By Tracey Myers in Chicago
The Chicago Blackhawks wrapped up another season early. It was another post-season finished in the first round, another post-season completed before the month of April.
And now, the Blackhawks will be looking for answers - and, possibly, the right pieces - to get them back to lengthy post-seasons.
When the Blackhawks assembled this team in the fall, they thought they had answered some of their biggest questions from the previous season. The youth-central team was bolstered with longtime veterans who also brought some grit. They figured their power play would be as solid as it had been in previous seasons, and that Corey Crawford would pick up right where he left off in his rookie season.
Well, some of those didn't happen. The veterans were OK, but not a good enough supporting cast to buoy the Blackhawks when their stars had the slumps every player has every season. The power play was everywhere from sputtering to downright dismal. Crawford was up and down. And against the Phoenix Coyotes, all of those problems were exposed in six games.
The Blackhawks will look at how they can improve, but getting rid of core guys probably won't be one of the options.
"When you look at the guys we're talking about, they're all-star type players, difference makers. It doesn't make sense to trade one of those and get the same part back," general manager Stan Bowman said on Wednesday.
"We know these players, we've won with them. That's something that's very valuable. It's really not something we're fixating on, saying we need to move one of these key players just to move them out. I have a lot of faith in those guys; they've had several years of excellent hockey here."
Still, there are problems to fix. The Blackhawks' power play has gone through the wringer, with blame pointed to the way it was coached to the players' executing it. Players say they're missing a steady big body in front of the net on the advantage, and it's hard to argue against that.
As for Crawford, the Blackhawks have invested a multi-year deal in him and will probably stick with him. Bowman wasn't ruling anything out on any decisions right now. But coach Joel Quenneville said Crawford has a rebound in him.
"He's going to get more comfortable going into next year," he said. "It seems like on the goalie growth chart, you look at all the top goalies, their sophomore seasons don't quite measure up to rookie year. It's progression. The longer they're in the league, the more effective they are. I expect him to get better as we go along here."
Once again, the Blackhawks have some questions about their team. Once again, they've got a longer off-season than they would've liked to answer them.
"When you can't get to where you want to go, it's incredibly frustrating. So I'm not sure what's going to change or what has to," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. "When you win you tend to ask less questions, and when you don't you look for solutions. That's where we're at right now. You learn from the mistakes and experiences we've had and we've got to grow out of it."
Tracey Myers reports for CSN Chicago. Follow her @TramyersCSN
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