It’s that time of year again!!! The air is getting colder, and the sweaters are coming out. The hockey sweaters that is. Well maybe not today exactly in Chicago- it’s actually perfect and 75 out today. And it’ll be almost 80 this weekend. But eventually, probably a few games into the regular season, it will get cold, and it will be officially hockey season. Opening Day of the NHL 2010-11 season is here and today, we take a look at the Chicago Blackhawks, and what to expect for the season.
As you can see from the picture above, Patrick Kane and company, the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, are the toast of the town, America’s #1 sports town.
By: Bryan Vickroy
New Names: Viktor Stalberg, LW (Toronto), Jeff Taffe, C (Florida), Marty Turco, G (Dallas), Jeremy Morin, LW (Atlanta), Chris DidDomenico, C (Toronto), Phillippe Paradis, C (Toronto), Jeremy Morin, LW (Atlanta)
Faces to Forget: Brent Sopel, D (Atlanta), Ben Eager, LW (Atlanta), Dustin Byfuglien, RW (Atlanta), Andrew Ladd, LW (Atlanta), Colin Fraser, C (Edmonton), Adam Burish, RW (Dallas), Kris Versteeg, RW (Toronto), Antti Niemi, G (San Jose)
Last season was pure magic for the Blackhawks as they snapped their drought and brought home the glory to the Windy City. Chicago was dominant at all aspects. The talent that had been developed through years of failure on the ice became NHL superstars. Even Marian Hossa finally won a Cup after his years of chasing. The only problem for Blackhawk players was that Canada and the US couldn’t both win gold medals at the Olympics.
As great as last year was, this offseason had more bloodletting than a Tarantino flick. The Hawks had to slash players and payroll to get under the cap, but managed to keep the nucleus intact on the offensive and defensive ends. They made trades, made draft picks, and made call ups to fill out the roster. The biggest change is in net, where Antti Niemi’s arbitration award was determined to be too rich, and he was let go. Marty Turco was brought in for a lower price to replace Niemi in net.
Troy Brouwer – Jonathan Toews – Patrick Kane
Tomas Kopecky – Patrick Sharp – Marian Hossa
Viktor Stalberg – Dave Ballard – Jack Skille
Bryan Bickell – Jeff Taffe – Jake Dowell
The third highest scoring team in the league last season, they did it with balance at all positions. Patrick Kane has become The Man. The top two groupings remain pretty much consistent with what was thrown over the boards last year. While Kane, Sharp, and Toews get all the attention, Troy Brouwer actually led the team in game winners last year. While some of the depth is lost thanks to the salary cap, the Blackhawks have drafted so well recently that there shouldn’t be much of a production downfall. The team had six players score 20 goals last season, and with the confidence they have now, they could have even more this year.
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Brian Campbell
John Scott – Nick Leddy
The top pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook is arguably best in the league. They score, they shut you down, and they never seem to leave the ice. The second pairing of Brian Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson are also talented, but considered more of a scoring pair. Hjalmarsson could see a lot of time leading the power play. Also look for Nick Leddy, Minnesota’s #1 pick two drafts ago, to emerge, as he was the lone rookie defenseman to make the team out of camp. The rest of the bottom three will rotate in and out of the big club and Rockford throughout the season depending on the team’s needs.
Marty Turco is the new man between the pipes in Chicago. Cristobal Huet’s game, or body, weren’t considered good enough to be depended on all season. Turco never had a losing season in Dallas, but also never won a Stanley Cup. He willed Dallas to a Conference Finals a few years back, so he can do some good things. Either Huet or Corey Crawford will be the back up in spot duty, but don’t expect them to see much meaningful game time without an injury.
While the power play struggled to find its flow early in the season, it found its groove in the postseason, and was a big reason why they hoisted the Cup. While Big Buff is no longer in town, Brouwer will take his place parked out in front of the crease creating chaos. Look for Sharp to quarterback from the point, giving the Hawks four forwards on the ice to attack. The penalty kill is where the speed of Chicago really dominates. Sharp and Hossa are almost impossible to record a PP against, and are much more likely to jack the puck from you and bury a shorty.
While much of the reserve in the minors has been drawn up to the pro level, there is still a lot of talent down on the farm. The only difference between the group down below now is that they are much greener and inexperienced and, for the most part, are a few years away from being ready to contribute positively to a Stanley Cup contender. However, if injuries or other circumstances are cause for a contribution, look for Kyle Beach, Shawn Lalonde, or Ivan Vishnevskiy to get a call.
They are the defending Stanley Cup champions. They can say that until they are officially beaten and have the title claimed by another team. They are strong at both ends of the ice, rarely make mistakes, and will capitalize if you dare make one against them. While the United Center is not the hothouse that past arenas were, it is loud and imposing to play in. The experience of last season can only help to mature the overall talent on this roster.
Nearly every team who wins a championship suffers some type of hangover effect the following season. Cap concerns and budget are the biggest questions for the Hawks. There’s no space to patch holes or bring reinforcements in at the deadline if the team struggles or suffers injuries. While the young players have seen some NHL action, will they be able to sustain their production and confidence to keep the machine rolling?
2010-11 Top Scorer: Patrick Kane, C. The reigning mayor of Chicago led the balanced attack last season, and look for him to do it again this year. If everything goes well, Kane could be looking at a 40 goal, 100 point season, and in the hunt for a possible scoring title.
Shooting Up the Ranks: Jack Skille, RW. Skille was drafted the same year as Sidney Crosby. Instead of instantly making the jump, he’s spent his years seasoning at Wisconsin and Rockford in the AHL. Now that there’s roster space open, look for Skille to become another two way scorer in Chicago and create yet another dangerous line.
Falling Out of Favor: Cristobal Huet, G. After the release of Niemi this offseason, Huet still wasn’t given the chance to take the starting job. His contract is also way too big for a backup on a cap crunched team. He most likely will end up in the minors to bury his contract and free up some cap space.
Most Important Games:
1. Game #2 vs. Detroit 10/9/10. The first home game of the year brings the customary banner raising ceremony, and the hated Red Wings. An early look at the race for the Central division crown.
2.Game #52 @ Vancouver 2/4/11. The team comes back from the All Star break, and the circus heads to town. The Hawks get kicked out on a long road trip to start the second half of the season. The second game is in Vancouver, a lot of experts preseason champ. Possible showdown of the West finals.
3. Game #70 vs. San Jose 3/14/11. While both teams will most likely have clinched playoff berths, position jockeying will be in play. The Hawks will be looking to peak, and get into the Sharks head.
Chicago is a team like the Penguins who will be in the hunt for a championship every season. While the cap numbers leave little room for error or injury, the reality is that this is a team that will rarely need to dip beyond its top two lines. The biggest difference between this year and last is the target is now on them. If they can stay focused, stay healthy, and keep continue to mature, a possible repeat could be in the works. Chicago is officially a hockey town again.
Beyond being great for the city, it’s even better for a league quickly emerging from its suicide attempt of a couple years ago. Chicago will be a mainstay in the playoffs for years to come. The only difference is that the fans, the hockey people, and the players themselves will consider it a failure if more championships aren’t acquired.
Bryan Vickroy has an addiction to hockey, and is willing to partake in all its forms. He is skating extra shifts this season, covering the Minnesota Wild, the NHL, and NCAA hockey all year long. Look for new articles throughout the week. He can be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bryanvickroy/ If you’d prefer to speak in more than 140 characters at a time to him, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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