Did we over-estimate the Blackhawks or under-estimate the Coyotes? Phoenix will advance to the 2nd round of the playoffs for the first time in a long time after eliminating the 2010 Stanley Cup champions in 6 games. Mike Smith was the MVP of the series, and he has now officially arrived as a top goaltender in the NHL. This was not a case of the Coyotes roster outplaying the Hawks roster, but rather Mike Smith being the best player on the ice for either team. Toews and Kane earned their pay cheques in the playoffs, leading the team in scoring, but not scoring quite enough. The first 5 games in the series went to overtime, so any number of bounces could have easily changed the final outcome.
Rest assured that next season, the Chicago Blackhawks will be just as good, if not a little bit better. They have a solid young core with Stanley Cup rings, and will be a perennial contender for at least a few more years. There is no consideration of blowing up the Chicago roster, as it is young enough and skilled enough that you need only tinker. Hopefully Marian Hossa will be able to return at full strength next season, otherwise it would be best if he retired or stayed hurt allowing the team the space needed to add another major piece. That contract was a major burden from the moment they signed it, over $5M per season until 2021. Patrick Sharp becomes all the more expensive next season from $3.9M to $5.9M, with Toews and Kane each making $6.3M for 3 more seasons. Steve Montador for 3 more seasons at $2.75M certainly looks like a terrible contract in hindsight, even before the head injury.
Corey Crawford might come at a nice price ($2.7M for 2 more years), but he took a step backwards this season. He has the ability to play great games, but he can be beaten. To be fair to Chicago fans, Anti Niemi wasn't dynamite this year either. There is no reason for Chicago fan to despair. They won the Cup 2 years ago and will have a contender in 2013. Have faith. They'll be back. Andrew Shaw looks like a home run. Jimmy Hayes, Bryan Bickell, Marcus Kruger, Viktor Stallberg, and Dan Carcillo are all usefull components costing less than a million dollars. These bargain players will allow the Hawks to have solid depth despite carrying 6 players over $5 million dollars. Not sure Brunette will be back. Leddy needs to improve his defensive play.