Forget about celebration hangovers and short summers, the biggest threat to the Chicago Blackhawks' hopes to repeat as Stanley Cup champion might be the salary cap.
The cloud that has hung over the NHL since the end of the lockout in 2005 literally shadowed the Blackhawks’ parade just days after they claimed their first title since 1961 with a six-game win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Gone is 25-year-old postseason hero Dustin Byfuglien, who scored a team-high 11 playoff goals, including five game-winners; top goalie Antti Niemi; and others who provided key roles in the run to the championship. In all, the Blackhawks sent away eight players to get under this season’s salary ceiling of $59.4 million.
“Everybody was talking about players getting traded and what the team was going to look like next year, while at the same time we’re trying to enjoy what we just did,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said.
Chicago was clearly the best team in June, but the Blackhawks certainly will face strong claims to that distinction as hockey gets rolling again Thursday. The regular season opens with a five-game slate.
“That’s the worst part about it, seeing some of your best friends leave,” star forward Patrick Kane said. “ They were obviously instrumental in what we did.
“If you look at our team this year, it’s kind of a new team. It’s a new challenge. Of course you want to keep that team together, but it’s just not the way the NHL works anymore. You’ve got to make changes.”
The Detroit Red Wings, the NHL’s last repeat champion in 1997 and 1998, might be poised to reclaim the Western Conference title they held the previous two years. With Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and ageless defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom healthy and hungry, the Red Wings are happy to slip under the radar and let the Blackhawks carry the burden of the bull’s-eye.
The Tampa Bay Lightning dipped into Detroit’s deep pool of success and hired Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman as general manager.
Five teams have new hope with new coaches, including four clubs that missed the playoffs: Atlanta (Craig Ramsay), Columbus (Scott Arniel), Edmonton (Tom Renney) and Tampa Bay (Guy Boucher).
Everyone will be getting used to a pair of new rules.
The ban on blindside shoulder hits to the head, adopted during last season’s playoffs, now carries a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
The NHL has also instituted size-specific goaltender pads. Before this season, the rule provided only for a maximum pad length of 38 inches. Now the rule specifies a maximum size for each goalie.