30 in 15: Chicago Blackhawks Season Preview

While fans were shocked at how quickly some of the integral pieces of the team that ended the longest-running Stanley Cup drought in the NHL were dismantled, such is the reality of life in the modern NHL. Still, it will be difficult for the Hawks to repeat their success without the services of Antti Niemi, Brent Sopel, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd, Adam Burish, John Madden and Kris Versteeg - literally half the forward lines and the starting rookie goalie that became just the 3rd ever to win the Cup in his first year.

*Offense:’ Two big reasons the Hawks will still be one of the top teams out West this year - Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The two combined for 50 goals and 134 points last year, not exactly the huge numbers you might expect from a pair of top draft picks on a Cup-winning team. But what makes these two so effective is that they literally open up tons of space for everyone else around them with their skill and the threat they constantly pose. Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa are two very capable scoring wingers, and while it remains to be seen how the lines will be divvied up this season, the Hawks will have two very lethal scoring lines. Assuming they can fill the checking roles vacated this summer, they won’t miss too much on offense.Grade: Apatrick kaneDefense:Again, two young names stand out on the Chicago blueline. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, both members of Canada’s gold medal winning team, went a combined +42 and put up 99 points between the two of them. Keith, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, will only look to improve as he continues to grow, although I’m not sure how you improve on a Stanley Cup, Norris Trophy winning season. With Brian Campbell out to start the season, Niklas Hjalmarsson will be expected to maintain the form he showed in the playoffs. Jordan Hendry will see more ice time, as will late season acquisition Nick Boynton. Still solid from top-to-bottom.Grade: A’'’Goaltending:’’’ Talk about a revolving door in the crease. Just three years back, Nikolai Khabibulin was the firmly entrenched netminder. He was supplanted by Cristobal Huet, who failed to impress and lost his job to Antti Niemi during the season. Niemi tore through his rookie year, winning 26 of 39 starts and posting a 2.25 GAA with 7 shutouts. He added two more in the playoffs en route to winning the Cup, but when an arbiter decided he was worth more than the Blackhawks were willing to pay, he signed in San Jose, one of the teams he helped eliminate. Veteran Marty Turco now has the reins, with no one but Cory Crawford in reserve if he falters. If there’s anything the Blackhawks are most concerned about right now, it’s the status of their goaltending.Grade: B-’'’Key Additions:’’’ Viktor Stalberg, Fernando Pisani*Key Losses:’

Len robinson
Sports Pundit member

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