You're the Chicago Blackhawks GM and you're still basking in the afterglow of hockey's biggest prize. Your superstars finally, mercifully came to the fore and iced the series when it counted. So, now you don't have to answer all those questions about heart, soul, grit and determination during the offseason. The members of the Fourth Estate, particularly those based in Chicago, will sing your praises instead of question your leadership. All is well in Chi-Town and you are now the toast of the town.
But you can't rest on your laurels. The only thing that will come of your success next season is a big bulls-eye on the back of your team's jerseys now that your name has been engraved on Lord Stanley's Cup. What to do, who to keep and who to let walk away? Let's take a look at what the 2013-2014 season holds in store for the reigning champs.
NHL Odds - Chicago Blackhawks +750 at WilliamHill.com
With a Stanley Cup sitting on their mantle, the Hawks have still not convinced the oddsmakers that they should be the top dog in the NHL odds futures. That distinction rests with the fleet-footed Pittsburgh Penguins at 6-1. It's a bit of a shock, particularly where the Blackhawks have a rock solid Cory Crawford tending the twine while the Penguins are confounded by the streaky and sometimes downright lousy play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Whether or not Fleury is tapped to resume his duties in net for Pittsburgh is still a question mark while Crawford's status is unequivocal.
The NHL draft on Sunday afternoon officially spelled the end of the road for some members of the 2013 Stanley Cup winning edition of the Chicago Blackhawks. Center Dave Bolland must be wondering what he did to deserve a ticket out of town after scoring the winning goal that handed the Cup to the Blackhawks. Bolland was dealt to the Maple Leafs for a 2nd round pick (Carl Dahlstrom - Defenseman, Linkoping J20, Sweden), a 4th rounder (Robin Norell - Defenseman, Djurgarden, U18, Sweden) and a 2014 fourth-round pick as well.
Shortly after Bolland got his walking papers, GM Stan Bowman exiled the man who assisted on Bolland's Game 6 game winner Michael Frolik to the desolate outlands of Winnipeg. In return, the Blackhawks got another injection of youth when they exchanged the 3rd and 5th rounders they received into 17-year-old center John Hayden and 18-year-old center Luke Johnson. While it will be several years before we know how well this turned out for the Blackhawks, we do know they shed almost 5 ½ million dollars off their payroll by dealing Bolland and Frolik.
With that windfall Chicago will go to work and sign Bryan Bickell who lit up the postseason with nine goals, eight assists and a +11 rating. They can't let a 6'4" power forward walk away in the prime of his career and they won't. Unrestricted free agents Ray Emery, Michal Handzus, Jamal Mayers, Michal Rozsival and Viktor Stalberg will all be available to seek greener financial pastures. Perhaps the most talented is backup goalie Ray Emery who posted a sublime 17-1 record to go along with numbers virtually identical to Corey Crawford's in terms of GAA (1.94 vs. 1.94), save percentage (.922 vs. .926) and three shutouts for both. Chances are Emery will be wearing a different sweater next season but pocketing far north of the $1.15 million he made this season.
Will the Hawks repeat?
The Blackhawks ran away with the Western Conference Central and it appears as though realignment will only make the task easier this season regardless of what the NHL decides to name their newly configured division. The Red Wings and Columbus will be moving out while Minnesota, Dallas, Colorado and Winnipeg will fill the void when the NHL consolidates six divisions into four next season.
But getting to the playoffs is not the issue for a team as talented as Chicago. Repeating as Stanley Cup winners is the trick. I believe they have as good a shot as any of the top contenders. Their team has not been deconstructed due to free agency. Their depth players remain as do their superstars. The Blackhawks are +750 for our Futures NHL picks and I say you could do much worse than back the reigning champs.