Blackhawks look to repeat wire-to-wire brilliance, build dynasty
Nikolai Khabibulin, Mike Kostka, Theo Peckham.
Dave Bolland, Daniel Carcillo, Ray Emery, Michael Frolik, Viktor Stalberg.
Last year: It’s not every year the best team from start to finish wins the Stanley Cup, but that was the case in the 2013 campaign. The Blackhawks got off to a record breaking start and it only got better from there.
Chicago opened the shortened season with six straight wins - a franchise record - and recorded at least one point in their first 24 games - a league record to start the season and the third longest streak overall in NHL history.
With the Presidents’ Trophy intact, the Blackhawks flew through the Stanley Cup playoffs, their stiffest competition coming in the second round against the Detroit Red Wings, before advancing to their second Cup Final in four years.
From there, the “biggest bunch of beauties” secured the team’s fifth Stanley Cup victory in franchise history.
Patrick Kane, who led Chicago in scoring in the playoffs and was tied for second overall with 19 points took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP.
If he wasn’t there already, his post-season performance vaulted the American forward into “superstar status,” especially coming off a season where Kane finished fifth in the league with 55 points in 47 games.
This Year: Andrew Ladd, Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, and Antti Niemi among others were all jettisoned from Chicago the summer after their 2010 Stanley Cup win for salary cap reasons, with Brian Campbell and Tomas Kopecky joining them one season later.
This year, the exodus wasn’t nearly as severe. Chicago traded away forwards David Bolland and Michael Frolik and lost Viktor Stalberg and Ray Emery to free agency this summer, but the main players are all returning for a shot at repeating as Stanley Cup champions.
The Blackhawks added some minor talents in defenceman Mike Kostka, formerly of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and Theo Peckham, formerly of the Edmonton Oilers.
The two should challenge for a roster spot, but Chicago’s most prudent signing of the off-season was likely back-up goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Emery was one of the most valuable back-ups in the league last year, posting a 17-1 record with three shutouts, a .922 save percentage, and a 1.94 goals against average. The 30-year-old parlayed that into a full time gig with the Philadelphia Flyers, leaving a hole in net behind Corey Crawford (who signed a six-year contract extension late in the summer).
The 40-year-old Khabibulin should fill that hole, returning to the team he started for from 2005-2009.
Bryan Bickell and Michal Rozsival also re-signed in Chicago in the off-season, ensuring their long term future with the club.
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Blackhawks' performance after a shortened season?
The jump back to an 82-game schedule will most effect the goalie situation in Chicago and that could play out in a number of ways.
Emery was crucial to Chicago’s regular season success last year and with 34 more games to play this time around, the backup goalie – now Khabibulin – could be even more vital to the Blackhawks’ success.
Of course, there will be far fewer back-to-backs this year so head coach Joel Quenneville may not have to rely on his backup as much. This could also all be moot if Crawford carries his strong play from the Stanley Cup Final into next year.
Chicago may also have to rely on a few more young players in 2013-14 and will have to hope they can operate the rigours of a long season in the absence of a few veteran third and fourth liners.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Hawks make to get themselves back in cap shape?
An old adage says that Stanley Cup heroes get rewarded handsomely. Blackhawks’ winger Bryan Bickell can certainly attest to that.
The 27-year-old, who tallied nine goals and 23 points in the regular season, cashed in on an outstanding playoff run where he added another nine goals and 17 points to his yearly total, with a new four-year, $16 million contract.
That was the biggest move of Chicago’s somewhat quiet off-season other than the savings the team reaped in the Bolland and Frolik trades.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Blackhawks after realignment.
The Blackhawks will remain in the Central Division, but lose two of their division rivals in the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets and gain new rivals in the Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets.
The loss of Detroit to the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference stings for Chicago, as that was a strong rivalry between the two Original Six teams. While hostilities will remain with the St. Louis Blues and, to a lesser extent, Nashville Predators, new feuds could strike up with neighbours from the north Minnesota and Winnipeg.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Brandon Pirri, C - The 22-year-old already has three full AHL seasons under his belt, managing two assists in seven career NHL games, and scoring 75 points in 76 AHL games for Rockford last season indicates that Pirri is ready for a chance to play a full-time role in the NHL.
That the Blackhawks have an opening for a second-line centre, a spot that would allow Pirri to skate with Patrick Sharp and either Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa, is all the more reason to be excited about Pirri's potential. It's one thing to have the pedigree of a scorer coming up through the system, it's another to get prime scorer's ice time, with linemates that can raise the bar offensively.
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Pressing Question: Without the mass exodus after their 2010 Stanley Cup win this time around, can the Chicago Blackhawks repeat as Stanley Cup Champions?
The Blackhawks didn’t make it through the summer entirely unscathed. Bolland and Stalberg were good depth players, Frolik an excellent penalty killer, and Emery a prized backup goalie. But compared to the exit of numerous talented players following their last Stanley Cup win, this off-season was a lot easier to stomach for fans in Chicago.
The vital pieces are still there with superstars Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Kane leading the way, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, and Brent Seabrook playing large roles, and Crawford and Bickell perhaps rounding into complete players.
They say it’s even harder to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions than to win in the first place, but Chicago remains as talented as any team in the league and will open the year amongst the favourites to win the Cup next spring.
- Chicago Blackhawks Preview by Ben Fisher, TSN.ca