Hawks will look different next season, but fans just enjoying convention
Ten thousand screaming Blackhawks fans have taken over the Hilton Chicago this weekend to celebrate yet another Stanley Cup championship.
They're here to see the Cup, of course, but also for autographs, pictures and maybe even to have a word or two with their heroes.
Opening ceremonies were Friday with Eddie Olcyzk introducing the players, Jim Cornelison belting the national anthem and Jonathan Toews thanking the fans for showing up en masse.
Many of the big names were in attendance but some -- such as Corey Crawford, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa -- were not.
Duncan Keith will also miss the event, telling the Chicago Tribune that he'll be staying in Canada to be with his 2-year-old son as he goes through a divorce from his wife, Kelly-Rae. The two have been separated for over a year.
And of course, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen -- all no longer Hawks -- aren't here either.
Before the players walked out into a sea of red, they met the media to talk about just how different next year's team is going to look, and it was Sharp, Saad and Oduya who will clearly be missed the most.
"It goes beyond what everyone sees from those players on the ice," Toews said. "You can draw up any team you want and try to put all the talent you want in the lineup, but if those guys don't have the intangibles off the ice that those three guys had, you're going to have a tough time."
"Those are three guys … have been a huge part of this team for years, so the challenge is we've got our work cut out for us."
Losing Saad was the first shock wave to hit and it wasn't one coach Joel Quenneville was expecting.
"It's tough losing a young kid that could be a real good player in our league and adds a nice dimension to our team as well," Quenneville said. "But that's today's game. Those are some of the growing pains that you've got to deal with by being a championship team."
Then came the move everyone was expecting since free agency opened on July 1 -- the trade of Patrick Sharp. The veteran winger, who is now a Dallas Star, was one of seven "core" Hawks who were part of all three Stanley Cup runs over the past six seasons.
"I think he had an imprint on anyone that walked into that locker room," Patrick Kane said. "Just not only a good locker room guy or good player, but just a good friend too.
"I mean it's gonna be weird without him around the locker room. He was one of my closer friends on the team. Miss him for sure."
Kris Versteeg agreed it will be tough to replace Sharp.
"You can't bring a guy in with the experience that Sharpie has. His void's not going to be filled, but you're gonna have to try by committee to do that."
General manager Stan Bowman, Quenneville and even the players all talked a good game about how fresh faces can reinvigorate a team. And there will be no shortage of new blood come September with players like Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Ryan Garbutt, Trevor Daley, Viktor Tikonov and at least two or three other names looking to make an impact and hoping to raise a Cup for the first time.
Quenneville also pointed to the fact that the purge of 2010 -- after the Hawks won the Cup for the first time in 49 years -- was much different from this time around.
"I think here we've got some immediate returns where guys can play on our team and probably play big roles," Quenneville said. "We'll find out a little more how that plays out as things go along. I think we've added some different pieces in trying to replace (things) as best we could. … Stan's done a great job in a tight market."
Bowman said he's still working on getting restricted free-agent forward Marcus Kruger signed and wouldn't say if the Hawks' salary cap issues are hindering the process.
So while the convention festivities and cheering will continue through Saturday and Sunday, it's fair to wonder how this team will come together during the 2015-16 season.
"I don't know," Toews said. "Sometimes it's part whether they (the new players) have it or not. But at the end of the day we have a good energy, a good winning culture in our locker room …
"A lot of guys have been here for a long time and have won, so those are the guys who are seen as leading the way.
"I think everyone kind of wants to be a part of that, and it's fun to be part of a group and go out and try find ways to win on a daily basis."
Follow John on Twitter @johndietzdh