2014/15 Season Preview – Chicago Blackhawks

http://www.rantsports.com/nhl/files/2014/03/teuvo-in-action.jpg

2013/14 Season Record – 5th in Western Conference, 3rd in Central Division

W

L OT PTS

GOAL DIFF.

46 21 15 107

+47

2013/14 Season Recap

There were some who feel that the Hawks finishing 3rd in the Central last year represented some sort of failure. Those people are very wrong. What was apparent to smart Chicago fans (a group that excludes the MSM and certain websites) was that the Hawks really didn’t care where they ended up in the Division, just as long as they made the postseason healthy (and someone clearly took Joel Quenneville aside and explained this to him in December).

The scary thing for fans of other teams must be that the Hawks didn’t really play at their full potential until the Conference Final and when they did they gave us a series for the ages against the outstanding (and eventual Champion) Kings, a series that was decided on a lucky bounce in OT of Game 7.

In addition, this was a Hawks team that hamstrung its 2nd line (and throttled what may have been a career season for Patrick Kane) by consistently playing Michal Handzus and other ill-fitting pieces at 2C. That may well have been fixed (as we shall see) and, other than that, it’ll be business as usual for one of the very best teams in the League. So, be afraid… right?

The big issue immediately in front of Chicago is that they are, as of this writing, $2m over the salary cap. Someone is going to have to go before opening day. My personal feeling is that it will be Johnny Oduya who moves: subtracting his $3.5M gets the Hawks under the cap with a little room to manouvere and there are a raft of Defensive players/prospects ready to step in. So, you’ll notice that Johnny O is missing from the projected roster.

Projected Roster

LW

C

RW

Patrick Sharp

Jonathan Toews Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad

Brad Richards Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell Andrew Shaw

Kris Versteeg

Jeremy Morin Marcus Kruger

Ben Smith

 

LD

RD

Brent Seabrook

Duncan Keith
Nicklas Hjalmarsson

Stephen Johns

Nick Leddy

Michal Roszival

 

G

Corey Crawford

Antti Raanta

 

EXTRAS

Joakim Nordstrom

Peter Regin

David Rundblad

 

Top Call-Up Options

Forward

Teuvo Teravainen

Defense

Klas Dahlbeck

Goal

Michael Leighton

Top Prospects

  1. Teuvo Teravainen
  2. Klas Dahlbeck
  3. Mark McNeil

Key Additions

Brad Richards (UFA), Michael Leighton (UFA)

Key Subtractions

Brandon Bollig (CGY), Michal Handzus (UFA), Sheldon Brookbank (UFA)

Roster Thoughts

Something that was hardly broken has, quite possibly, been fixed. In Brad Richards the Hawks have taken a zero-risk move to solving the 2C question that has dogged them since Patrick Sharp occupied that position in the 2010 Cup-Winning season. Richards may never score 30 goals again and he’s not the fastest but he’s a significant upgrade over Handzus, David Bolland, Andrew Shaw and an out-of-position Patrick Kane or Brandon Saad in that role. The Hawks top-6 will be made up of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, either Brandon Saad or Bryan Bickell and Richards. This is a top-6 without equal in the NHL.

Below that, with the removal of the almost-useless Brandon Bollig, the Hawks Bottom-6 is just as intimidating: Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith and Andrew Shaw would all be 2nd Line forwards on lesser teams. Jeremy Morin is in a make-or-break year. Teuvo Teravainen will be making his NHL bow proper at some point this season and the smart money would be on sooner rather than later.

Last year’s Norris-Winner Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook need little introduction. However, as is not widely known outside the Hawks fanbase, it was in fact the nominal 2nd Pairing of Nik Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya who saw the toughest competition last season. The Swedes were excellent and Hjalmarsson in particular had an outstanding season, this defensive defenseman contributing a NHL career-high points and goals total. Hjammer’s $4m/4yr contract is possibly the best value for a blueliner in the league.  Nick Leddy took something of a step back last year, but a lot of this could be pinned on the discomfort caused by having a three-man rotation operating next to him all season.

Former Boston College brick outhouse Stephen Johns is expected to make his bones in the NHL this year and is an exciting prospect. If he fails, then Adam Clendening and Klas Dahlbeck are waiting in the wings in Rockford.

In goal, we have the much-maligned Corey Crawford, favourite target of Chicago meatballs and Puck Daddy writers since his $6m/6yr contract. Crawford is what he is, occasionally prone to yips but also more than capable of stealing games when needed. He’ll be backed up with Antti Raanta, whose wretched stats (over a small sample size) belie the fact that he is still learning the North American game. The things that were obviously wrong with Raanta (his positioning being a big one) are things that can be fixed and I think it’s safe to assume that the Hawks’ goalie coaches have been working on it.

Key Player

I’m not going to focus on a “key” player, rather the player that Hawks fans are most excited about. That, of course, is Finnish wunderkind Teuvo Teravainen. The 20 year old tore apart the SM Liiga and lit up the World Juniors last year before making a brief cameo for the Hawks at the tail-end of the regular season. Teuvo-mania was rampant and our beloved MSM chided the fans for getting excited. They can get stuffed. Teravainen is the sort of player (like Tomas Hertl, for instance) who reminds you why you watch hockey. He has magic hands, great instincts and has the potential to be a superstar. He is, of course, also small and not used to the physicality of the NA game.

For that reason, I suspect he starts in the AHL and (my own theory) may well start on the wing rather than his natural position at center when he does make the Blackhawks. Regardless, he’s the brightest star in an already-stacked prospect pool and he’ll get (another) standing ovation when he hits the ice for the first time at the United Center.

2014/15 Expectations

There are some people out there trying to manage expectations for this season, suggesting that this year will be one sacrificed to bloodying prospects (which has to happen: the Hawks are going to be up against the cap for the foreseeable future and need to get prospects making the transition from the 3rd ranked Depth to the big team). I call BS. The Hawks are still tied with the Kings as the best (and best-run) team in the NHL and they have improved in the offseason. If some of the prospects struggle it will drop the Hawks to the level of “Still better than almost anyone else”.

Stan Bowman knows that the time to win is now, with Toews, Kane and Keith in their prime and Hossa and Sharp just coming out of theirs. The Western Conference and the Central Division, in particular, are going to be insanely competitive dogfights but the Hawks will be content to let the likes of the Blues, Stars and Wild knock their brains out for favourable seeding, knowing that they can roll any of these teams up in the Playoffs.

If I were a betting man, I’d back a third successive Hawks/Kings WCF, with the winner lifting the Stanley Cup after getting past the formality of thumping someone from the East. So, on that hubristic note, I’ll leave it there. It’s going to be an exciting year, seeing the next generation coming through while still being very close to the top of the pile.

Follow Mike on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

RECENT ARTICLES:

Advertisements

23 comments

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s