By Adam Hess
A rarely discussed byproduct of appearing in five Western Conference Finals and winning three Stanley Cups over the course of seven seasons is just how much hockey that means you’re playing. In addition to an 82 game regular season, winning the Stanley Cup means you’ve played 20-25 postseason games.
Prior to the start of the 2015-16 NHL season, the Blackhawks had played 654 NHL games, not counting preseason games, since the start of the 2008-09 season. Add 82 regular season games to that, and Chicago had played 736 games before their first-round series with the St. Louis Blues this postseason.
In short: that’s a whole lot of hockey.
When other teams had offseasons that lasted six months, the Blackhawks have been regularly operating on three or four months of rest, particularly in the last three years. Add in additional contests such as the All-Star Game and Olympics, and you have, again, a whole lot of hockey.
Over the last eight seasons, Brent Seabrook has played more regular season games than all but nine other NHL players. In that same span, the seven players with the most playoff games played are, in order, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, and Seabrook. Do those names feel a bit familiar?
Good teams can overcome a lot of things, even fatigue. But for this year’s Blackhawks, the fatigue was so obvious that Seabrook, who’s played more hockey than any other NHL player in the last several years when including Olympics, looked a step slow all year. His possession numbers suffered, and when he was paired with Trevor van Riemsdyk – which happened often – they were one of the NHL’s worst defensive pairs.
What’s crazy about this Blackhawks team, though, is that they just about overcame it all. It came down to a Game 7 against one of the NHL’s best teams, losing by the slimmest of margins. It took the Blues a third period goal after a bad turnover and a tremendous stroke of luck in a Seabrook shot hitting both posts to finish the Blackhawks off.
At the end of the day, the Blackhawks were simply not the best team in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s hard to admit because we’ve grown so accustomed to them being the best.
Truthfully, it might be for the best that the Blackhawks are already out of the playoffs. They’ll now get a much longer postseason to recover, Stan Bowman has more time to find solutions to the impending Cap doom, and we don’t have to stress over more playoff hockey.
So enjoy the summer, folks. It won’t be long before we’re back watching the Blackhawks look to bring their Cup back home.