Rant Sports NHL 30 In 30: Previewing The Chicago Blackhawks
The past two seasons have been nearly identical for the Chicago Blackhawks. After selling parts of their team that won the Stanley Cup in 2010, they found inconsistency, both in the standings and as far as their health goes, before heading towards a first round exit in the postseason.
Last summer, the Hawks parted with Brian Campbell and Troy Brouwer, as well as Tomas Kopecky. The main motive behind cutting all three loose was money. But after a season without Campbell, and even Brouwer, most Hawks fans would gladly welcome them back given the alternatives. Nick Leddy struggled in trying to replace Campbell as the no. 3 defenseman, and the Hawks never really got a skilled big guy to replace what Brouwer brings to the table.
In the place of those guys, the Hawks thought they could replace them with old (understatement) veterans. Andrew Brunette and Sean O’Donnell were failed experiments, Steve Montador was used incorrectly, and Daniel Carcillo is who we thought he was with the way his season ended.
There were some positives throughout the year. Marian Hossa spent the regular season healthy for the first time as a member of the Hawks and reached the All Star Game. Of course, that was capped with a nasty head injury during the postseason, which he should be well recovered from by the time the new season begins.
Patrick Sharp also continued proving that he’s among the league’s elite players, even if he doesn’t get the credit for it. Same goes for Brent Seabrook, who might be the best d-man on this team. There was also an influx of youth that proved that they could hang in the NHL, including Andrew Shaw, and we saw some nice things in a brief appearance from Brandon Saad as well.
The negatives begin with Patrick Kane, who failed to find consistency. Moving him to center didn’t help much. Jonathan Toews battled a concussion for the entire second half of the season. And Corey Crawford fell off greatly from his rookie season and raised questions about the future of the Blackhawks’ crease. This is a team with questions all around, and will have to perform well to not only keep Crawford in net, but Joel Quenneville behind the bench as well.
Key Offseason Additions
The Hawks’ front office hasn’t done much of anything this summer. They added Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival to add some depth to the blue line. I really like the addition of Rozsival as a bottom pairing guy and Brookbank should be able to be a nice depth guy and come in for some matchups against the grittier teams.
But they really failed to address the problems that still face this team. There is still no second line center. They needed help on the defensive end in the form of a guy who could play on the second unit, next to Leddy. Someone bigger than Johnny Oduya. And despite my defense of Corey Crawford, they probably could have looked harder to at least upgrade behind him just in case he continues to struggle.
Key Offseason Subtractions
Brunette and O’Donnell are gone after they didn’t really fit in with this team. Sami Lepisto, too. Once the lockout ends, though, is when we could really see guys start to go. Niklas Hjalmarsson is a prime candidate to be traded, and it remains to be seen what the Blackhawks plan to do with Michael Frolik.
For this team, the x-factor has to be Patrick Kane. He’s been up and down the past couple of seasons, but was mostly down with a disappointing 66 points last year. At times, he was trying to do too much on the ice or was trying to adjust to playing center on that second line.
The plan for Kane in 2012-2013 should be as follows: get him back out on the wing. He’s much more effective out on the wing, particularly next to Jonathan Toews. After yet another drunken photo incident that landed him on Deadspin, the hope is that Kane has finally decided to grow up and could find some motivation in that situation, as well as the trade rumors that followed him for the remainder of the summer.
You could throw Corey Crawford’s name in there as well. For a team that didn’t have a single shutout in 2011-2012, he’s going to have to step his game up in a big way.
One guy that is flying under the radar for this team is Viktor Stalberg. He didn’t get nearly enough credit for how well he played last season, as he managed to harness some of that raw talent and become a very effective player out on the wing, once he fought his way out of the Joel Quenneville doghouse.
He’s going to be an interesting player to watch. Does his game have another level, or have we seen him reach his ceiling? His situation is going to be one to watch, as the latter could result in his being traded before the season is out.
2012-2013 Season Outlook
Obviously, the outlook for anyone this season isn’t too great considering where the two sides currently stand in the labor negotiations. But once the lockout does end, no one is going to be buzzing about these Hawks to start the year. It’s still almost the exact same team that had problems finding consistency last season, in multiple aspects of the game. If it wasn’t their goaltending, it was their offense, or vice versa.
There are still issues for this team to address. They really need a capable second line center. Could Marcus Kruger be the guy for that job? Either the Hawks are going to need someone to step up, or they’re going to have to acquire someone at some point during the season. Same goes for the goaltending.
But as of right now, this is a team that no one is expecting big things out of. It will require a move or two from Stan Bowman, some guys staying healthy and up to their potential, and perhaps even a change behind the bench before this team is ready to contend for another Stanley Cup.