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Something's rising from the ashes, and it isn't Phoenix...

Heading over to the Western Conference, our review of the offseason winners and losers comes up with one of the winners: the Chicago Blackhawks.

Wait a minute, did I actually just write that?

It's been a decade since the Jeremy Roenick-led Hawks challenged for Western Conference supremacy, and while they're still a long ways from doing that, the moves they've made over the last two weeks should help put Chicago back into the playoffs, and represent true progress under new general manager Dave Tallon.

After making unsuccessful offers to Mike Modano and Peter Forsberg, the Hawks struck gold in the Nikolai Khabibulin sweepstakes. The Bulin Wall still ranks as one of the top goalies in the game, and immediately gives Chicago a chance to win every time he starts. In front of Khabibulin, the Hawks added depth and versatility on the blueline by adding Adrian Aucoin and Jaroslav Spacek via free agency. Granted, they did let Bryan Berard walk away, but on the whole Spacek and Aucoin add talent to what was otherwise an unremarkable group of defensemen.

Up front, the Hawks are still looking for that All-Star caliber center, but still have $10 million under the cap to pursue a player like Eric Lindros or Anson Carter. The most significant addition they have made on the wing is Martin Lapointe, a veteran and Stanley Cup champion who understands the little things that make the difference between winning and losing. That experience is sorely needed, to complement a core of relatively young forwards. They boast four returning 20-goal scorers (assuming they re-sign Tyler Arneson), of which the eldest is 30 year-old Eric Daze (the other 3 are no older than 26).

Overall, the Hawks have taken a big step forward this month. They've brought in enough talent to legitimately compete for the playoffs, and are positioned well under the salary cap to acquire the remaining pieces they need, such as a top-line center and more depth on defense. Putting the team in position to play meaningful hockey games is the best thing that a GM can do for young talent, rather than have them toil in the basement in a never-ending rebuilding effort. Look for Chicago to make some noise this upcoming season, and watch out for how they develop going forward.

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