Chicago Blackhawks Season Review, Part I: A Look at the Forwards
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The Chicago Blackhawks are on extended vacation for the second straight season. Now that the lockers are cleaned out, it's time to make a sweep through the organization to review the season that was.
We'll get to all areas of the team both on and off the ice. In this first installment, I'll cast my gaze on the players up front. Look for other positions to be put under the microscope later this week.
Twenty-one skaters spent time on one of Chicago's forward lines this season, not counting John Scott and Steve Montador, who I'll discuss with the defensemen. GM Stan Bowman signed several free-agents intended to hold the team over until several promising youngsters could develop into NHL-ready players.
By the end of the season, many of those prospects were with the Blackhawks or had been recalled at some point of the season. Despite Bowman's signings, several rookies played a big role in Chicago's season.
What follows are thoughts on the forwards during the 2011-12 campaign. Expect in-depth features on most of these individual skaters over the course of the summer. These reviews come sans grades. Feel free to add your own in the comments section. Let's get started.
February's concussion put a halt to what was shaping up to be a career-best season for Toews. His absence didn't result in the plummet in the standings that was expected, but it's hard to say that the captain was at his best after missing the last 22 regular season games.
Who was the 'Hawks MVP this season?
Depending on where you sit with Kane, his season went one of two ways. He either proved to you that he can be the long-term solution at the center of the second line or that he will never live up to the offensive expectations heaped upon him. I thought he stepped up when Toews was out. On the other hand, he struggled to hit the 20-goal mark this season.
Chicago's MVP of the regular season. I had him narrowly over Toews as team MVP at the halfway mark, and that was before the captain missed most of the second half. Hossa played in 81 games and led the team in scoring. Most of a fine season will be forgotten if the face of being sent out on a stretcher via Raffi Torres.
Showed toughness in playing through a wrist injury for a good portion of the season. Led the team in goals scored for the second year in a row. Possibly because of the wrist, the consistency didn't seem there at times, but he also stepped up a bit physically later in the season.
Stalberg came through with a 40-point effort in just his second full season in the NHL. The speed is there for sure. If he can cut down the turnovers and continue to develop his hockey sense, could he be maturing into a legitimate second-line scoring threat? Of course, he needs to get it done night in and night out.
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Put in a fairly healthy season compared to the last two. However, his 37 points only matched last season's total though he played in 15 additional games this season. He solidified his role as checking center mostly because he didn't shine when moved up a line.
He sees the writing on the wall after a disappointing 27-point season and had trouble finding his place in the offense due to his lack of speed. Veteran savvy wasn't enough in his case. The silver lining is the one-year deal he was signed to means both parties can move on.
Kruger took a physical pounding out there but had a promising rookie campaign. He spent a lot of the latter stages of the season centering Sharp and Stalberg to some success. He seems more suited to the third line than the second, which is why it wouldn't stun me to see Bowman shopping Bolland.
The goals were way down and he spent the majority of the season trying to sublet the doghouse, which he eventually did to Michael Frolik. He book-ended the season with some quality play and was a hitting machine in the playoffs. If he could play like that all the time, I'd be fine with a dozen goals out of him.
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Started the season on an AHL contract and was an indispensable part of the lineup by the time Chicago was eliminated. Got to love the motor on this guy. What you see is what you get with Shaw. Scoring isn't his bread and butter so he'd better continue to improve on the defensive end. Still, 12 goals in 37 games and he earned nearly every one.
Brought in to provide grit and he did just that. Mayers was Bowman's best pick-up for the price he paid. Is it too much to expect for him to put up similar results if he's re-signed? Up until the playoffs, I thought that was a given. Now I guess we wait to see what Bowman does.
I can't question the effort. He kept working hard even as he made you wonder under what conditions could have existed to let him score 20 goals twice for Florida. He now has as many snake-bitten seasons as the high-scoring ones. For the price Bowman paid, five goals just isn't enough.
We got the complete Carbomb show. An agitator who could hang with the top-six at times, brainless goon at others. Carcillo provided some decent play between suspensions until his boarding of Tom Gilbert and subsequent blowing out of his own knee in Edmonton. He's another player who divides fan opinion that looks to be here a while via a two-year extension signed this spring.
Which 'Hawks rookie forward made the biggest impact?
Hayes made an initial splash upon recall but spent a lot of time on the bench when he should have been in Rockford developing his game. I think he could stand to be an IceHog for a good portion of next season. He showed an early willingness to hit, but that's not really his game yet. With higher expectations and a full season in Chicago, he'll show Bickell-like tendencies when it comes to physical play.
Bollig certainly made the most of his recall, which I could have never predicted back in camp. He was brought up to fight and got right to work. He's a restricted free agent this summer but can be signed for minimum bucks if the 'Hawks so choose. Eight fights in 18 games and a playoff goals doesn't guarantee him a spot on next year's roster, but who knows how much Joel Quenneville values his muscle?
Smith started and ended the season on the mend. A concussion late in preseason probably cost him a regular spot on the roster. He played well in Rockford but surgery ended his season early in March. He scored a pair of goals in 13 games in Chicago.
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Morrison didn't produce much but didn't cost much. Bowman hoped to catch lightning in a bottle on the cheap when he couldn't get the center his team needed. That didn't happen, though he was good for a playoff goal.
Olesz sat around after coming over in the trade that sent Brian Campbell to Florida. He saw action in a half-dozen games before spending the rest of the season in Rockford. When healthy, he could have played a part on a lower line if not for the huge cap hit. A decision needs to be made on him, unless Rocky Wirtz wants to pay the guy over $3 million for another season in the minors.
Another player the 'Hawks need to find a place for soon or use to get a missing piece of the puzzle is Pirri. He was an AHL All-Star after making the club out of camp and then was almost immediately sent to Rockford. He made appearances in five contests in several short stints and will be a player to watch in camp.
He looked ready for NHL action in a cameo last season, but Morin was out 10 months with a concussion and didn't start skating until October. He had trouble getting in an offensive groove in Rockford but didn't shy away from contact. He was up for three games but not with the impact of his nine-games in Chicago the season before.
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Shaw's ascension to the NHL almost made you forget that Saad was the 'Hawks first pick from the 2011 draft to see regular-season action. Saad played two games before heading back to juniors, then played a pair of games in the Phoenix series upon completion of the OHL playoffs.
Bowman will have to decide which of his prospects are ready for more responsibility. Several veterans don't appear to have futures in Chicago. Whether Bowman switches out the veteran names or dips into the deep talent pool he has assembled in the last few years remains to be seen.
Part two of the season review looks at the blue line and will be followed by spotlights on goal, prospects, the coaching staff and the front office.
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