Is it 7:00 P.M. on Oct. 7 yet? That night at the United Center in Chicago cannot come soon enough — at least for this writer. The Chicago Blackhawks will start their 2015-16 season off by raising the Stanley Cup champion banner immediately before dropping the puck against the New York Rangers. What was supposed to be one last giant party celebrating the champions is now turning into a desperate need for closure for many fans of the team. Among the “unique” events this summer that has us (me) desperately seeking resolution:
- How will the fans react to the return of goaltender Antti Raanta, but in a Rangers uniform. He will be making his first appearance since published reports that he actually rooted against his own team in the playoffs when he realized he was relegated to third stringer. My guess is the fans will give him a huge ovation. He was well thought of during his time in Chicago.
- Is Marcus Kruger going to be in a Blackhawks uniform? Kruger is a restricted free agent who has yet to finalize a contract for the upcoming season. The Blackhawks have made it clear they want him back, and he has stated that he wants to return to the team. Kruger led Blackhawks’ forwards in penalty-kill ice time during the 2014-15 regular season. Losing him would be a big blow to the team. To keep him though, they likely will need to trade away Kris Versteeg and/or Bryan Bickell to make room under the salary cap.
- Which Blackhawks will actually be left to hold and raise the banner from the championship team? Gone from the team due to trades and retirement are Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya, Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen. Whew! These are just the guys who actually played in the Final. Throw in Raanta and Daniel Carcillo, along with a likely trade to keep Kruger, and they may literally not have enough guys to skate the banner out (kidding, but you get my point).
- Will No. 88 be on the ice that night? I hate writing about this because the rumors far outweigh any facts. But as of this writing, it was just announced that the grand jury hearing has abruptly been postponed (or cancelled, depending on which report you read). As stated before in other writings, I refuse to guess or opine as to what did, is and will happen as it relates to the charges/claims. I will state here, however, with 90 percent certainty, that I personally believe he will NOT be on the ice or anywhere near the United Center that night. It’s just my opinion and I am not going to expound in this column other than to say I believe the team will suspend him no matter what the outcome is elsewhere. He has left them no choice. Obviously, much more will be written and shared as the facts come out (if they come out…).
I had the great fortune of attending the 2013 Stanley Cup banner raising at the United Center and I am looking forward to attending this year’s event again. Here is some video of chairman Rocky Wirtz’s speech in 2013 to give you an idea of the energy:
It is a great way to celebrate, one last time, the accomplishments of the 2014-15 Chicago team before hitting the proverbial reset button. When the clock strikes 7:00 P.M. on Oct. 7 in Chicago, it will be time to bring much-needed closure to what has been one of the most crazy, unpredictable, exciting, maddening, shocking, frustrating and exhilarating summer’s in recent Stanley Cup memory.
Rick is fortunate to live off the I-90 hockey corridor where both his beloved Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs (aka Baby Hawks) call home. Hockey has been in his blood since the early 1970’s when he saw his first Blackhawks game at the “Old Barn”. His favorite player is Keith Magnuson followed closely by Bobby Hull (old school!). When not covering the greatest sport, he enjoys watching live music and has even been known to join his beloved bands on stage for a song or two. Follow Rick on Twitter via @HawksStrength