Over the Next 30 days I will be Previewing each of the National Hockey League Clubs heading into the 2011-12 season starting from the Anaheim Ducks. Day 6 of the series belongs to the official AarifDeenReport Chicago Blackhawks Preview.
Please resort to myhockeybuzz page for previews of teams falling before this team.
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As the days go by and the Bruins players are each given their day with the cup, most of the players (minus Ryder and Recchi) are enjoying their day still members of Black and Gold. When the Chicago Blackhawks took the streets on the 11th of June in 2010 to celebrate their championship, little did they know that would be the last time for many of those players to ever wear a Hawks jersey as part of the team.
Just 13 days after that very parade, Chicago was involved in a blockbuster trade that sent playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien along with Ben Eager and Brent Sopel to Atlanta (RIP) to fix the horrible cap position that Stan Bowman was handcuffed with. In a separate trade that very same day, Colin Fraser found himself now a part of the Edmonton Oilers.
On the 30th of June, Chicago continued to trade high salary roster players and restricted free agents they were unable to afford to re-sign. Kris Versteeg was shipped to Toronto in part of a 5-player deal. Two days later, Andrew Ladd was sent to the Thrashers to join Byfuglien for a prospect and a pick.
To make matters worse, Doug Wilson, GM of the Sharks went out and signed Nik Hjalmarsson to four-year $14 million offer sheet attempting to pry the uprising 23 year old young defender away from Chicago. After giving it some thought, the Hawks matched the offer and were able to re-sign Nik. However it was for a lot more than they were anticipating at first.
Many blame Nik’s contract as the reason why Antti Niemi was lost to unrestricted free agency later in the summer. After being awarded a grand total of $2.75 million by the arbiter, Chicago was unable to afford that sum and were forced to release Antti into free agency. He was snatched up almost instantly by the San Jose Sharks looking for a fresh start in goal after the Nabokov era. Many reports came out saying Doug Wilson used Hjalmarssons offer sheet to further force Stan Bowman into releasing Antti Niemi. Whether it’s true or not, Sharks came out with a Stanley Cup winning goaltender free-of-charge.
Desperately, Chicago GM Bowman had no choice but to split up his Cup winning squad. Although he was able to keep together his main core intact, many role players as well as heart and soul leaders were lost due to cap restraints. Entering this season, there were eleven new faces taking the ice for the Blackhawks against the Avs on opening night.
The Blackhawks experience many highs-and-lows and ups-and-downs this year. It all ended with the Toews-lead Hawks just barely squeezing into the postseason thanks to the Wild for defeating the Stars in their last game of the year. Chicago matched up once again against the Canucks. However this time it was Vancouver who received home-ice advantage. It was Vancouver who was the favourite to win, and Vancouver who was atop the Western standings. After dropping the first three games of the series, the Hawks were able to force a game 7. Unfortunately, a game 7 OT goal by Burrows sent the Hawks packing shortly after Toews was able to score a shorthanded goal in the dying minutes of the games to knot up the score at 1 and force overtime.
It was the end of a rough season for the Hawks. Heading into the 2011 offseason, Stan Bowman did not have as much harsh decisions to make. However, he had plenty of salary coming off the books to at least add depth to a roster which holds a great core.
Major Players Added:
While not given as much flexibility as others in the league (holy moly Dale Tallon I’m speaking to you) Stan was given enough cap space to help resurrect their depth and bring in quality players to mix with the stars of the team. 40% of which are named Patrick.
Rostislav Olesz: On Draft day, Stan Bowman got in contact with Dale Tallon and was involved in a win-win trade. Stan was able to shed some more cap space while Dale was able to add much needed cap space AND acquire a player who’s contract was given to him by Dale himself. The Blackhawks received Olesz from the Panthers for high-payed defenseman Brian Campbell. Olesz will be given every chance by Coach Q to crack the top 6.
Steve Montador: On the 29th of June, Stan went out in search of a quick replacement for the recently traded Campbell. Steve Montador, an unrestricted free agent for the Buffalo Sabres was on the trade block. Bowman pulled off a deal with Regier to acquire the rights to Montador for a draft pick. The 31 year old was signed days later to a four-year deal worth 2.75 million a year. He will join Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson to round out the top 4 in Chi-Town.
Daniel Carcillo: If you were ever a fan of Ben Eager in Chicago. Well, lets just say Carcillo is exactly what you’re looking for. That player that Blackhawks faithful will love, but the other 29 teams will despise. The former Flyer hasn’t even suited up for the Blackhawks yet and Carcillo has already called out the Vancouver Canucks and made it clear that Max Lapierre is on the top of his list. Talk about stirring up a rivalry two months before the season begins. Carcillo will provide everything Eager did before being traded away. Fans will love him, and players on the opposition will want to fight him. Great pickup for a cheap price at 700k.
