Every article you read these days needs to start with "Will the season begin on time?" or "Will we have a season?"
Good. Done. That's out of the way.
Let's suppose we have a great season and there is hockey to play. Now let's see what the Chicago Blackhawks' forwards bring to the table.
Setting the expectations for this list, you will not see prospects on it. Brandon Saad will not be magically thrust into the top six on this list, and for that matter, the top six on this list will not be the first two lines on the 'Hawks team.
This list is about two-way play, value-add to your club and, above all, consistent play.
As we head into the 2012-13 season, here is a short list, breaking down the 'Hawks top 12 forwards.
I would love to put Jimmy Hayes or Brandon Saad in this spot, but time will tell on that one.
Jamal Mayers still provides value. At 36 last season, he played in 81 games, can still scrap and does a decent job on the fourth line.
Mayers was rewarded with a new contract this season, and while there is a chance he my not appear in all games for the 'Hawks, he is a good guy to have around.
There may be a rookie that will pass him on this list when the season begins, but for right now Mayers rounds out the 12th spot.
When Stan Bowman looks in the mirror every day, do you think he see's a ghostly image of Troy Brouwer peering over his shoulder?
Well, he should. Bowman traded Brouwer away in the summer of 2011 in order to prioritize signing Michael Frolik to three year deal paying him $2.3 million annually. Ouch.
Last season Frolik limped to a five-goal, 15-point output and minus-10 rating.
In the words of Forrest Gump, "That's all I have to say about that."
Bryan Bickell salvaged part of his season with an overtime goal in Game 2 of the first round of the playoffs.
That was his highlight.
His low-light? Well, he had about 65-70 games worth of that. Bickell is as erratic as they come in the NHL. You never have any idea if the perimeter shooter or the power forward is going to show up. And forget in-zone play, that doesn't even apply.
I would love to see Bickell reinvent himself this year as a permanent third- or fourth-line staple, focusing more on the 'Hawks half of the ice, dominating physical battles and concentrating on keeping the opposition off the scoreboard. That's the only way I see him being a true asset in this league.
Back to reality. I'm not holding my breath.
Andrew Shaw was the feel-good story of the 2011-12 season. As a 2011 fifth-round round pick, few imagine this kid cracking the lineup, let alone scoring 12 goals in 37 games.
He plays with an edge, has little regard for his own welfare, gets the net and has a big heart. Those are all great signs of a young player. He reminds me a lot of Adam Burish when we had him.
The big question? Can he sustain this?
Shaw is not the surprise anymore. Now, there are expectations on him. Look for Shaw to be in the bottom six this season, and let's hope he can continue to bring his contagious enthusiasm to the game.
This is a tough call and you can flip a coin right now between the value of Daniel Carcillo and Andrew Shaw.
The reason Carcillo is slotted ahead is this. When Carcillo was lost for the season on January 2, the 'Hawks were leading the Western Conference with 52 points.
And that was the best they were in 2011-12.
Carcillo was given a gift with a two-year contract extension. Not many players can usher a suspendable cheap shot, blow their knee out all in one play and then weeks later be rewarded with a two-year contract extension. Way to go, Dan.
The good? Carcillo brings and intensity and energy that is critical for the teams and the opposition needs to be aware of him at all times when he is on the ice.
The bad? As a repeat offender, Carcillo is one hit away from a Raffi Torres-type suspension and that would really hurt the 'Hawks.
Let's hope he has cooled off a bit and can play some good hockey.
Many can make the argument that Stalberg should sit No. 6 on this list due to his 22-goal output in 2011-12. While it was a great season for him in many ways, I am still not convinced that Stalberg is a big-game player.
Viktor is a flyer, his top-end speed is excellent, and he had some good games last season. But Stalberg has yet to become effective in all areas of the ice and still has not complemented his game by learning how to use his big frame.
He was not effective in the first-round series against the Phoenix Coyotes and while 22 goals are great, when your linemates are Sharp, Hossa, Kane or Toews every night, this comes with the territory. Also consider this, 13 of his 22 goals (roughly 60 percent) were against non-playoff teams (Columbus, Montreal, Minnesota and Calgary).
Those are games you have to win, and Stalberg is a true asset if the Stanley Cup was determined in regular season hockey.
I would rather have him than not, but I do think that last season and perhaps this coming season when he turns 27, is the best hockey you will see Stalberg play in his career.
One of the major reasons I ranked Marcus Kruger ahead of others is you know what you are going to get night in and night out with this kid.
You are going to get a solid two-way hockey player that knows his defensive responsibilities and moves the puck very well through the neutral zone.
Kruger played 71 games last season and registered nine goals and 17 assists for 26 points. He also had a plus-11 rating.
Those are hardly gaudy numbers, but that's not why he is in the lineup. Kruger spent most of his time centering the fourth line while occasionally having second-line center responsibilities. Having said that, his crafty game gives him a very well-established role on this squad.
The proof is in his 15:23 minutes per game, which ranks 10th on the team and sixth amongst forwards. That's over a minute ahead of Viktor Stalberg's 14:04 per game.
In an era where centers are extremely valuable, Kruger will continue to get better as he is only 22 years old.
Patrick Kane saw a dip in his point production last season with a career low 66 points. This was not entirely his fault as he was shifting back and forth between center and wing.
At the same time, what has been frustrating about Kaner the last couple of seasons is watching him explode in a multi-point game, be the best player on the ice and then disappear for three straight games.
Whether you are rattled by Kane's extracurricular activities during the offseason, he is still an elite talent in the NHL and exciting to watch. He will need to be more consistent in his approach and continue to improve as a player.
Dave Bolland get's the four spot here ahead of Patrick Kane.
Bolly plays such a vital role on this club it cannot be overlooked. He is critical as a third-line center, plays valuable minutes on the penalty kill, and somehow netted 19 goals last season while having Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik as his most consistent linemates. That's certainly not an easy task.
He's another player that has struggled with health problems, and the 'Hawks are a different team without Bolland in the lineup. That was never more evident than in the first round of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Patrick Sharp continues to be an asset.
Last season he tallied a career-high 33 goals and played in his first NHL all-star game. What makes Sharp so valuable is how well he plays in all situations. Man up, man down, Sharp is a huge part of this team.
Still wondering why the center experiment is more focused around Kane than Sharp, who spent a considerable amount of time playing in the middle during the 2010 Cup run? But that's a question for another time.
Sharpie is a real hockey player.
Hossa will turn 34 this season, but unless he's being railroaded via an out-of-control Raffi Torres, he can still play.
Hossa led the 'Hawks in scoring in 2011-12 with 77 points and no player in the league is better at protecting the puck with his body than the "Big Hoss."
The 'Hawks will need a fully healthy Hossa to compete this coming season.
The easy No.1. He has the heart, the talent and drives the Hawks' bus.
Missing him towards the end of last season was difficult, and had he been playing before being thrust into the postseason, who knows if things would have turned out differently.
In no deference to Reggie Jackson, Jonathan Toews is the "straw that stirs the drink" in the Windy CIty. If we do have a season in 2012-13, look for him to have a huge one.
There are some incomplete packages that did not make the rankings due to lack of games last season and uncertainties of their team status this season.
Brandon Bollig: A tough guy who scored his first NHL goal in the playoffs. You will see him against bigger more rugged teams this year when the 'Hawks need that physical presence.
Jimmy Hayes: He caught fire early in his first few games of his NHL career and then slowly faded. He will more than likely spend some time in Rockford and with the big club this season.
Brandon Saad: The kid with all the expectations. Will he be a regular fixture this year? With he be a regular fixture that can produce this year? Time will tell.
Follow me at Twitter @andycampbell16