(Photo: WGNTV)

The Chicago Blackhawks will have their final Stanley Cup celebration tonight as they raise their 2015 Championship banner into the rafters of the United Center and drop the puck on a new season.

“To watch the banner go up is pretty awesome,” Captain Jonathan Toews told media. “You realize how big it is and all of a sudden it gets all the way up there and it just looks like a tiny little thing. The whole night will be special, but enjoy it while it lasts because once it’s over, then the puck drops and the new season starts.”

On June 15, the Blackhawks beat Tampa Bay to, finally, win the Stanley Cup on home ice–a feat 77 years in the making.

The passionate Chicago crowd, which has filled the “Madhouse on Madison” with red for multiple seasons now, braved tornado sirens and flooded roads to attend. Late season pick-up Kimmo Timonen, with 1,108 NHL games under his belt but only 34 as a Hawk, would retire with his name on the Cup.

Toews and six teammates, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp, and Brent Seabrook would earn their third etching.

And, for the third time in five years, after a 49-year drought, Chicago fans would take to the streets of Chicago and file into Soldier field for celebration.

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Once again, they’d take in a view of the people who brought another victory to the city–and that coveted shiny chalice.

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Not too much longer, though, and it was back to reality for the organization, with very difficult decisions to make under tight cap restrictions.

 

  The 2015 Champions will never hit the ice together as one team again. But their names, engraved on Lord Stanley’s Cup, will always be a part of hockey history.

 

Making Moves

Surprisingly, and despite reassurances the team was trying to hold onto him, Brandon Saad was traded June 30 to the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he signed a six-year $36 million dollar contract.      

 

That day, the Hawks picked up former Hawk defenseman Jeremy Morin and forwards Marko Dano (both with the Rockford IceHogs currently) as well as Artem Anisimov, who they signed to a five-year extension.

Goaltender Antti Raanta went to the Rangers June 27.

Brad Richards, who voiced hopes to stay in Chicago, inked a deal July 1 with the Detroit RedWings.

That same day, Antoine Vermette signed with the Arizona Coyotes. Joakim Nordstrom and Kris Versteeg went to the Carolina Hurricanes Sept. 11.

Relatively unsurprising but still a sad was Patrick Sharp‘s departure to the Dallas Stars July 10.

He’d been a part of the team’s core and a face of the franchise, but with an injury and lacking a standout season, the Blackhawks shopped him for cap relief. The Blackhawks picked up Ryan Garbutt and Trevor Daley in the deal. On July 15, with no deal on the table in Chicago, defenseman Johnny Oduya joined Sharp in Dallas.

Daniel Carcillo recently announced his retirement. He intends to work on his Chapter 5 Foundation. In the wake of his friend Steve Montador’s death, he intends to help players find meaningful work after hockey.

The Blackhawks made some additions, too. Forward Viktor Tiknohov, a former Coyotes first-round pick (2008-2009), came to Chicago from Russia’s KHL. He’s joined by Artemi Panarin, another Russian, whose preseason quick-hands have him tentatively on the second line with Kane.  

Changing As

With Sharp’s move to Dallas, Coach Joel Quenneville awarded the alternate captain position to Seabrook.

“It’s such a storied franchise with a lot of history and a lot of great players that have been through here,” Seabrook told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m very honored to be able to wear it and be part of the group.”

Beyond the A on his sweater, Seabrook’s new title gives him the authority to speak with officials.

“I don’t know if that’s a perk or not,” Seabrook said. “I’ve always had good relationship with the referees. They’ve always been great to me. We have a lot of mutual respect.”

The title was a no-brainer to his teammates.

“Since I’ve been a Blackhawk, he’s been one of those guys I’ve looked up to and learned from,” Toews said. “Regardless of what’s going on with his own game, he’s always bringing positive energy and everything we need to hear and feel in the locker room and on the bench. He’s been a huge part of our championship runs.

“He’s the type of guy everyone loves being around,” he said. “He brings a lot of great things aside from what he brings on the ice. It’s just in his personality. It’s inherent in who he is as a guy and as a player.”

Teammates and press noted Seabrook’s uplifting attitude.

“I’ve always been a rah-rah type of guy,” Seabrook said. “I like to have fun; I like to get guys laughing. Sometimes it’s a little bit more serious than you’d like it to be, but it’s all part of it, and for the most part we’ve had a lot of fun here.”

Opening Night

Once that banner joins the others in the rafters, though, the Blackhawks know last year’s celebrations are over. It’s time to get down to business on the fresh new season.

Following the pomp and circumstance, the Blackhawks will host the New York Rangers. The Rangers were ousted by the Lightning last year in the Eastern Conference Finals.

“I feel like every year, it’s tougher and tougher for teams to make the playoffs,” Hossa said. “You need so many more points than you used to. Every team has become better, the coaching staffs are better, everybody’s prepared better, and they’ll definitely be ready for us. We are their measurement. We won’t have any freebies. It’s going to be even tougher and we have to be prepared.”

Morning practice lines for the Blackhawks were Teuvo Teravainen-Toews-Hossa, Panarin-Anisimov-Kane, Bryan Bickell-Shaw-Baun, and Andrew DesjardinsMarcus Kruger-Garbutt.

Defense wasn’t set for morning skate, but Michal Rozsival (re-signed for one year) was placed on the long-term injured reserved (24 days or 10 games minimum), and Ville Pokka and Viktor Svedberg have been shifted between Chicago and Rockford as cap space has been determined.

Keith, Hjalmarsson, Daley, David Rundblad, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Seabrook are all active.

Corey Crawford is expected to start in goal.

And, once again, they’ll begin they’re quest for the Cup.

The Blackhawks-Rangers game starts at 7 p.m. CT on NBCSN as part of “Rivalry Night” with special red carpet features starting at 5 p.m. CT on CSN+ in the Chicago viewing area.

(As always, click the links for video clips or other information.)

Carly Mullady grew up needing to know more about icing than its deliciousness on cupcakes. She's the lone daughter of four children, with a father who was among the last cut from the Midwest tryouts for the 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic team. And she knows very little matches the thrill that happens from puck-drop to handshakes. A rink didn’t return to her hometown until she was gone, but she’s been able to see two younger brothers on the ice. She's their feistiest fan. Her other hockey loyalty lies with the Blackhawks--whether it's meant seeing games for $8 with student IDs when the Madhouse didn’t have much of a temper at all, or dancing to Chelsea Dagger at standing room only--there’s something magical about a roaring anthem, the Indianhead sweater, and the Original Six. A former journalist and current editor, she carries a penchant for excitement (and maybe even fighting) with a resume that includes working for Chicago-area newspapers, and television, including The Jerry Springer Show, as well as NBCUniversal in New York. After East Coast living and a return to the Chicago area, the new Mrs. is giving Graceland a go with her Southern Gent, who now shares her adoration of the game, and their rescue dog, Doc Holliday. Other interests include Cubs, Bears, Illini, Crimson Tide, Pumpkin Spice Lattes, baking a mean pineapple upside-down cake, Kate Spade accessories, and a properly coordinated cardigan for every ensemble.

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