Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.
You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.
Added: Nikolai Khabibulin
Subtracted: Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg, Ray Emery
The Blackhawks are going to be good
Yeah? You’re going to make me do this, eh? Oooookey doke, here we go *writes 2000 word essay*
There’s “top-end talent,” like every team has, then there’s Top End Talent. Winnipeg’s “top-end” forwards, as a random example, do not include names like Jonathan Toews, who is potentially the best all-around hockey player in the world (at the very least in the top three). Patrick Kane might have the best hands in hockey. Marian Hossa might be one of the toughest players to defend in the game (all he can do is shoot hard, pass, protect the puck and use x-ray vision, though). And ho-hum Patrick Sharp is a two-time 30 goal-scoring all-star. That’s top-end.
They have young players like 20-year-old Brandon Saad, who was a Calder Trophy candidate and could center Sharp and Hossa this year. That’s if the job doesn’t go to 22-year-old Brandon Pirri, who led the American League in scoring last year with 75 points in 76 games. Hell, maybe they’ll give that spot to 23-year-old Marcus Kruger who’s developed nicely.
They’ve re-signed the beast Bryan Bickell who was a huge part of their cup run. They’ve got more grit in a guy like Andrew Shaw, who was also a huge part of their Cup run. And we’re this far down the lineup, and a proven veteran like Michal Handzus exists. And this is at forward.
They might have the best d-corps in the league, too. Duncan Keith, Olympian and all-star. Brent Seabrook, Olympian and all-star. Hjalmarsson is an underrated star they just extended. Leddy’s a dynamite young defenseman. Then you have rock-solid vets like Oduya and Roszival. C’mon now.
In net, you have some bum who pitched a .926 save percentage last season, but totally choked in playoffs, posting a .932. He damn near won the Conn Smythe along with the Stanley Cup.
So you tell me. Might they make playoffs? Mayyyybe.
The Blackhawks are going to be bad
Corey Crawford is a league average goaltender (at best) who only earned a Cup (and NHL paycheck) by virtue of playing behind a couple good defenders. He’s due to regress and get exposed, and when he does, who’s going to be there to pick up the pieces? Nikolai Kha-haha I can’t even say it, it’s too funny.
There’s no second line center on this team, unless you hand it to some young kid who’s not ready for the role and will hold his linemates back. Unless you’d like to give it to barely-NHL-quality-forward-at-this-point Michal Handzus, who is borderline painful to watch play these days. The team just overreacted to a good playoff run (thanks to some generous bounces) and gave
Dustin Penner Bryan Bickell four million dollars a year to be a bust. Speaking of overrated from one Cup run, hi Andrew Shaw. And speaking of all this great depth, what’s a Jimmy Hayes? Or a Jeremy Morin, for that matter. I know what a Brian Bollig is, but I also know he can’t play. An injury up top and it’s not hard to see how this could all crumble.
Flippant barstool prediction
They win the West, and probably the Cup if they’re healthy.
I mean, they were good last year. Second in goals-per-game to Pittsburgh (3.10 per), first in goals-against-per (2.02 a night), they smoked the league at 5-on-5 (first in goals for/against with 1.52!), and while their PP wasn’t great (19th), they had the third best kill in the league (they’ll miss Frolik here).
Okay, but seriously:
Seriously, I think they’re probably the best team in the league. Their dominance basically depends on how well their young players perform (does Saad have another good season coming, can Pirri play, does Kruger step up), their health (Hossa’s back, Toews head etc.), and how far Corey Crawford regresses from those world-beating numbers, which is likely to happen a bit. With their ducks in a row though, I see them as President’s Trophy and Cup contenders.
Your NHL.com preview:
You can check that out here. For some reason these became un-embeddable.