Hawks to face challenges in repeat attempt

Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks know it won't be easy to repeat as Cup champions. Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

CHICAGO -- Scotty Bowman knows a few things about repeating as Stanley Cup champions.

Bowman accomplished the feat four times in his coaching career. He repeated three consecutive times with the Montreal Canadiens in the 1970s and won back-to-back Cups with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. That Detroit team is the last one to win consecutive championships.

Bowman, who is the Blackhawks senior advisor for hockey operations and the father of Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman, admitted that the Blackhawks are facing a monstrous climb to become the first team in the 21st century to win consecutive Stanley Cups, but he didn’t believe it was impossible.

“It’s not an easy task,” Scotty said during the Blackhawks convention. “In the past 20 or 20-plus years, it’s only happened a couple of times and there’s a lot of factors going into it because when you do win the target’s on your back throughout the regular season.

“I think the first thing you do when you have a great team is you know you’re going to have some ups and downs. I always looked and now I look at the seven teams in our division; we’ve got to eliminate three of them. We’ve got to get in that top four. We want to be the best we can, but there’s a lot of factors that go into it. You’ve got injuries and you’ve got that target on your back all season long and it doesn’t go away because every time a team plays you they’re playing the Stanley Cup champion of the year previous and that’s the toughest part.”

For Stan, there was one necessary step to make before considering a repeat.

“You have to get to the playoffs first,” Stan said. “You can’t be assuming you’re in with the new format.”

The new format is the top three teams from the Central and Pacific divisions will earn playoff spots and two wild-card positions will be determined by the highest point totals of the remaining teams.

The Blackhawks haven’t failed to reach the playoffs since Stan took over as general manager in 2009, so let’s assume they make it again. From there, Stan knows it’s up for grabs.

“It’s a challenge because there’s a lot of parity in the NHL, and I think you’ve just got to look at the [2013] playoffs,” Stan said. “The way they went, the games were all so close. Certainly, you look back on it with pride the way we came through in those pressure moments, but the [Boston] Bruins are a good example. They were right there and they’re a competitive team, as well. The teams in the playoff mix, there’s not a huge difference between them, so it comes down to execution in critical moments.

“Once you’re in that [postseason] grouping, anything can happen. Injuries can play a part of it, but we’ve got experience now. We know how to win. That’s on our side, but it’s not going to be easy. The teams are going to be out to knock us off and they’re formidable opponents, as well. It just means we’ve got to be on top of our game from the get-go. That’s the challenge. Your opponents never seem to take the night off when they play against the Stanley Cup champions. We saw that a few years ago. That’s going to push us to be ready all year long and we’ll try to use that to our advantage that we’re going to be used to playing our opponents’ best game all year.”

One advantage the Blackhawks will have this around in their attempt to repeat is they will bring back nearly everyone from last year’s Stanley Cup roster. After their last Stanley Cup in 2010, Stan had to dismantle a large portion of the team due to the salary cap. Heading into the 2013-14 season, the Blackhawks only lose goaltender Ray Emery and forwards Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg from June’s Stanley Cup team.

Nikolai Khabibulin will replace Emery as the team’s backup goaltender, and the departed forwards are expected to be replaced by a number of prospects. Brandon Bollig, Ben Smith, Brandon Pirri, Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin and Drew LeBlanc are expected to be among the prospects given a close look at in training camp.

“We’re nearly into August and in about five to six weeks those players will be back on the ice, getting ready for training camp and preseason games, so I think the fact there will be three or four newer players on the team gives the real impetus to everybody,” Scotty said. “Those guys are going to be coming to really get a job because no jobs are handed to those guys. There’s probably six, seven players who are real good candidates and there’s only three or four openings. That gives a lot of competition to players coming in and the fact that young players develop.

“A lot of the players here played on that team in 2010 and there was a big changeover on that team. Half the team had to leave, but the other half that stayed, a lot of those half are still here and they all know what they went through.”

Another factor that could benefit the Blackhawks next season is most of the group has been through adversity together. They fought back from a 3-1 deficit to knock off the Red Wings in the Western Conference semifinals last season. They pushed back when down 2-1 to the Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals.

Blackhawks vice president/assistant to the president Al MacIsaac also pointed to the team’s 24-game points streak to start the 2013 season as something that could propel it next season.

“This past season with the 24-game unbeaten streak a lot of people asked us, ‘Well, your players must have put a lot of pressure on themselves to keep the streak alive,’” MacIsaac said. “I would say it’s just the opposite because the kind of people we have and the type of leadership we have. They approached it as just another game. So, there was no additional pressure. They were just playing games.

“And what happens on the other side of this, if you’re forced to play your best hockey all the time, your level of play stays at a higher level -- where some teams are trying to creep in or move strategically through the season to build up and get better and better as they approach the playoffs. I think our team’s going to be at a higher level because of the [motivation] of the teams they’re playing against and it’s going to probably put us in a good position.

“Physically, [it] is a difficult part of this sport, but the mental part of coming off winning the Stanley Cup is the toughest part. As long as our guys are getting rested well this summer and bring a fresh approach and our coaching staff manages it well next year, I don’t see any reason why we can’t have as much success and have that opportunity to stare at that Stanley Cup again.”