The Chicago Blackhawks are facing hefty expectations to make a deep playoff run this season.
While the 'Hawks are going about their day-to-day business, players know that the organization and fans expect a run at the Stanley Cup when the season starts on January 19.
Star winger Patrick Kane said he liked what he saw on the first day of practice and that the Blackhawks can make it all the way this season (via Scott Powers of ESPN):
I think everyone wants to impress and show they're in good shape on the first day. I think you saw a lot of that. I think if you look at our lineup up and down we have a lot of depth, and a team that we think can go pretty far and do some special things. It's going to be a different type of season obviously, but looking forward to it.
The 'Hawks failed to make it past the first round the past two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup. This prompted stories that both coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman are on the hot seat this season.
Rightfully so: The Blackhawks are a much better team than what has been shown in the last two seasons.
The 2011 playoffs ended in the first round at the hands of the Vancouver Canucks. But that was excused mainly because the 'Hawks won the Stanley Cup the year before.
Heading into the 2012 playoffs as a sixth seed seemed out of place for the Blackhawks. To make matters worse, the they lost to the underdog Phoenix Coyotes in six games.
Expectations are very high for this young team, the highest they've been since winning the Stanley Cup.
If the 'Hawks fail to succeed now, expect major changes come the offseason. Changes are almost a guarantee at this point considering how much the organization stresses winning.
It's very, very important to us to make sure that we give our fan base a real purpose. It's based on a commitment of consistent excellence. It's based on a commitment of doing everything we can to put a winning team on the ice, giving Stan (Bowman) resources that he needs and Joel (Quenneville) the team he needs to win. There will certainly be other things we'll be doing at some point this week to announce further fan commitment.
The talent on this team should guarantee Chicago a playoff spot each season and at least a first-round win.
A 48-game season will offer the 'Hawks a great opportunity to go their farthest since winning it all back in 2010.
A young core backed up by even younger depth will only help the Blackhawks endure the hardships of a crunched together 48-game season. They will have all the energy and momentum against other teams as the season drudges on—the situation is setting up perfectly.
Of course, nothing in reality ever goes perfectly, a minor or even major injury could derail any of these plans for the organization.
Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa could be knocked out of a game, costing the Blackhawks dearly as the season progresses. The possibility of an injury is more likely due to the shortened schedule and amount of games on the slate.
What about Corey Crawford? If he fails to play better coming into this season, the Blackhawks may have to trade for someone proven in the playoffs.
But what's really troubling is how a team, with as much skill that the Blackhawks, can be ranked in the bottom half of the NHL on the power play. It's almost a bad joke considering the amount of talent on the roster. That will be a major talking point this season if it isn't fixed within the first 10 games.
For all the negative, the Blackhawks still have a very good chance.
Luck will have to be on their side for some games, but this team has a winning formula. Let's just hope they figure out what that formula is before it's too late.
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