The only way to go is down. That’s the mantra often heard after a team reaches the pinnacle as the Blackhawks did last season. While optimistic Chicago fans might hold out hope that they will be the first team to repeat as Champions since the Red Wings over a decade ago. Unfortunately, significant losses make that somewhat unlikely, with strong growth in the Western Conference, and a few challenging teams in the East, I’d wager against a repeat championship this season.
After ending a long drought between Stanley Cups, the Blackhawks go into the season with some pretty heady expectations. Certainly Chicago fans are somewhat hard-nosed, and nothing less than another win will fully satisfy the hungry fans. That said, with the departure of Niemi, Byfuglien, Sopel, Ladd, Eager, Versteeg, Burish, Fraser and Madden, the team is going to have more than a couple holes to fill as well as some questions to answer.
Brian Campbell, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook, Marty Turco
The Blackhawks have some of the most exciting offensive players outside of Pittsburgh, so scoring from the top line shouldn’t be a problem. With Toews, Hossa and Kane, there is as fearsome a trio as just about any team can realistically ice. That said, Chicago will need some of their youngsters to step up and fill the holes left by departing supporting characters. Byfuglien, Ladd, Eager, Versteeg and even Madden contributed important roles to the team last season (though Byfuglien’s game elevated to another level during the post season). Jack Skille, Bryan Bickell, and Kyle Beach are all going to be looking to make the team and contribute this season. If they are able to fill a useful role, the league’s 3rd best offense may remain in the top 5.
Well they’ve got the defending Norris Trophy winner, which is nothing to scoff at. The fact that Duncan Keith is supported by talent in the form of Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell (not worth his salary, but not worthless either) means they’ve got a solid blue line as well. Niklas Hjalmarsson is a solid compliment to round out the top 4, and will likely only be better in his 2nd full season in the NHL. The final two spots are a little more shaky, but to be fair virtually every team has some holes, and if your biggest holes are the #5 and #6 defensemen, you’re probably in good shape. In net, the ‘Hawks allowed Niemi to depart after they walked away from his arbitration award, and it seemed like they might take a hit in net. But instead they grabbed a desperate Marty Turco, who came in for a reasonable price and is certainly desperate to enjoy the kind of team success that evaded him in Dallas.
It’s safe to say that most fans in the league would be happy if their team had the kind of “issues” that the Blackhawks are facing. They are the reigning champions, and despite having to ship out some key pieces of that team, management did a good job retaining their star players and they look like they are in good shape to build on the success of last season. That said, with the sheer difficult of a repeat, I don’t see it happening. I anticipate a solid season, and they’ll likely grab the top spot in the division. I see them falling just behind San Jose (a la last season) and Vancouver this year, and a #3 seed seems in their future. If Turco regains his top form, this could be a dangerous team to face this season.
Tags: Andrew Ladd Annti Niemi Ben Eager Brent Seabrook Brent Sopel Brian Campbell Bryan Bickell Burish Chicago Blackhawks Colin Fraser Detroit Red Wings Duncan Keith Dustin Byfuglien Jack Skille John Madden Jonathan Toews Kris Versteeg Kyle Beach Marian Hossa Marty Turco Niklas Hjalmarsson Patrick Kane Pittsburgh Penguins San Jose Sharks Vancouver Canucks