The Chicago Blackhawks have re-emerged on the Chicago sports scene. No longer willing to be part of the crowd of lovable losers, the ‘Hawks are poised to make a big jump in the standings and to force their way back into the hearts and minds of the Chicago faithful. Led by a stellar crop of young draftees and a big name free-agent defenseman, the Blackhawks have stated that they want to sell out the United Center every game. Having already endeared themselves to fans by putting their games back on television, the Hawks will look to cement their status as a hot-ticket by getting back into the playoffs this season. Coach Denis Savard has the roster to do that.
The Blackhawks boasted a potent office last season, finishing 3rd in the West despite both Jonathan Toews and Martin Havlat missing significant time. Look for the Hawks to improve upon that total with the addition of Brian Campbell. His presence should give the forwards a little more to work with and should bump their power-play numbers. Last year’s Calder Trophy winner Patrick Kane will join Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp on the first line. All three are capable of 30 goals and 70 points. Andrew Ladd (who should be able to score more in Chicago than he did in Carolina) may replace Sharp on the top line if the Hawks are unable to find a replacement for the departed Robert Lang. Sharp would then centre the 2nd line with Dustin Byfuglien and Martin Havlat, which would give Chicago a potent attack. Byfuglien tallied 19 in 67 games last year and should improve that total with a full season at forward, while Havlat is in a contract year and is being counted on to produce.
The 3rd line is all sandpaper, with Adam Burish centering Craig Adams and Ben Eager. Though none of them really offer much in the way of offense, they can all throw the body and will be a tough group to play against. Burish led the team last year with 214 PIMs. The 4th line will be a little more skilled, with Dave Bolland at center and Jack Skille and likely Troy Brouwer on the wings. Skille is a speedy winger with a bit of grit. He also knows how to find the net, popping 3 goals in an abbreviated stint with the ‘Hawks last winter. New draft pick Kyle Beach and former Boston pick Kris Versteeg may also see time on the 4th line.
Marquee free agent addition Brian Campbell gives the Blackhawks their first solid #1 defenseman in years. He skates well, can put up big numbers and will only help to strengthen Chicago’s attack. Campbell adds another cog to an already impressive and improving defensive core. Duncan Keith had a breakout year last season, putting up an impressive +30 while logging big minutes. Brent Seabrook will likely join Campbell on the first unit with Keith and Brent Sopel getting the 2nd unit time. Cam Barker and James Wisniewski will round out the top 6 as soon as Wisniewski returns from injury (likely in December). Newcomers Jordan Hendry and Niklas Hjalmmarson will be the likely replacements until that time and then become the 7th defender.
The Blackhawks defense should be one of their strengths this season. Chicago received 38 goals from their blueliners last year, a total that should increase with this mix of veterans and youngsters.
Barring a trade, the Blackhawks will start the season with a formidable 1-2 tandem in Cristobal Huet and Nik Khabibulin. Huet, who was 6th in the NHL for save percentage last year, will be the starter and is being counted upon to provide Chicago with consistent netminding to give the young team a chance to win. Khabibulin will get his fair share of starts, but will have to cut down on the soft goals that have become his nemesis. If Khabibulin seriously falters or is dealt, Corey Crawford will become the backup.
Ceiling- 5th in the West
Floor- 10th in the West if the Sophomore Jinx hits.