Cam Barker, Cristobal Huet and the Blackhawks sit tied with San Jose atop the Western Conference with 55 points. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
It’s certainly no revelation considering their lofty status in the NHL’s overall standings, but for my money there’s no better team in the world right now than the Chicago Blackhawks.
At times, the Windy City Assembly looks virtually unbeatable and the stats heading into Tuesday’s tilt in Dallas back that assertion: The Hawks own the best goals-for to goals-against ratio in the league at plus-37 (five better than the Capitals) and the most lopsided shots ratio at plus-347 (an average of almost 10 more per game); are the league’s best defensive squad, giving up a mere two goals per game; and have the league’s top penalty kill at 87.5 percent.
What was thought to be their one weakness – goaltending – has revealed itself as a strength as both Cristobal Huet (17-8-2, 2.13 GAA, .910 SP, 3 SO) and Antti Niemi (9-1-1, 1.81 GAA, .927 SP, 4 SO) have been constantly stellar and often spectacular.
Combine the solid goalkeeping with a deep blueline corps that can chip in offensively, too, and a group of forwards that can beat you 12 ways to Thursday and it’s no surprise most betting houses have Chicago favored at around 5-to-1 to claim Stanley’s chalice come June.
So why all this talk regarding what moves GM Stan Bowman and Co. should make this season in order to free up cap space for 2010-11?
There’s no doubt the Hawks are capital-S screwed this summer with, according to the incredibly informative capgeek.com, more than $60 million committed to just 15 players, not including burgeoning blueline star Niklas Hjalmarsson and future No. 1 Niemi, but none of that matters. Chicago’s only concern should be snapping the league’s longest current Cup drought of 47 seasons, not how best to position the club for next season and beyond.
If anything, the Blackhawks should be looking to add salary in the form of a rental player to aid their run. Why not do exactly what the Penguins did last season with Miro Satan when they acquired Bill Guerin at the deadline? Bury a player in the minors for the final two months of the season in order to free up more cap room and then recall him prior to the playoffs when salaries don’t mean one iota.
A real opportunity to win comes along very rarely and all caution should be thrown to the wind in order to achieve that immediate goal. Dynasty be damned.
Besides, as Stanley Cup-winning GM Jay Feaster explains in his most-recent THN.com Insider Blog, the optimal time to get maximum value on the trade market is during the off-season when other teams have space and optimism is at its highest, not at the deadline when fates are often decided and the ceiling looms.
No matter how you look at it, the right choice for the Hawks is to focus on winning in the here and now. There’s no trophy for best cap management.
You come across some fascinating and befuddling information while fact checking other writers’ columns. For instance, did you know during the 1994-95 lockout-shortened season, Alexei Zhamnov – Alexei Zhamnov! – of the Winnipeg Jets was third in league scoring, five points behind Jaromir Jagr and Eric Lindros and three ahead of Joe Sakic?
Unfortunately, the 2004-05 lockout wouldn’t bring the Russian the same luck as he’d play only 24 games with the Bruins (scoring one goal and 10 points) before shattering his ankle and being forced to retire.
Edward Fraser is the editor of thehockeynews.com. His blog appears Thursdays.
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