Time to see what the next wave of Blackhawks can do

SHARE Time to see what the next wave of Blackhawks can do
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Russia’s Artemi Panarin, whom the Blackhawks have signed, competes in the World Championships on May 6. (AP Photo)

Brad Richards, with the Stanley Cup to his left, his “new best friend” Patrick Kane to his right, and more than 60,000 adoring fans in front of him at Soldier Field, couldn’t help himself. As he passed by the lectern on stage Thursday morning, he leaned into the mic and said, “Kaner has some pull around here. Maybe you’ll want me back.”

They all want to come back to the Blackhawks. Money be damned, they all want to come back. Antoine Vermette wants to stay. Johnny Oduya wants to stay. Marcus Kruger wants to stay. Andrew Desjardins wants to stay. Michal Rozsival wants to stay. David Rundblad wants to stay. Patrick Sharp and Bryan Bickell want to stay.

And why not? Who wouldn’t want to live in Chicago? Who wouldn’t want to play in front of 22,000 fans a night? Who wouldn’t want to skate alongside superstars? And who wouldn’t want to have a chance to contend for the Stanley Cup — and to experience another parade, another rally — year after year after year?

“The money’s going to come and go,” Brandon Saad said. “But to win championships and play on a great team, that’s what it’s all about.”

Saad will stay. There’s no doubt about that. The Hawks aren’t about to let a 22-year-old power forward, a superstar in the making, walk. Marcus Kruger likely will be back, too; he’s a key cog in the Hawks machine. Desjardins seems like an easy fit, both on the ice and under the salary cap.

And it’s starting to feel like Richards might just be back, too. With all the money he’s made in his career, and all the money he’s getting from the New York Rangers via his contract buyout last spring, money’s not Richards’ top priority. At 35 years old, winning is. The way Richards talks about Kane, and the way Kane talks about Richards — who finally gave him stability at center after years of playing with a rotating cast of characters —you get the feeling they know something about next season already, no matter what the salary cap situation is.

And that’s fine. Richards has some good hockey left in him. A one- or two-year deal on the cheap could be a major boon for him and for the Hawks, who could keep Teuvo Teravainen on the wing for a while longer until he’s physically ready for the demands of playing center for Joel Quenneville.

But let’s not get crazy here. The Hawks don’t need to get the whole band back together. It’s time to open some roster spots, time to get some fresh blood, time to see what the future holds.

“You need different type of motivations throughout the locker room,” Quenneville said. “I think young guys are healthy for your locker room, and older guys with experience without winning [a Cup]. Their appetite to win a Cup is off the charts.”

So let’s see what Stephen Johns can do in a major role on the blue line, a bruising puck-mover in the Brent Seabrook mold. Let’s see what Russian phenom Artemi Panarin can do in a top-nine role right away, rather than easing him in on a checking line at eight minutes a night. Let’s see if Kyle Baun or Michael Paliotta can be the next college kid to step into a major role, a la Trevor van Riemsdyk. Let’s see if Ryan Hartman or Philip Danault or Mark McNeill can be the next breakout star from Rockford — the next Andrew Shaw, if you will.

It’s tempting to want to keep everyone, to get them all to take hometown discounts and somehow, someway, make it work and make a run at a repeat. But that would be short-sighted. Make the trades. Let guys walk. Thank them for their tremendous service, and forever remember what they accomplished here. But don’t be beholden to the recent past. Don’t let the roster age badly. Clear the space. Bring up some young, hungry talent. See what happens.

Oh, there’ll be growing pains. A young blue line is Quenneville’s worst nightmare. And a deep, veteran forward corps has been the Hawks’ hallmark. But it’s time to retool. It’s time to look ahead, not back. There will be stumbles along the way. And maybe a repeat championship will be a bit far-fetched. But it’s time to take the next step, to begin the next phase of this franchise’s journey.

And besides, with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Seabrook locked in, that “One Goal” won’t ever be too far out of reach.

It’s been a remarkable run for the Hawks, and it’s not over yet. But it’s time to see what — and who — happens next.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

Twitter: @marklazerus

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