Chicago Blackhawks: 5 New Year's Resolutions for a Successful 2013
The Chicago Blackhawks will look to improve their team as they head into the new year.
Weaknesses were exposed last season when the Blackhawks made an unexpected early exit in the first round of the playoffs. Now, in order to be successful, the Blackhawks need to address some of these weaknesses before they grow into a bigger problem.
Not all of it's bad for the Blackhawks, as they have a lot of young talent, and captain Jonathan Toews seems to be getting better each season with much of the core being locked up long term.
But they still lack a real second-line center, the goaltending situation is still up in the air and the defense looked a little worn down last season.
Regardless, it's time to get some answers to these problems.
These are five New Year's resolutions for a successful 2013:
The Blackhawks had some problems on the back end last season.
The defense, which is anchored by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, suffered from a few glaring holes.
Nick Leddy, at times, looked a little lost in his first full season up in the NHL. Some of that can be contributed to fatigue due to a long NHL season.
Steve Montador and Niklas Hjalmarsson were expected to pick up the second and third defensive lines, but both lacked throughout the season. To make matters worse, Montador missed 30 games due to a concussion.
Even Keith and Seabrook looked lost on the ice from time to time which often led to the Blackhawks being blown out.
But there is hope heading into 2013.
The NHL lockout will give more time to Keith and Seabrook for rest. Johnny Oduya looks to be trending upward after last season and Montador should be fully healthy when the NHL comes back.
The fact remains, the Blackhawks have yet to replace the speedy Brian Campbell on the blue line. A move that was necessary due to salary-cap restraints, yet the power play has suffered since Campbell departed from Chicago.
Maybe a trade by GM Stan Bowman will help fill that void, but it is difficult to find a top-four caliber defenseman, let alone trade for one.
Find a Second-Line Center
The pressing need for a second-line center is becoming more evident for the Blackhawks.
With a roster filled up with offensive talent, the Blackhawks lack depth at the center position.
Marcus Kruger was put in to fill the role, but with his limited experience and small size, there is much room for improvement.
Winger Patrick Kane was asked to give the position a shot early last season, a move that forced Kane to focus more on his defensive game. But it failed, Kane was decent at best and the Blackhawks were forced to look elsewhere for a center.
The Kane experiment may not be over heading into next season but the Blackhawks will surely give prospect Mark McNeill a shot at fulfilling the role.
McNeill was drafted by Bowman for that very problem, as the Blackhawks needed more depth with two-way players. But McNeill may not be ready to jump into the NHL just yet, which leaves the possibility of a trade.
For now, the Blackhawks may go back to Patrick Sharp as their second-line center, sending Kruger down to the third or fourth line.
A Much More Productive Patrick Kane
However the Blackhawks look at it, star winger Patrick Kane has the potential to be a better player.
That's not to say that his past seasons with the Blackhawks have been bad, as he usually produces each game and leads the roster in points for a majority of the season. But with Kane's speed and skill, he has the ability to hit the 100-point plateau.
Kane's best season came during the Blackhawks championship run. He put up 88 points that season, 30 of which were goals.
Ever since that season Kane has seen a gradual dip in his numbers, scoring 73 points in the 2010-2011 season and then only 66 points in his 2011-2012 campaign.
Simply put, Kane is heading in the wrong direction, a direction that may be hard to reverse if he keeps sliding.
The winger is vital to any future success for the Blackhawks, and as he keeps falling so will the team's chances of hoisting the Stanley Cup once again.
It's no secret that the Blackhawks' goaltending situation last season was a very fragile one.
Both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery played inconsistently which led to a fair share of losses for the Blackhawks.
It wouldn't be fair to blame the goaltending duo for every loss that the Blackhawks sustained, but there is still room for some major improvement.
First and foremost, the Blackhawks need to determine who will be their starting goaltender heading into the season. Crawford let in some arguably soft goals against the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round of the playoffs last season.
Emery has shown signs of being that starting goaltender but faltered late in the season.
If the situation mirrors that of last season, GM Stan Bowman may be forced to trade for a legitimate starting goaltender, a move that may cost a hefty price.
Bigger Roles for Prospects
The Blackhawks have a number of prospects that could fit into key roles for the upcoming season.
Brandon Saad, a talented winger that could very well crack the top six, should get a bigger shot with the Blackhawks. He looks to benefit from playing up in the NHL, which could happen if Viktor Stalberg or Marcus Kruger drop from their positions.
Jimmy Hayes will likely be on the starting roster, as his size and ability make him an asset for any team. Though, Hayes has shown signs of inconsistency with defensive positioning.
Jeremy Morin, Ben Smith, Mark McNeill and Brandon Pirri will all look for their shot this upcoming season, and they should get a chance.
The Blackhawks will only benefit from this influx of talent in their system, many of which have a legitimate chance to remain on an NHL roster.
Much of this talent will also open up the door to a trade opportunity for GM Stan Bowman.
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