5 Most Pressing Orders of Business for Chicago Blackhawks Once NHL Lockout Ends
Since talks between owners and players broke down last week, owners and players have yet to meet again to come to a resolution and end the lockout. With all games cancelled through December 30, the situation has become more grim with nearly two-and-a-half months of hockey already wiped off.
It appears plans for more meetings are gaining traction, though, according to ESPN.com. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said he doesn't want a season with fewer than 48 games per team, which would require the season to start sometime in mid-January. Talks must progress relatively soon if that is to be a distinct possibility.
We have not seen Chicago Blackhawks hockey since April 23, when Chicago was blanked 4-0 by the Phoenix Coyotes in Game 6 of the first round of the playoffs.
There will be plenty of pressing orders of business once the Blackhawks are able to practice and play together as a unit in 2013. Let's take a look at those five things.
As we learned with the NBA lockout last year, it isn't always a smooth transition from lockout to greatness on the court. The same will probably be true for the NHL.
The Blackhawks have not played a meaningful game in nearly eight months. They haven't been able to use team practice facilities to play together.
So what does this all mean when (or if) the Blackhawks return to the ice in early 2013?
There will be chemistry issues on the ice because these guys simply haven't had the practice time or preseason games to prepare for the season. Chicago, as well as all other teams, may look out of sorts at the beginning of the season.
The Blackhawks have five players currently playing in Europe, highlighted by star Patrick Kane playing for EHC Biel in Switzerland. Bryan Bickell, Michael Frolik, Michal Rozsival and Viktor Stalberg also play in Europe.
Chemistry is not tangible in and of itself, but it will certainly be noticeable once the Blackhawks reunite and try to work together as a team. The players certainly know each other's strengths, weaknesses and tendencies, but it will still take time playing together for Chicago to look like a fluid unit.
In the last two years, one of Chicago's glaring weaknesses has been goaltending.
Corey Crawford has shown flashes of brilliance, but he also has the tendency to be inconsistent and give up goals he shouldn't. Ray Emery also plays well at times, but he too can be maddeningly inconsistent.
The Blackhawks have Carter Hutton currently playing for the Rockford IceHogs. If Crawford and Emery struggle, it might be time to turn to Hutton; however, he isn't exactly setting the world on fire with a 9-10-1 record and a 2.99 GAA this season with Rockford.
Last year the Blackhawks tied for fifth with 2.94 goals for/game, but they were also ninth in the league in most goals allowed, surrendering 2.82 per contest.
If none of these goalies steps up with consistent play, the Blackhawks will have to pull the trigger on a trade and bring in a new face who will be the man between the pipes.
The Blackhawks were stacked with offensive talent in their 2010 Stanley Cup season, but they also had a great defense that made life difficult for opposing teams to put the puck in the net.
In the past two years, however, the defense has been leaky and susceptible to poor play. Long gone are the days of a dominant defense anchored by Duncan Keith—who won the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the NHL in 2010—Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell.
In that season the Blackhawks allowed just 2.48 goals per game, and the defense was a big key to the Stanley Cup title. Not only did the defensemen provide good defense, they also were responsible for a lot of points.
This year, the defense will have to step up if the Blackhawks want to go deeper in the playoffs. Keith has to get back to playing like his former self, while Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya must also play better to give the goalies a chance at success.
There is still plenty of talent on this unit. It's just a matter of taking ownership and not wanting to be a source of the team's problems.
When the Blackhawks went on a power play last year, they were simply dreadful. They ranked 24th in the league with 42 goals and ranked 26th in power-play percentage at just 15.2 percent (42-of-277).
No Chicago player even reached double digits in power-play goals. Marian Hossa led the team with nine.
In the 2010-11 season, the Blackhawks ranked sixth in the league with 64 power-play goals and fourth in the league in percentage at 23.1 percent (64-of-277).
The team is certainly capable of better results in this aspect but must take advantage of power plays if it wants to win close games. The strength of the power-play unit may directly impact just how high of a seed Chicago can get in the postseason.
With a shortened season, the team will have even fewer opportunities to cash in on situations it has an advantage in, so it must make the most of them.
A Stanley Cup hangover typically can last into the early part of the team's next season. Unfortunately, that hangover has been going on for more than two years in Chicago.
After the Blackhawks won it all in 2010, they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round in 2011 and 2012.
In 2011, they squeaked in as the No. 8 seed and took the No. 1 seed Vancouver Canucks to seven games but fell. In 2012, the Blackhawks were the No. 6 seed but lost in six games to the No. 3 seed Phoenix Coyotes.
In 2013, Chicago must get over the hump and at least win a playoff series, or it could mean a lot of changes in the Windy City.
Head coach Joel Quenneville could certainly be fired if the Blackhawks bow out again early. Personnel change would be likely because three years without a playoff series victory are unacceptable for this team.
The team set the bar so high in 2010, which has made these last few years so disappointing.
The team has the talent to compete with the best in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks just have to execute when the stakes are highest and know they are no longer revered for what they did more than 30 months ago.