CHICAGO – The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks believe they can buck both recent history and the impact of league’s salary cap.
No team has won consecutive Cups since Detroit captured back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998. Plus, the Blackhawks have been forced to shed eight players to remain under the US$59.4 salary cap since capturing their first championship since 1961 last June.
The remaining Blackhawks players see no reason why they can’t repeat with what will again be one of the youngest teams in the NHL.
“As far as I’ve heard, no one is picking us to win this year, which is something that may work in our favour,” captain Jonathan Toews said Friday, a day before training camp opens. “We know the challenges—the short off-season, the (personnel) changes—and we can go on and on about those things.
“The most important thing is that we’re all ready to go,” he added. “We’re all excited to be back here. We want to have fun just playing hockey and get back into the routine.”
After the regular season begins Oct. 7, Toews believes his team will eventually take its place back at or near the top of the league standings.
“If you look at all the trades and everything that has changed this year, it still doesn’t matter,” he said. “There’s no lack of talent up and down our lineup. We’re still looking pretty good.”
Gone are playoff heroes Antti Niemi and Dustin Byfuglien. Niemi was solid in goal, playing all but one period during the team’s playoffs run. Byfuglien was a huge physical presence who added timely scoring.
Niemi has been replaced by veteran Marty Turco, who turned down more lucrative offers and signed a $1.3 million, one-year deal.
“We lost a lot of guys, but you still have those core guys who have been here for a while,” said forward Patrick Kane, whose overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals secured Chicago’s championship. “The guys we did lose were more depth guys on the team.”
Kane believes the new players will blend in quickly, especially since several have played with current Blackhawks in the minors or during NHL call-ups. Troy Brouwer, a six-foot-three right wing who figures to pick up some slack for Byfuglien, agreed.
“I don’t think it will take very long,” he said. “A lot of us have played together. It will be here in Chicago now.”
Blackhawks players add they’re hungry for another Cup, even after a summer of celebration, and the newcomers may add motivation to the mix.
“You realize all feelings and emotions you had after a great season like that and it makes you want to do it again,” Kane said. “Guys like Marty Turco, and other players who have come in, they’re here to win a championship.”
Defenceman Brian Campbell anticipates ups-and-downs, but maintains the Blackhawks have enough skill and determination to repeat.
“That’s what we’re after and it’s ours until someone takes it away,” he said. “The guys won’t want anybody to take it away from us. It’s going to be an 82-game regular season and a long playoff schedule.”
General manager Stan Bowman said he’s close finding a place for goaltender Cristobal Huet to play this season and eliminating his $5.6 million annual salary cap hit. He hopes to assign Huet to a team in Europe, and Huet will not be in training camp.
“You have to place him on waivers first and he has to clear waivers to be assigned. He could be claimed by another team,” Bowman said.
If another NHL club doesn’t take Huet, the Blackhawks would still be liable for paying his salary. The 35-year-old Huet is entering the third year of a $22.5 million, four-year contract he signed in July 2008.