Kane, Toews and company ready to return to Cup-winning form
Every team goes through some changes after winning a Stanley Cup, but last year’s Chicago Blackhawks took a step backwards. The motivation to win came a little too late for last year’s ‘Hawks, as they barely squeezed into the playoffs. But there were plenty of reasons to be excited that the core of this group will continue to perform. The thrilling seven-game series with Vancouver proved that Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp will continue to be a heavy dose of talent in Chicago for years to come.
The key for Blackhawks management will be finding the right accompanying pieces to send this team back to the Stanley Cup final. The shelf life for success is probably the longest in Chicago. No team is better positioned with long-term youngsters already with a ring and seeking more. This will hold true only as long as they can stay healthy.
Last year proved that without some physical assets, Chicago’s star players would continue to be piñatas. Fortunately for ‘Hawks fans, GM Stan Bowman recognized this.
New Blackhawks Jamal Mayers, Dan Carcillo and Sean O’Donnell should be able to remind players that hitting Kane and Toews will come at a price. While many younger players filled the third and fourth lines, there was clearly a lack of veteran presence that could take some pressure off the core. These new ‘Hawks, and maybe most importantly, Andrew Brunette, will be counted on to fill that void.
With any new season teams see some fresh faces, but they also say goodbye to some as well. More Blackhawks who have their name on the Cup from two years ago won’t be in the Indian head sweater this year. Brian Campbell, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Kopecky, who all found new teams in the off-season, became household names in Chicago when they helped bring the Cup home, and many casual Chicago fans will only recognize the marquee players from that season still on the team.
Corey Crawford will be the starting goaltender for the first time in his career at the start of a season. With the departure of Marty Turco – who never got a fair shake – it is Crawford’s net this year. Crawford is going to be counted on to perform this year and be one of the main anchors of this team.
The defense will look considerably different this year, except for the fact that the majority of the responsibility and ice-time will, as usual, belong to Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. These two will have to improve this year after only managing a plus/minus of -1 and 0 respectively last season. Last year, rookie Nick Leddy made major steps in his game and will be a regular on this year’s squad, along with newcomers Sami Lepisto and Steve Montador. Those two will provide a new look; their styles fit well with Chicago’s system.
Additions: Andrew Brunette, Steve Montador, Rostislav Olesz, Sean O’Donnell, Dan Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Sami Lepisto, Ray Emery (TO)
Subtractions: Brian Campbell, Troy Brouwer, Chris Campoli, Tomas Kopecky, Marty Turco, Fernando Pisani, Jack Dowell, Ryan Johnson, Jordan Hendry
Fresh Faces from the Farm:
- Ben Smith made a huge splash on the scene in Chicago scoring three goals in the playoffs against Vancouver, and will be counted on for a spark on the fourth line.
- Marcus Kruger is a solid two-way player. He made the move from Sweden late last year to help fill gaps in the lineup due to injuries, and will fill a similar role this season.
X-Factor: Marian Hossa
Hossa only played 65 games last year and it made a difference. He needs to remain healthy if the Blackhawks want their other stars to succeed.
Breakout: Andrew Brunette
The youth of Kane and Toews will rub off on Brunette and he will have the best season since his 2006-07 campaign (27 goals and 56 assists in Colorado).
On the Hot Seat: Niklas Hjalmarsson
The Blackhawks took a bold and expensive move to keep Hjalmarsson in Chicago, and he didn’t live up to the hype. He will have to step it up on a reorganized blue line, especially if Leddy makes a leap this year.
Bold Prediction: Michael Frolik will be back to averaging 20-plus goals a season like he did previously in Florida.
The Final Word:
This Blackhawks team is far more balanced compared to last year’s and will certainly make the playoffs, barring serious injuries or a serious letdown in net. This is a team with far fewer question marks than most going into the season. Look for the presence of Brunette to make a big impact on the performance of Kane and Toews, who will benefit from his experience and talent. Chicago is a serious threat in the West once again.
RLD’s Chicago related off-season posts:
July 25: Central Division Off-season Grades (Link)
August 4: Hawks' Stan Bowman doing yeomen's work (Link)
August 10: Who is the team to beat in the Central? (Link)
Photo credit: Getty Images
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