Stanley Cup or bust for Hawks

2010 team has what 2013 squad wants. How do they compare?

April 29, 2013|By Brian Hedger | For RedEye

It's a natural comparison, at least on the surface.

The 2013 Blackhawks finished with the most points in the NHL and head into the playoffs as serious Stanley Cup contenders just three years after winning hockey's ultimate prize.

After locking the "core group" of stars into contract extensions and losing key role players from the 2010 team, it's taken two frustrating seasons for the Hawks to re-emerge as a powerhouse. They've done it, though, and the journey has brought a cast of new characters.

This team still has Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.

There are enough similarities to the 2010 team to warrant a closer look, so that's what we'll do—even though the current Hawks still have the matter of winning Lord Stanley's Cup left on their plate.

Can they cross the NHL's finish line in first place? As coach Joel Quenneville likes to say, "We'll see."

BETWEEN THE PIPES

Cristobal Huet held the starting role for most of the 2009-10 season, with Antti Niemi as his backup. After Huet stumbled in March, Niemi took over heading into the playoffs and played every game in the postseason.

This season, Corey Crawford and Ray Emery have split the role. Both have shined, too, causing many to wonder if the Hawks will have a "goalie controversy" in the playoffs. Both insist that won't happen and say the Cup is all that matters.

THE BEARDS

In 2010, Kris Versteeg looked like a fisherman who went to sea without razors. Adam Burish looked a little biblical, with long hair to go with his beard. That, of course, made it even better when he chirped with opposing players in very colorful, non-biblical ways. Other notable beard-growers from 2010: Patrick Sharp and Troy Brouwer.

The 2013 team still has Sharp, and youngsters Nick Leddy and Brandon Saad might more than make up for those lacking in the facial-hair department. Leddy just turned 22 and Saad is 20, but they might have full Grizzly Adams-style face blankets by Game 2 of the first round. There's a reason Saad is called "The Manchild," and it's not just because of his advanced skill for his age.

Others with playoff beard potential: Brandon Bollig, Viktor Stalberg and pretty much anybody named "Michael" or "Michal."

'SOUPY' IN THE HOUSE?

Brian "Soupy" Campbell was an integral part of the 2010 team. His skating ability as a puck-moving defenseman was invaluable and his leadership was both quiet and effective. He's a Florida Panther now. A lot of that puck-carrying duty in 2013 has fallen to Leddy—who also is a great skater. Leddy is even quieter than Campbell was but has set a great example for other young Hawks with his play.

'BUFF' ENOUGH?

Dustin "Big Buff" Byfuglien was a one-of-a-kind player who could play defenseman or forward despite his massive size. The Hawks really took off after coach Joel Quenneville made Byfuglien a net-front presence instead of a defenseman in the Western Conference semifinals – tormenting rival Vancouver with his size and heavy shot. It snowballed from there on the path to the Cup.

Ever since Byfuglien was traded following the 2010 season, the Hawks have come up empty in the search for a replacement. The closest they've come is the 5-foot-11, 180-pound Andrew Shaw – who's a pest around the net, but is almost literally half Byfuglien's size. That said, if any current Blackhawk would wear Buff's lime green Kermit the Frog tennis shoes to a victory parade, it's probably Shaw.

WHO'S "STEEGER"?

This one's easy. It's Viktor Stalberg, the towering Swede who came to Chicago in the deal that sent Versteeg to Toronto. He plays the same right wing spot on the third line that Versteeg played in 2010, scores about as often as Versteeg did and even has blinding speed. And an informal poll of the ladies indicates Stalberg is better looking.

It should be noted however, that "Steeger" belted out his own rap song in front of 2 million people, a capella, at the victory parade—depicting himself doing the breaststroke through an underground tunnel in his pool that leads to a Jacuzzi on the other side full of women wearing his jersey.

Top that one, Stalberg.

SAME AS THEY EVER WERE

The "depth players" are a big reason the 2013 team ran away with the Western Conference, but if it weren't for the "core group" of stars from the 2010 team plus Quenneville, the Hawks wouldn't be close to where they finished.

The Hawks still have playoff-tested stars and regular role players in Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Bolland and Niklas Hjalmarsson. They're the motor that drives the car, and like the 2010 team, the role players and stars-to-be (Leddy, Saad etc.) are additional horsepower.

That makes Quenneville the mustachioed guy snapping on the driving gloves and firing up the engine with two new assistants in the "pit crew" this time around (Mike Kitchen and Jamie Kompon).

Brian Hedger is a RedEye special contributor. @brianhedger

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