Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Five Reasons the Hawks Won't Win the Stanley Cup

I stirred myself up a bit re-reading my blog today (hey, somebody has to keep the page view numbers up) and felt an urge to write again. I know I said "wake me in April" just yesterday about the NHL, but I've got a couple more stones to throw. The league's "best" team right now is the Chicago Blackhawks and all the hockey pundits are smiling as if they've just let loose a huge fart and blamed it successfully on someone else -- they called it. They all said the Wings would be too tired, too old, too every-excuse-in-the-book to compete for the Central Division again this season and the fresh new Hawks would reign. Well, statistics and standings say those smug, so-called experts are right on the money. I say they're still wrong.

If the Blackhawks hold on to win the first non-Detroit Central Division title in many years -- still a big 'if' in my book -- there's a huge mountain to climb afterward that they have no chance to summit: Lord Stanley's Cup. These Blackhawks won't win it. Here's why.
  • Cristobal Huet. He's never shown he can be counted on in the playoffs and his stats this season are ridiculously misleading. He has the seventh-best GAA in the league at 2.17, but that's all Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook's doing. The better stat to look at is his 26th-best .908 save percentage. That's not going to get any better this year and it'll get worse in the playoffs. Huet is a headcase and he can't bail out his defense when they make a mistake. Goaltending is the most important piece of the puzzle in a Cup run, and the Hawks don't have it.
  • Marian Hossa. Sounds like sour grapes, doesn't it? Well, I won't deny that seeing him in a Hawk uniform or a Hawk headline makes me cringe a bit, but the motivation to have him on this list is warranted. Hossa was a no-show in last year's playoffs for the mighty Wings. He hid behind Zetterberg and Datsyuk and Franzen, and he'll do the same behind Toews and Kane and Sharp. The Hawks will count on him for points and he won't produce. He's not a clutch player; I learned that much last year when he disappeared in the two biggest games of his life (games six and seven of last year's finals). He's driving himself crazy trying to coast his way to a Cup, but a championship is earned (except of course in the Penguins' case). Hossa's lackadaisical playoff play will sink the Hawks.
  • Joel Quenneville. The guy's got a great resume, good rapport with his players and one helluva mustache, but that won't get you sippin' out of Stanley. Here's an interesting comparison for you. Quenneville-coached teams in the playoffs since 1996 have won nine series -- he beat the Kings, Coyotes, Sharks, Stars, Blackhawks, Stars, Wild, Flames, and Canucks. Quenneville-coached teams in the playoffs since 1996 have lost 10 series -- he faltered against Detroit, Detroit, Dallas, San Jose, Colorado, Detroit, Vancouver, Anaheim, Detroit and Detroit. Six of the teams he lost to went on to win Stanley Cups. None of the teams he's defeated strikes me as a legitimate contender. Translation: he can't win the big one. He's hockey's Marty Schottenheimer; he'll win plenty of games for ya and getcha into the playoffs, but don't plan on raising any banners the following season.
  • Jonathan Toews. One of the few players on the Hawks that I like and respect, Toews is a great player and has many great years ahead of him. But he's 21 years old and he'll be called upon to lead his team to a championship. Somehow, I don't see that ridiculous outcome happening two years in a row. Youth is tricky to judge, but in almost all cases, the veteran teams win out. I hope that bodes well for the Wings, but even if it doesn't, I can see other teams stepping in to level the chances of Toews and his baby Hawks.
  • Common sense and experience. A team two years removed from the league basement doesn't win a Stanley Cup. Maybe a Super Bowl or an NBA title, but not a Stanley Cup. The road is too long, too tough, too much for a bunch of young punks to break through that quickly. And they are a group of young punks: the only guy on their roster with his name on the Cup is John Madden, the Eastern-Conference version of Kris Draper.
It all adds up to one thing: they're just not there yet. Chicago hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1961 -- that's 48 years for you English majors out there -- and that drought will stay dry for another season. As I see it, they'll be lucky to make it back to the conference finals. Go Wings.