A deep roster with an enviable amount of top end talent helped carry the Chicago Blackhawks to a 55-22-8 record, a Central Division title, and the franchise’s first Stanley Cup in 49 years. The Blackhawks’ sound even strength play (3rd in GPG, T-5th in GAA) was the club’s MO in 2009-10, its powerplay was surprisingly mediocre but the penalty kill was dynamic with a rate of 85.3% to go along with a league best 13 shorthanded goals. There’s really nowhere to go but down for the Blackhawks in 2010-11, unless they’re looking to claim the Presidents’ Trophy with the league’s best record.
Salary cap pressure forced the hand of Stan Bowman to deplete the roster of its depth and opt for cheaper models. New faces include Fernando Pisani, Ivan Vishnevskiy, John Scott, Viktor Stalberg, and Marty Turco in goal.
Where do we start? Playoff heroes Dustin Byfuglien and Antti Niemi are gone along with Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, John Madden, Brent Sopel, Ben Eager, and Colin Fraser. The Blackhawks did their best 1997 Flordia Marlins impression by jettisoning a ton of contracts, but still find themselves pressed up against the cap. Goaltender Cristobal Huet and his $5.625 million salary are headed for Switzerland on loan, giving the Hawks a complete makeover in goal.
Even with all of the departures, the Blackhawks shouldn’t have too much trouble scoring goals. Patrick Kane (30), Patrick Sharp (25), Jonathan Toews (25), Marian Hossa (24), and Troy Brouwer (22) all remain and will be counted upon to meet or exceed those totals in 2010-11. A healthy Dave Bolland should also help with offensive production, while newcomer Viktor Stalberg should be looked to for an offensive breakout.
Duncan Keith and the defense core of Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, and Niklas Hjalmarsson are also key cogs in the offensive system that was led by Keith’s 69 points from the blue line. Perennial roster candidate Jack Skille will receive an opportunity to play everyday; he’s been a steady producer in the AHL with 59 goals over the last three seasons with Rockford.
Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith and his teeth all remain. Newcomers Ivan Vishnevskiy and the gigantic John Scott will be given a shot to round out the defense corp. The club elected to bring back veteran Nick Boynton, who will be counted upon for regular minutes if he can keep his head straight. Sopel’s playoff performance was admirable, but he’s not a major loss.
It’s not ever often you see a Stanley Cup champion cut ties with both their starter and backup the following offseason. In a move that will likely define the Blackhawks’ season, win or lose, Stan Bowman and co. chose to let rookie netminder Antti Niemi walk after rejecting an arbitrator’s decision. Cristobal Huet is gone as well, but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. With Niemi out of the picture, Marty Turco and Corey Crawford have become the tandem du jour in Chicago.
Turco could end up looking like one of the best free agent bargains in recent memory if he holds his own in goal. At $1.3 million, he’s cost effective but workload could be a major concern for the 35-year old. The past five seasons have been a mix of mediocre and substandard performance for Turco, granted, last season was a relative bounce back from an awful 2008-09. Corey Crawford has proven himself in the minors, and he could be asked to play anywhere from 15-25 games this season.
Best Case Scenario
The core picks up where they left off last spring and Jonathan Toews takes his offensive game to new heights. Marty Turco makes everyone forget about a flash in the pan named Niemi, and Duncan Keith reaffirms himself among the NHL’s elite defensemen while Fernando Pisani goes all 2005-06 on the way to defending the Cup.
Worst Case Scenario
Stan Bowman sent the club’s heart packing for Atlanta and a depleted forward group struggles to support the top six. Marty Turco’s best years are behind him and the Blackhawks stumble on their way to an early-ish playoff exit.
It’s now or never for Jack Skille. The minutes will be available if he’s ready to perform in the NHL on a nightly basis, think a cheaper version of Kris Versteeg if all goes well for the 23-year old. Corey Crawford is unproven, but tutelage under Turco may be all he needs to step into duties as a reliable NHL backup. Ivan Vishnevskiy probably won’t put up the offensive numbers he was known for in junior, but his improved defensive play and offensive awareness are nice indicators of his potential.
All Eyes On…
Marty Turco is entering a nice situation in Chicago. He was adequate on a terrible Dallas team last season, but he’ll need to elevate his game to appease supporters of Niemi. Chicago’s defense was ranked 6th best last season and Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, et al. will need to provide similar protection in order for Turco to succeed.
Time goes by
Now I know
First it giveth
Then it taketh away
-Queens of the Stone Age “First it Giveth”