In this week’s Fan’s Fronchroom bit, let’s talk a little about the upcoming season. I’m sure you’re all chomping at the bit to the extent that I am, and for that reason, I think we can all use a healthy little bit of hockey analysis. There are a few notable reasons for Blackhawks fans to feel extremely optimistic regarding the upcoming season, and a thorough look at GM Stan Bowman’s decisions this summer will leave you hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees.
In order to understand exactly what Stan did right this summer, we have to discuss what the Blackhawks did WRONG in the spring. Before I delve into this particular arena, let me provide anyone reading this particular article with a disclaimer. If you do not believe that the lack of defensive depth and structure was the principle problem that led to the Blackhawks’ first round exit at the hands of the Blues, then you and I have a fundamental disagreement that will render the remainder of this article pretty much trivial. With that out of the way, let’s talk defense. The Blackhawks, depending on how you view the team, essentially had 3 reliable defensemen in their series with the Blues–those being Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson, respectively. That fourth spot on the second pairing was regularly rotated throughout the series to absolutely no avail. To provide a more concrete perspective, bear in mind that Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson were colectively a +6 throughout the series, while Rozsival, Gustafsson, and Van Riemsdyk (the most common inhabitants of that fourth slot) were a -7. Rundblad and Svedberg broke even in the plus/minus department. Minus 7 is not championship quality, it’s not even playoff quality. The bottom line in this series was that 32, 57, and 56 were just not good enough to log crucial minutes in a playoff series. And while TVR and Gustafsson certainly show signs of significant process and promise, they are more effective in a less strenuos, support-oriented role that entails less responsibility. This lack of depth on the back end meant the Hawks’ demise in a series that the core of this team almost still came out on top of. That was a remarkable feat in a playoff atmosphere, and yet another wonderful testament to the tremendous talent and perseverance of the core of the Blackhawks.
Now that we’ve identified the problem, we can decide whether or not GM Stan Bowman did an adequate job addressing it. The first addition to the Hawks’ back end was European veteran defenseman Michal Kempny. Last year Kempny played 59 games in the KHL and sported a very promising +18 rating, as well as 21 points, 16 of which were assists. He’s a tall, fast defenseman whose puck-moving skills and skating ability will play well into Coach Q’s stretch-pass philosophy. Kempny is an excellent addition.
Then there was the big one. On July 1st, the Blackhawks signed defenseman Brian Campbell to a one year, $1.5 million deal. Campbell is a Stanley Cup Champion and a veteran defenseman who will fit more than comfortably into that 4th defenseman slot. In fact, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Keith/Campbell top pairing at times, strictly because of their unique abilities to skate the puck through the neutral zone and consequently open up offensive zone passing lanes. Campbell was a plus 31 last year, and had 6 goals and 25 assists in 82 games played.
The Blackhawks prioritized this summer and patched the biggest hole in their lineup. They are as structured defensively as they have ever been, and are poised to make a more legitimized Stanley Cup run. The losses of forwards like Teuvo Teravainen and Andrew Shaw may seem like difficult shoes to fill, and they probably are. However, if Stan Bowman has proven anything to us fans, it’s that he always has a plan. I plan on seeing another one of those Chicago-patented deadline rentals again this year to be the cherry on top of a fully functional lineup. It will be interesting to see what kind of roles players like Richard Panik or Jordan Tootoo will fill, too. Furthermore, don’t forget that rumor circulating the internet that Harvard hockey superstar and future NHL’er Jimmy Vesey currently has an eye for the Hawks.
Taking all of this into account, I’m as confident as I could likely ever be in August when looking forward to an 82+ game season. I’m formally predicting the Blackhawks to go 48-31-3 in the regular season, landing them the 4th seed in the Western Conference and 2nd in the Central Divison, behind only the Stars. The 4th seed will be enough for our Hawks to reclaim Lord Stanley’s grail, and I predict we will once again be celebrating come June.