5 Reasons the Chicago Blackhawks Can Fly Under the Radar in 2012-13
Well, the big question in the NHL is, when are we going to begin—if ever—the 2012-13 season? Though we don't know the answer, there will in fact be hockey this season and with that will come some sell-outs in the madhouse on Madison.
With limited offseason moves, Chicago Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman is putting a lot of faith in the current make-up of the 'Hawks. Whether you buy into it or not, if you think they are set up for disappointment or have they got the ingredients to make a Cup run, there will be no shortage of story lines this season.
For the moment, I will play the role of the optimist. Frankly, if the 'Hawks have injury problems or inconsistent play from significant contributors, the season could be lost.
At the same time, let's not forget that the 'Hawks had the NHL's best record last season on January 1. If they have a little fortune on their side in the 2012-13 season, they could be incredibly dangerous and here is why.
Better Defensive Depth
Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith will continue to be the catalysts in this group. That much is certain.
The two big free agent signings Stan Bowman took care of this summer were inking former Anaheim Ducks d-man Sheldon Brookbank and upping the ante for Johnny Oduya with a three year deal paying him just over $3.3 million annually.
Brookbank averaged 15:36 minutes per game last season, can scrap and is a value-add in his own end. Hopefully his presence will lessen the load a bit for Keith and Seabrook and cut into Nick Leddy's minutes as well.
While there were many rumblings suggesting Niklas Hjalmarsson was going to be moved, unless something happens in the next few weeks, it looks like the 'Hawks will start the season with No. 4 in a red sweater.
Although no 'Hawks' player makes me more nervous than Nick Leddy, I truly hope he has taken the offseason to work on his in-zone shortcomings and is ready for his best year as a pro.
Hopefully, Steve Montador will be ready to start the season after battling concussion problems for a large chunk of last year's campaign.
So there you have seven pretty formidable defenseman, and do not be surprised to see Dylan Olsen see more games with the big club and it's not out of the realm of possibility that prospect Adam Clendening may get a taste of the big time at some point.
The 'Hawks were bit by the injury bug last season. And no, that doesn't include Daniel Carcillo. They lost Steve Montador and Jonathan Toews to concussions.
Anytime you lose No. 19 for an extended period of time, it hurts. And who knows, if Tazer didn't have to jump right into the postseason after being banged up for so long, the team's fortunes could have been different.
Sure, players will miss games, but if the 'Hawks can go through the season while avoiding major injury they should be in a much better position to sustain consistency over the long haul of the season. In addition, Marian Hossa's season-long health will be critical.
Let's just hope there isn't another nine-game skid this season. That was brutal.
A Resurgent Corey Crawford
How about that for a bold slide title?
I hear you, this may be the season we find out whether or not Corey Crawford is a real NHL goaltender. This is the season where we either believe in a sophomore slump or accept Crawford as a flash in a pan.
Well, it will have to play itself out. But if Crawford can revert back to his 2010-11 form with arguably an improved defense in front of him, the 'Hawks with be a much more balanced team.
Yes, it's a hope and maybe a prayer, but it is not completely unrealistic to think that Crawford can bounce back.
Improved Special-Teams Play
Joel Quenneville went back to his roots when he hired new assistant coach, Jamie Kompon. Q got what he wanted, a coach that he is familiar with, and fans hope that Compton can bring a lot to the table.
Kompon, Quenneville and Mike Kitchen all worked together over a decade ago with the St. Louis Blues and produced some pretty good teams.
With that in mind, hopefully they are well in sync when it comes to dividing and conquering their responsibilities.
Because let's face it, the 'Hawks have way too much talent to be as poor as they were in 2011-12 in special-teams play.
Last season, the 'Hawks ranked 26th in the NHL with a 15.2 percent powerplay. To make matters worse, they ranked 27th in the league on the penalty kill at 78.1 percent.
That can't and won't get it done. With special teams as a focal point heading into this season, expect the 'Hawks to be better in this regard. They have little choice but to improve.
Offensive Fire Power
The one thing the 'Hawks have going for them is the big "O." This should continue.
When your top four forwards are Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, and Patrick Kane you are going to be in business at the other end of the ice.
Viktor Stalberg notched 22 goals last season and despite having a plethora of different linemates, none of which had particularly good seasons, Dave Bolland tallied 19 markers.
If the secondary scoring can contribute, there is no reason the 'Hawks cannot be amongst the league leaders in goals per game.
Last season they ranked sixth with 2.94 goals per game. Expect them to be right up there again in 2012-13.
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