September's finally here. And given how slowly teams are coming together, we decided to put off the previews until September this time. We go in alphabetical order because hey, why not? We'll be doing this until September ends. With that said here we go.
And now, the Chicago Blackhawks.
Team M.O.: An Original Six team with a loyal fan base, it's only been as of recently that Chicago has had a team they've been able to not only root for but to be proud of as well. Once Bill Wirtz had passed and his son, Rocky, took over the team, the group of players transformed from the underachieving, uncompetitive team that looked like it was playing in a small market to a team that was suitable for Chicago. The team grew fast and rose to meteoric heights faster than many realized. And now, their descent to earth might start this season...
Last Season: Second in the Western Conference and Stanley Cup Champions. Winning the championship came at a significant cost as the team was forced to dismantle many key components from the championship team in order to comply with next season's salary cap. However, many knew that they were going to have to make the most of this season after the Dale Tallon RFA "blunder", so it's good the team seized the opportunity with the team they had and made the most of it.
Side note: Due to the salary issues of the Blackhawks, the team I'm presenting will be the team they'll be going into battle with so I don't have to make any "suggestions" per se because they're not realistically going to happen.
Offense: Jonathan Toews may have cost the team some cap space with winning the Conn Smythe trophy last season, but he's absolutely worth it and will continue to be one of the premiere forwards in the league for many years to come. Patrick Kane has blossomed like many believed he would; a 90-100 point campaign is no longer out of the question as to what he can contribute for the team this year. Marian Hossa, who has appeared in three consecutive Stanley Cup Final appearances, provides the team with an elite two-way forward who should effectively round out the team's top line. While the team's first line has two of the best two-way players on a line with a great playmaker, the second line will likely feature two solid two-way players in Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer working with Patrick Sharp to give the team a solid secondary scoring line. Viktor Stalberg will be looked at to provide offense in a scoring role but could ride the pine if he doesn't pick up the defensive part of his game. While Tomas Kopecky doesn't necessarily stand out in any one area, he now has two Stanley Cup rings, so it's evident that he does know how to win. Fernando Pisani comes over from the Edmonton Oilers and while he provides the team with a solid checking winger, injuries and health are a serious concern for him and he ain't getting younger. Jack Skille will likely skate with the team this season as an energy winger while Bryan Bickell will play the "grinding" forward type until he gets the chance to show off his offensive skills. The remaining spots will be battled for by Kyle Beach, Hugh Jessiman, Igor Makarov, and Jeff Taffe.
Defense: Duncan Keith won the Norris last season as the league's best defenseman, I can't think of anything else to say beyond that. Brent Seabrook just keeps getting better as a two-way defenseman and often looks as good as Keith does or better at times; he might be gone after this season because he will definitely be the target of a few offer sheets if he isn't traded first. Niklas Hjalmarsson was re-signed after being signed to an offer sheet by the San Jose Sharks, many argue that he has the skills necessary to be a Top-Three defender in the league. The Brian Campbell signing looks more silly as time goes by but he (they already had the first three defenders in the system when he was acquired) but he no doubt gives the team with a solid offensive presence on the back end. Jordan Hendry, Nick Boynton, and John Scott will likely round out the defensive corps and will rely on Jassen Cullimore, Ivan Vishnevskiy, and Brian Connelly to make the drive up from Rockford if things get tough.
Goaltending: Marty Turco will make the team as the starting goaltender after Cristobal Huet and his $5.25M salary were loaned to a Swiss team. Corey Crawford will make the team as their backup after Antti Niemi was let go after salary arbitration. Hannu Toivonen will be the Number 3 goalie because he decided to come back to North America.
Management: GM Stan Bowman took over after the Tallon RFA blunder and oversaw who was sent out and who was kept; the success of the team this season will determine how highly regarded he will be as a G.M. Coach Joel Quennville's teams make the playoffs and his most recent one won the championship, so he's definitely doing well as one of the better coaches in the league.
Prediction: Third in the Central Division and on the playoff bubble.
As it stands, the Blackhawks have 21 players on roster and $1.5M to spare on adding two more bodies before the start of the regular season. While I'd like to say these guys remind me of the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings (in that they had to dismantle their team thanks to the economic realities of the league and kept their decent players on their top lines while giving a slew of new players the chance to have "role player" spots in hopes of ascending the depth chart in the future), I have to say they rather remind me of the 2009-10 Calgary Flames, in which it looks like a Jenga match that could topple over at any moment. While neither the Columbus Blue Jackets or Nashville Predators looked to have added anything that would make them significantly more competitive than last season, the Red Wings are still very much an excellent team and the St. Louis Blues should go into the season with the depth and experience necessary for them to succeed with a "scoring by committee" type of team. Should they avoid the injury bug then they'd be second only to the Red Wings. The Blues will likely leapfrog them if one of their top-end players get injured. Nashville and Columbus could catch up if several important players of theirs go down; but that would have to rely on a lot going wrong.