By Chris Emma–
CHICAGO (CBS) — Entering Monday, the Blackhawks had dropped three straight home games and fallen behind the Stars for first place in the Western Conference. Coach Joel Quenneville even went as far as holding a training camp-like practice Friday to bust the slump, but Chicago fell in overtime to Anaheim one night later.READ MORE: Suspect Awaits Extradition For 1992 Cold Case Murder of Helen Cardwell
What the Blackhawks really needed was a meeting with the Maple Leafs, an Original Six foe that’s in the midst of a dramatic rebuild. Toronto owns the NHL’s fewest points, just 49 to the Blackhawks’ 79 points, which were bolstered by a 7-2 beatdown of the Maple Leafs on Monday. It juxtaposed one hockey existence to another.
“We got tattooed,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “That’s the bottom line.”
Babcock has taken part in many big games at the United Center. When he was coach of the Red Wings, there were important contests played between the two rivals, including a seven-game playoff series in 2013 that was won by Chicago in overtime of Game 7. Now, he’s employed in Toronto on a 10-year, $50-million deal — paid handsomely to oversee a dramatic rebuild in session.
The Blackhawks took it to the decimated Maple Leafs on Monday, making a mockery of a team in transition. Patrick Kane scored a goal and added three assists, while Duncan Keith and Andrew Shaw added three points each and Scott Darling played an excellent game in net.
“They were just better than us — period,” Babcock said.
Toronto entered Monday’s tilt with such a small margin for error, then allowed Chicago goals on four power plays. The Maple Leafs’ roster would appear listless to those inside the United Center, and the Blackhawks clearly are on a different level. In a few years, that may not be the case.
Led by Babcock and team president Brendan Shanahan, the Maple Leafs are working a dramatic rebuild. Since 2004, Toronto has seen two CEOs, four general managers, five head coaches and an ownership change. A proud hockey franchise had failed enough times in chasing the Stanley Cup, then decided for a new direction.
In Chicago, the Maple Leafs can compare to the Blackhawks’ work well prior to 2010. Heck, it resembles the Cubs, too. They’re tearing down to the ground before building back up. Monday at the United Center exposed ground zero.READ MORE: Grub Bug Treatment Will Delay Baseball And Softball Season At 2 Chicago Parks
The Maple Leafs traded Phil Kessel for promising 19-year-old forward Kasperi Kapanen and what could result in a top-20 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Just last week, they dealt captain Dion Phaneuf and four players to Ottawa for a haul of four players. It was a deal for tomorrow, not today, general manager Lou Lamoriello said.
Now, the Maple Leafs have only one player, 25-year-old defenseman Jake Gardiner, under contract beyond the 2017-’18 season — at which point, the team should already be highly competitive.
Toronto will boast a core of budding young stars like Kapanen, Mitch Marner (the No. 4 overall pick in 2015), Morgan Rielly, William Nylander and perhaps a top selection and a top-20 pick from the 2016 draft. They have one of the best bench bosses in hockey in Babcock and a clear direction for the future.
“Certainly, he sets an example,” Maple Leafs defenseman Matt Hunwick said of Babcock.
This should ring some bells for hockey fans in Chicago, those who remember the dark ages. So, what happens when that young core is in place?
On Monday, the Maple Leafs looked like the worst team in hockey. A few years from now, they could be one of the best. The Blackhawks built with homegrown talents like Jonathan Toews, Kane, Keith, Brent Seabrook, Corey Crawford and more. It was a rebuild that flourished quickly once all the pieces were in place.
Chicago should stay atop the hockey world for years to come, with its core still relatively young. Keith is 32, Crawford is 31, Seabrook is 30, Toews and Kane are each 27 and rookie star Artemi Panarin is just 24.
The thought of a Blackhawks-Maple Leafs meeting in the Stanley Cup Final seemed far-fetched in Monday’s blowout, but one must look beneath the surface at Toronto’s plan. They are building like the Blackhawks once did.
Perhaps years down the road, the Blackhawks’ championship core will be challenged by the Maple Leafs’ rising stars. We’ll have to wait and see.MORE NEWS: Police Task Force Arrests Carjacking Suspect Hour After Vehicle Was Stolen In Englewood