Andrew Brunette: This signing flew under the radar on the 1st of July. Of the 60 players who signed the dotted line to join a new club on Canada day, Andrew signed with Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks. The 37 year old forward still has plenty of gas left in the tank. Before his recent three years in Minnesota, Andrew played some of his best hockey best hockey in Denver. Including in 2007 when he once again flew under the radar recording 83 points playing alongside Joe Sakic. An underrated player, Andrew is not the fastest of players. However he’s great at getting into the tough areas around the net. He’ll battle for the puck in the corners and he’ll set up plenty of scoring chances from behind the goal. He has plenty of hockey smarts and his leadership will also play a vital role for the B’Hawks this coming season. Andrew is under contract for one-year worth a low $2 million. A great bargain for Chicago
The Others: On July 1st Bowman agreed to terms with Jamal Mayers and Sean O’Donnell on one-year contracts. Both aging players will provide tons of leadership for Chicago and will both be vocal on and off the ice. Sean O’Donnell will most likely receive 3rd pairing minutes, but he will make the best of every minute he gets. He plays a sound defensive game with minimal mistakes. Two weeks later Sami Lepisto was signed to a one-year deal. Lepisto, coming from the Columbus Blue Jackets will be looking to crack the lineup competing with Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Montador, O’Donnell, and Leddy for just 6 defense spots. Ray Emery recently received a training camp tryout from the Blackhawks with hopes of becoming the teams backup goaltender.
Who Was Lost:
Troy Brouwer was traded to the Washington Capitals
Brian Campbell was traded to the Florida Panthers
Tomas Kopecky was traded to the Florida Panthers
Jake Dowell signed on with the Dallas Stars for 1-year worth 800k
Jeff Taffe signed on with the Minnesota Wild for 1-year worth 600k
Garnet Exelby signed on with the Detroit Red Wings for 1-year worth 600k
Evan Brophey signed on with the Colorado Avalanche for 1-year worth 525k
Scoring the 4th most goals in the league last year, Chicago hardly missed a step on offense. This year, with Andrew Brunette replacing Troy Brouwer, and a few bottom 6 players gone due to trades and free agency, Chicago’s offensive numbers will be very similar to last year. Jonathon Toews started clicking offensively the 2nd half of the season last year, and there is no reason to believe he won’t crack the point-per-game average for the first time in his career. Sharp, Kane, Brunette, Hossa, and one of Frolik or Ben Smith will round out a possibly dangerous top 6 that Chicago will be icing each night. The bottom 6 will be a lot more tougher and wiser with experienced forwards Mayers and Carcillo injected into the lineup.
How can a teams defense be in trouble when they hold one of, if not the best defensive pairings in the league? Keith and Seabrook, both signed long-term to stay in Chicago, will be leading this teams blueline to greatness year-in and year-out for a long time. With Campbell gone, however, Keith will need to step it up to his Norris Trophy winning 2010 season to make up for the lost offense, and newcomers Montador and O’Donnell will have to play to the best of their abilities. Chicago’s defense will once again be one of the better in the league and Crawford will have plenty of help keeping the puck out of the net.
After losing Niemi in the Sharks mishap, Corey Crawford stepped up and pushed Marty Turco out of the crease and took over the starting job. After posting 33 wins last season along with a 2.30 GAA, Corey was given a new three-year contract. He will once again be starting for Chicago and will only get better with time. The longtime Chicago prospect has finally been given his shot and has not let the spotlight leave him since. This year he will be backed up either by the goaltender acquired from Florida, Alexander Salak, or recently signed Ray Emery who will be given his shot at training camp. Whichever one it is will round out a good goaltender pairing for Chicago heading into the 2011-12 season.
Deen’s Projected Lineup:
Andrew Brunette - Jonathon Toews - Patrick Kane
Michael Frolik - Patrick Sharp - Marian Hossa
Rostislav Olesz - Dave Bolland - Ben Smith
Viktor Stalberg - Jamal Mayers - Daniel Carcillo
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Steve Montador - Nik Hjalmarsson
Sean O’Donnell - Nick Leddy
Deen’s Prediction: As Chicago will miss out on winning the division for the 2nd straight season, the Blackhawks will still be one of the 16 teams in the playoffs. Coming in ranked at the 7th spot, Chicago will face a familiar foe. Yes, you know exactly who I’m talking about. The 2nd seeded Vancouver Canucks. After a well fought series, including many scuffles involving Lapierre and Carcillo, Chicago will get revenge on the Canucks. Last year Vancouver eliminated Chicago in the first round after their Cup championship. This year Chicago will return the favour. Although unlike Chicago, Vancouver was 4 goals short and 1 riot too many from winning the Cup.
In the 2nd round of the playoffs, they will match up against the top seeded Los Angeles Kings. Jonathon Quick and the Kings will be no match for the Blackhawks who were pushed to the limit against Vancouver. Kings will take the series in 5 games and will advance to the conference finals for the first time since Wayne Gretzky lead them to the finals in 1993. Expect Duncan Keith to once again be in the running for the Norris Trophy.
Thanks for reading! Follow me on twitter @AarifDeenReport please!
I would also like to send my condolences to Rick Rypien and his family and friends. 27 years is too young an age to pass away. Please pray for his loved ones to get through this tough time.