Cold Steel And Ass-Kicking: The Blackhawks Are Going All The Way

[from The A.V. Club Chicago / March 11, 2010]

The NHL playoffs are still a month away, but let the rest of the league be put on notice: The Chicago Blackhawks will win the 2010 Stanley Cup. Yes, there are plenty of games left to be played, but a look around the league simply makes the Hawks’ case for them. Cowardly fans of lesser teams might call this unjustified boasting; The A.V. Club calls victory a foregone conclusion, and thinks it’s high time the rest of Chicago, nay, the world agrees. Here’s why:

The Hawks’ biggest problem isn’t a problem at all
When the Detroit Red Wings came to town last Sunday and lit up the Hawks for five goals in the second period, many saw this as proof of goalie Cristobal Huet’s uselessness (his save percentage ranks an abysmal 38th among starting goalies). This sounds bad, but also belies Huet’s excellent 2.38 goals allowed per game—10th-best in the league, and sixth-best in the Western Conference. No one would describe Huet’s skill in the crease as elite, but when the Chicago defensive line allows fewer shots per game than anyone else, it doesn’t have to be.

They have no real competition
On the surface, a few teams appear to stand in the Hawks’ way, but none show the type of balance needed to go toe-to-toe with the class of the NHL. The Penguins and Sharks boast gaudier goal tallies than the Hawks, but both clubs have enjoyed the luxury of feasting on the dregs of their horrendous divisions—both New York teams for the Pens, and Dallas and Anaheim offered up as easy prey to the Sharks. The Capitals’ Eastern-leading (and Hawks-surpassing) +74 goal differential looks impressive, but that number would be closer to +100 were it not for the 182 goals their porous defense and absentee goalkeeper have allowed—more than the lowly Blues have given up, and 26 more than the Hawks (as of Wednesday). And what of those pesky Red Wings, the perpetual thorns in the Hawks’ side? Handcuffed by a lackluster offense with the fourth fewest goals in the Western Conference, they too have fallen—and even the Hockeytown faithful admit they can’t get up. If John Q. Law can’t stop a Hawk, how can a middling team from Detroit?

The Blackhawks are this city’s only hope
The Fire went to last year’s MLS Eastern Conference finals only to lose to Real Salt Lake (and then say goodbye to star defender Gonzalo Segares). The Bulls, no matter how many ho-hum deals they make, are an also-ran at best. Similarly, the Bears are still four or five top-tier free agent signings away from true contention. Meanwhile, the Sox and Cubs find themselves starting their respective seasons intentionally shorthanded and at the mercy of their competition, leaving the Blackhawks as Chicago’s only immediate shot at ultimate victory. While they unquestionably need us, the sad state of the city’s other professional sports teams means we, like it or not, need the Hawks even more.