CHICAGO | The Blackhawks are going with chemistry, camaraderie and core talent rather than a big splash in the trade market as their down-the-stretch strategy.
While a host of big names, including goalies Ryan Miller and Roberto Luongo, were sent packing to new homes in the past few weeks up to Wednesday’s trade deadlines, the Hawks settled for adding role-player types like center Peter Regin and defenseman David Rundblad to round out the familiar two-time Stanley Cup champion core.
General manager Stan Bowman also is mindful of the salary-cap limitations in adjusting the roster. To add a big salary, he’d have to jettison almost equal dollars. He also must look ahead to eventual mandated long-term deals for franchise icons Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Mindful of the active talent peddling, Bowman was asked if the Hawks, fighting to win the Central Division behind the Miller-reinforced St. Louis Blues, have enough to win another Cup.
“I do,” he said. “That’s what we’re always focused on. You can never get ahead of yourselves because it’s a very competitive division and conference we’re in. That’s sort of where our focus is right now; you can’t really look too far down the road.
That said, the Hawks must upgrade their performance from within to overhaul the Blues, stay ahead of the resurgent Colorado Avalanche and have a long postseason run. The NHL’s top-scoring team has sagged in the last seven games going into Thursday’s visit by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In the two contests bookending the Olympic break, the Hawks came within 11 seconds of being shut out in both. The Hawks beat up on the Pittsburgh Penguins with five goals at Soldier Field on Saturday night, then were much quieter with just two against the Avalanche on Tuesday. And the scoring punch is challenged further with the short-term loss of 24-goal scorer Marian Hossa to an upper-body injury suffered at Soldier Field.
“Right now, it just seems like scoring isn’t happening for us as in the past,” Kane said. “I’m sure that comes and goes as the season goes on.
“For all of us, we’d like to produce a little bit more and put some goals on the board. I feel like if we get three or four goals, we have a good chance to win every game. At the same time, play good defense, but hopefully that turns into a lot more offense so we can produce on our power plays, our chances.”
Coach Joel Quenneville is another analyst who feels the scoring pace must return to its old efficiency. Bowman, though, said other vital signs have steadily been improving even before the recent scoring slump.
“One area we struggled with (early) this year was penalty killing, but it’s been creeping up since October,” he said. “It’s finally over 80 percent. We’re looking to keep pushing to get better at that. Our power play’s been consistent all year long. It’s been a very effective weapon for us. Special teams is very important. Beyond that, it’s just consistency, finding a way to get points.”
To both management and players, team makeup is even more critical than a big-name new face.
“We like our group here,” Bowman said. “Most of the guys have been together for a long time. They have a lot of chemistry. Everyone has a defined role. They understand what they’re supposed to do from the coaches’ perspective. They bought into their roles.
“Sometimes you bring in someone else, it upsets the apple cart a little bit. You have to spend a lot of time trying to re-assign different roles and find ice time for players. It’s tough to do that in a short amount of time.”
Kane is firmly behind his GM’s strategy.
“We feel we’ve had pretty much the same team the last three years as far as core guys,” he said. “We’ve had success with that. I’m sure everyone’s pretty comfortable with the team we have.”