Los Angeles Kings defeated the Hawks 5-4 in overtime of Game 7 Sunday to win the Western Conference final.
One immediate challenge is tightening up the defense that is stressed first and foremost by coach Joel Quenneville. But the defense seemed to show cracks against the Kings, and at the worst times. In vintage form, the Hawks’ “D” could slow any high-scoring playoff opponent.
“A little better defensively,” was winger Brandon Saad’s No. 1 wish for improvement going into next season.
Quenneville didn’t mention different defenders, only better execution. “Awareness” he said. “What can be preventable … we did score enough goals to win (in the conference finals).”
Locking up franchise faces Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews long-term this summer with raises well above each’s $6.3 million salary-cap hit will be Bowman’s “highest priority” over importing big-name new faces. Neither Kane nor Toews professed to have thought much about potential new deals, but their intentions were obvious Tuesday.
“We both love it here in Chicago,” said Kane. An echo came from Toews: “Absolutely – who could ever think of a better situation to be in?”
Bowman said he’s very interested in re-upping his two restricted free agents. Winger Ben Smith has “shown that progression we’re looking for,” he said, as perhaps the most improved Hawk who got himself promoted from the fourth line to second-line and scoring duties.
Smith has little interest in moving on. “This is the place where you want to be,” he said.
Backup goalie Antti Raanta also is targeted in the same role coming back.
Winger Jeremy Morin, who played well at season’s end only to be sidelined by Quenneville throughout the postseason, will get first crack at a starting job in camp. Meanwhile, the organization may go slower with much-hyped rookie Teuvo Teravainen, who some will point to as the long-awaited second-line center.
“I don’t mind playing young guys,” Quenneville said.
However, Bowman said the Hawks will not rush their top prospects into the lineup before their time.
Young veterans may block Teravainen’s quest for second-line duties. Quenneville once again endorsed his high-scoring, high-speed conference finals line of Kane, Saad and promoted center Andrew Shaw.
“We jelled pretty quick,” Saad said.
To a man, the Hawks did not like where they were Tuesday, offering mea culpas and looking to 2014-15 after the Kings outlasted them Sunday night.
“Still in hockey mode,” winger Patrick Sharp said. “It still stings.”