The Good Old Hockey Game: Blackhawks Season Preview
The Chicago Blackhawks are back and looking to rebound after losing to the LA Kings in the Western Conference Finals. For a team used to either early round exits or Stanley Cup victories, coming within an overtime goal of the Stanley Cup Finals with an inferior New York Rangers team waiting was a tough pill to swallow. So with a loss fresh in their minds and a full offseason to recover, the Hawks begin a new quest to win the Stanley Cup Thursday night in Dallas.
The top offseason objective for general manager Stan Bowman was extending the contracts of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. In July. the two franchise cornerstones signed matching contracts worth $84 million. The extensions are a significant raise from their current deals and will take effect next season. The increased cap hit, as well as the need to resign emerging star Brandon Saad, means this will be the last year for this core of players. For a team as tight knit as the Hawks, knowing 2014-15 is their last chance will only add to the sense of urgency to win.
Throughout last postseason it was obvious the Hawks needed to address the void at second-line center. Head coach Joel Quenneviille finally found lightning in a bottle with Andrew Shaw late in the Western Conference Finals, but four games in the playoffs doesn't ensure regular season success. The Hawks will enter the season with Shaw at second-line center, but his penalties and low faceoff percentage cast doubts on the fit. To solidify the role, they brought in veteran center Brad Richards, who is looking to rejuvenate his career after a falling out with the Rangers. Richards will start the year on the third line, but is waiting in the wings if Shaw is ineffective.
Entering training camp, the Hawks were over the salary cap and needed to jettison salary. To rectify the problem, Bowman sent defenseman Nick Leddy to the Islanders for a trio of prospects. The move clears the way for young defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad to get their shots in the NHL. It looks like the two young defensemen will be paired with veterans Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya to speed up the learning curve. However, the young player Hawks fans expected to see, Teuvo Teravainen, is not on the roster. The organization says they want Teravainen to play heavy minutes in Rockford, but expect a callup at some point in the season.
As with all teams, the Hawks will need to avoid injury and exhaustion throughout the year. They have a stacked lineup worthy of a Stanley Cup Finals appearance, but only if their stars are on the ice and their role players aren't forced into extended minutes. Both the Central Division and Western Conference are loaded with talented teams, which means the Hawks will have to balance the need to win on a nightly basis with the need to keep their players fresh for an extended playoff run. This will be head coach Joel Quenneville's cross to bear.
So here we are Hawks fans, at the beginning of another year that will be filled with lofty expectations, ups and downs, and more than a few sky-is-falling moments. But with any luck, the Hawks will be treating us to a party in Grant Park in the near future.