CHICAGO — John Madden is one of the many who left town.
It’s the bodies that remain in Chicago who keep the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks dangerous despite their lacklustre start to the season.
“Their nucleus is tremendous,” said the veteran centre, who won his third Cup last spring after scoring his first two with the New Jersey Devils.
“It’s tough to come back and be as ready as you were the year before. They’ll figure it out. They’ll be fine there. They’ll be one of the teams contending at the end.”
So far, the Blackhawks are in the middle of the pack in the NHL’s Western Conference, hovering a few points ahead of the Calgary Flames, who come calling in Chicago Sunday evening.
The Flames took advantage of a revamped Hawks roster missing the likes of Madden, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg — just to name a few — and came away with a 7-2 win at the Saddledome Nov. 19.
Ladd is now captain of the Atlanta Thrashers and posting career numbers with nearly a point per game. Byfuglien is dominating the defensive scoring race and sits in the top 15 among all NHLers with 27 points in 26 contests.
“It’s the new NHL. It’s gonna happen again and again and again. You’re going to see big names leave and younger guys come in making smaller salaries. That’s just the way it is,” said Madden, who left the Hawks as a free agent in the off-season and joined the Minnesota Wild.
Still, the Hawks boast offensive talents Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. Last season’s Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith still has Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson alongside him on the blueline.
“They’ve been pretty lucky to keep that nucleus together. Their top six forwards and four (defencemen) are incredible. You’re not going to find any better ones,” Madden said.
Madden knows from experience, and says Toews is just the kind of leader who can keep things in perspective for the champs.
“He’s old beyond his years. He knows exactly what’s going on. You could tell by the way he played in the Olympics how dynamic a hockey player he is,” Madden said. “And he’s a great person. His parents should be really proud. Like I always told him, if my kid turns out half as good as he is as a person, I’ll be extremely happy.”