If you didn't see last night's game between the Wild and the Blackhawks, go hit Gamecenter or some other "subscription" service and do so. Playoff style hockey at maximum intensity. And a possible preview of a great playoff series.
First off, my belief in this Hawk team grows with each game. Am I ready to go all Dr. Strangelove and stop worrying and proclaim this team a Cup winner? No, I am most assuredly not.
However, I was pretty down on this team for much of the year. And now the possibilities are highly intriguing—especially if Stan Bowman can add a complementary piece. I think what may have changed there is what that complementary piece should be, and the reason for that change.
Jonathan Toews has been essentially written off for the last year-plus—by Hawk fans and non-Hawk fans alike. The narrative went something like this: "too many hard miles, now injury prone, not what he once was, in serious decline."
Some of us wondered however, if the issue wasn't losing Brandon Saad from his left wing and/or some chronic injury he was playing through. I've heard since that at least since the World Cup, and up until a few weeks ago, there was an injury, to Toews back, that he had been playing through all season. But a few weeks ago, once the back healed up, Toews' game began to emerge, as did his line, flanked by a rookie essentially right out of college and some guy named Panik (Panic?).
And in turn, the Hawks' prospects have brightened considerably.
It's not like we're seeing the Toews of old. At 28 years of age, this might be Toews truly entering his prime—the best Jonathan Toews we've ever seen.
Conversely, sure, it could be an aberration, a blip, a mirage.
But if so, it's a long one that is continuing now game after game.
Last night in St. Paul, Toews rocked the Wild to the tune of 3 goals (one empty netter) and two assists, just owning the Wild down low—as his entire line has the last few games—eerily reminiscent of Saad/Toews/Hossa, what might have been the best line in hockey in 2015.
His line in total had 8 points last night , including all 5 Chicago markers. And before I forget, Corey Crawford basically saved the Hawks in the first period, before they really found their stride in the second.
There are other positives—and possibilities— as well.
The defense pairings have solidified. Trevor van Riemsdyk and Bryan Campbell have become a pretty solid third pair, maybe the best the Hawks have had in years. This in turn has been made possible by the slow, admittedly ebbing and flowing, stabilization of Michal Kempny, playing mostly with Brent Seabrook but also some with Niklas Hjalmarsson.
The investment of time and tolerating mistakes in Kempny is, in my opinion, well worth it. his mobility and athleticism, as well as playing a fairly heavy style, could pay huge dividends down the line for the Hawks. Kempny gets to pucks and covers ice like few players can. And to my eye, his game seems to be smoothing out a bit.
Getting back to the possibility of a trade, perhaps Stan Bowman's focus is shifting to the Hawks' new "third line" where Marian Hossa is playing with the offensively challenged Marcus Kruger and Dennis Rasmussen. A great defensive eline—but with a 500+ goal scorer on it, can you get more out of it offensively?
I am starting to wonder—along with hearing some things— if a deal to acquire a Tomas Vanek, a Patrick Eaves or a Martin Hanzal, perhaps involving but not limited to Kruger (think of throw ins like Mark McNeill, Andrew Desjardins, a prospect, and/or a pick) might not be the really smart move—and what we will see before the deadline. The Hawks have the cap room to make it work and certainly, when it's about winning a 4th Stanley Cup in 7 years, it's great to have two scoring lines—but better to have three.
Let the speculation begin.