"Listen to me, damn it, and all will be well."

On the surface, a No. 8 seed and first-round playoff exit seems downright horrific following a Stanley Cup championship a year earlier.

Dig deeper, sift through the preseason overhaul due to cap constraints, and you’ll likely find the Blackhawks’ 2010-11 season most deemed a miscarriage may not be so terrible after all.

The 97 points are more than any No. 8 seed since the NHL did away with divisional playoffs and the Campbell and Prince of Wales conferences prior to the 1993-94 season. That stretch includes the shootout era which began after the 2004-05 lockout, guaranteeing one team will receive two points in every game on the league’s schedule.

That’s nothing to apologize for in my book, especially since a victory over Detroit on the regular season’s final day would have given the Blackhawks the No. 5 seed. If you want to talk numbers, then look at them all – One more win, and there may have been a lot less complaining from the fan base.

In the salary-cap era, changes are going to be necessary no matter how good or how bad a team may have been the previous year. Money is going to be a determining factor in what type of team takes the ice come the season opener, and that premise is no different here in Chicago. Players have come and gone this offseason and new faces will be donning the Indian head as expected.

But after a 97-point season, don’t lose sight of the fact the ‘Hawks need a lot more of the same play from last year. To do that, forget the changes that have been made for a minute.

Jonathan Toews set career highs in assists (44) and points (76) while adding 32 goals – two short of his career-best 34 in 2008-09. He won 56.7 percent of his faceoffs, good for eighth in the league. The Captain scored big goals – See: Game 7 – and was a finalist for the Selke Trophy. I won’t even go into the intangibles, as I’ll just be wasting your time with things you should hopefully already know.

Think the ‘Hawks can afford any sort of dropoff from that, or from the constantly scrutinized Patrick Kane?

Kaner played a career-low 73 games last season due to multiple injuries, and he’s expected to make a full recovery from offseason wrist surgery this time around. Still, his 27 goals were only three less than his career-high 30 during the Cup run despite playing 11 less games. His 73 points made him a point-per-game player for the second straight season, and his 303 points in 317 career games isn’t bad for a guy most like to believe gets hammered and mooches free rent off sorority chicks every night.

More handsome acts will be required from Patrick Sharp, who likely won’t let on-going negotiations of an inevitable contract extension get in the way. Sharpie had a career-best 71 points and his minus-1 is an accomplishment after hovering around a minus-10 most of the season. If indeed he’ll be playing center, which seems more and more likely, that 48 percent on faceoffs will have to improve for sure. I’ve said many times Sharp has the potential to be a 40-goal scorer, and had he not missed eight games at the end of the season I may be gloating right now. Nonetheless, putting up similar numbers may come close to being a requirement, especially if Marian Hossa can’t get his ass on the ice for more than 65 games this season – and if Corey Crawford hits a sophomore slump.

Crawford’s surprising 33-18-6 record and 2.30 GAA anointed him the Blackhawks’ goaltender of the future after signing a multi-year deal this offseason. If Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson continue farting all over the ice, the job to put up similar numbers becomes all the more difficult. It can be argued Crawford didn’t have much pressure on him after unexpectedly taking the No. 1 job from the disappointing Marty Turco early on last season, and that will be far from the case heading into 2011-12. Crawford kept the Blackhawks in many games a year ago, and there’s always a possibility it’ll be required of him again this season. A second-year drop off for a surprising rookie goaltender has happened around the league in recent years – Columbus’ Steve Mason being one – and it’ll be Crawford’s job to handle the pressure of keeping up the pace this season.

There’s still much room to improve after last season, granted. And of course, for the aforementioned players to have repeat performances likely will be affected by the new players stepping in. But after a season which the Blackhawks were a final-day win from avoiding Vancouver in the first round, they’ll need the stellar play from the holdovers if the improvement we seek is to come to fruition.

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