HAWKS' LACK OF URGENCY THIS SEASON IS BIGGEST SURPRISEBy Melissa Isaacson
Sure, things looked bleak last summer when one after another after another of the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup heroes were traded away or left unsigned.
The core, however, was intact and that -- we were told and I believed it -- was the important thing. With the likes of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Brian Campbell, Brent Seabrook and Dave Bolland returning, the Hawks had enough skill players and enough heart to maintain a level of play of which Hawks fans could still be proud.
We knew all about the hangover. We figured on some boredom and certainly on a little letdown. More tangibly, the team lost solid players and one very good goaltender. What we did not figure on was how the core would let the team down, and therein lies the surprise that it backed in, then got a hoist, to get into the playoffs at all.
Few would have predicted the Bulls would jump past the Miami Heat and the Boston Celtics to grab the top seed in the Eastern Conference. But few would also have guessed that by early February the Hawks were already looking in serious doubt to make the playoffs.
Bulls fans may have had questions regarding just how ready Derrick Rose was to carry the team, how quickly Carlos Boozer would integrate with a new group and how effectively they would buy into Tom Thibodeau's defensive system. But how many Hawks fans would have thought their team's biggest problem at midseason would be the inconsistency and seemingly uninspired play of Kane, Hossa, Keith and Seabrook?
That lack of urgency, which led to 17 losses at the United Center after losing just eight last season, was the biggest surprise of all.
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
BULLS SHOCKING SEASON FAR EXCEEDS EXPECTATIONSBy Jesse Rogers
As much as the Chicago Blackhawks struggled this season, making the playoffs was always an assumed accomplishment. It was difficult, and perhaps needing help on the final day was the biggest surprise of all.
But no one was going out on a limb predicting the Hawks in the playoffs, even if it did take all 82 games to get there.
That's not the case with the Chicago Bulls and the No. 1 seed. After "settling" for the second-tier free agents over the summer, it was widely recognized they would be a second-tier team, right behind Miami, Boston and Orlando.
There would have been no shame in finishing as low as fourth behind that group, but instead the Bulls shocked the NBA by taking the top spot. No one, outside of maybe Derrick Rose, believed the Bulls could jell this quickly while the Heat struggled, comparatively.
The NHL allows for parity in the salary cap era, and with the Hawks gutting their roster while their stars were busy playing more hockey in this year than any time in their lives, some letdown was expected.
No matter how good the Bulls were, they were always going to have to wait their turn in a top-heavy Eastern Conference. But they didn't follow the normal path to regular-season greatness, thus making them the bigger surprise.
Jesse Rogers covers the Blackhawks for ESPNChicago.com and ESPN 1000.
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