9:15 PM CST, February 17, 2013
CHICAGO — Between the time the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and the time each player enjoyed his day with the trophy, their roster had already been broken up because of salary-cap problems.
They kept their core but lost 10 regulars, mostly depth and grit players who were so vital to their success. Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd and others were gone quickly, none of them easily replaced.
Not until this season has General Manager Stan Bowman been able to reassemble as much depth and character, but the wait has been worth it. The Blackhawks' 3-2 victory over the Kings on Sunday improved their record to 12-0-3, tying them with the 1984-85 Edmonton Oilers for the second-longest streak without a regulation loss to start the season. The record of 12-0-4 was set by the 2006-07 Ducks. The Oilers and the Ducks won the Cup in those respective seasons.
The Blackhawks have thrived even though Patrick Sharp went 10 games without a goal and they lost much-improved goaltender Corey Crawford to an upper-body injury. Their plus-20 goal differential leads the NHL.
"It was tough to replace that depth. It took us some time," Bowman said Sunday. "We've tried to develop some guys from within and they're a little bit older now and have taken on bigger roles. And we've been able to acquire some other pieces from outside the organization. When you add it all up, I do think we've got that depth that kind of helped propel us to the Cup that year."
Their payroll is structured better now than it was in 2010, so this could be more than a one-and-done push.
"The year that we won the Cup, our three best players were also our lowest-paid players," Bowman said, referring to Duncan Keith, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, who were all on entry-level contracts.
"We knew they were going to jump way up. The same thing with Duncan Keith when he won the Norris Trophy. So those three players were not making much money the year we won the Cup, and that allowed us to have guys like Byfuglien and Ladd and Versteeg on our third and fourth lines.
"But we don't have that phenomenon this year. Everybody's signed. There's a few restricted free agents, but we don't have any of our main guys getting $5-million raises."
Bowman also said he has empathy for the Kings' struggles this season as defending champions.
"People talk about it, but you don't really realize it until you live it. Every team tends to play their best against you. They want to say, 'We played the Cup champions and we beat them,' " Bowman said. "So you never get those nights when the other team has an off night or their goalie struggles or they're not quite into it. ...
"We've been fortunate. We've been in a lot of close games and we've come out on the good end. It's tough. I certainly can understand what the Kings are going through."
Columbus' Kekalainen an NHL pioneer
The Columbus Blue Jackets weren't trying to make history last week when they hired Finnish-born Jarmo Kekalainen as their general manager, the first European to hold that title in the NHL.
They were trying to engineer a turnaround, a difficult job they have entrusted to a man whose nationality matters less than his extensive experience as a respected talent evaluator.
Kekalainen, 46, played college hockey at Clarkson and played briefly in the NHL before returning home to work for IFK Helsinki. He's credited with helping build the Ottawa Senators and the St. Louis Blues through his scouting excellence.
John Davidson, who became the Blue Jackets' director of hockey operations last summer, passed over Kekalainen for the GM job when both worked for the Blues. This time, Davidson found the case for Kekalainen to be overwhelming.
"There are no cultural differences with Jarmo. He speaks English fluently and he's more than qualified," Davidson said. "I don't know of many people who have the resume he does. He played in the NHL. He's lived in Canada. He's worked for Ottawa and St. Louis and went through many different drafts. He's been to all the little towns in the U.S. and Canada, and while he was working he took classes in management and marketing.
"That's a very extensive resume, with skills that are there for us to take advantage of."
After he didn't get the GM job in St. Louis, Kekalainen took a similar job with the Finnish team Jokerit. His return to the U.S. has been delayed by immigration red tape, but Davidson expects Kekalainen to join the team this week and begin zeroing in on players the Blue Jackets will target with the three first-round draft picks they own.
"We're going to rebuild one brick at a time," Davidson said, "and Jarmo is a very important brick for us."
The NHL and International Ice Hockey Federation are expected to touch base this week about NHL players' participation in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. They held two days of talks last week in New York. "I think we are conceptually in agreement on the broader issues and concerns, and now we will try to work through the details on a more granular level," NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said.
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