After a season that saw improvements on and off the ice, the Chicago Blackhawks head into the offseason knowing the heavy lifting is behind them.
On the ice, the club improved by 17 points to 88 on the season, but fell three points shy of a postseason berth. They also scored the third-most goals in the Western Conference.
Off the ice, new owner Rocky Wirtz unleashed a series of changes that completely reinvented the image of the franchise.
Most notably, he televised 13 home games on local TV, something his late father stubbornly refused to do. Next season, every game, home and away, will be on either Comcast Sportsnet Chicago, or WGN.
Wirtz also hired John McDonough away from the Cubs to be the new team president, and McDonough created the Blackhawks Convention, to be held July 18-20. He modeled it after the highly successful Cubs Convention the baseball club has held for the last two decades. The convention is the first of its kind in the NHL.
With all that out of the way, the front office, led by GM Dale Tallon, can focus on improving the team on the ice.
He has stated his desire to acquire a defenseman that can quarterback the power play and log significant ice time. The defense corps is young, and any veteran leadership will benefit this group.
One defenseman the Blackhawks should target is San Jose's Brian Campbell. The Sharks acquired him in a deadline deal with the Buffalo Sabres. On the season, he posted eight goals and 54 assists, with five of his goals coming on the power play. He also has logged over 27 minutes of ice time on average in the Sharks first three playoff games, five more minutes than anyone else on his team. He will be a free agent after this season.
Other possibilities are Ottawa's Wade Redden and Colorado's John-Michael Liles.
Offensively, the Blackhawks have assembled a solid core with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but they could use another top-tier forward, and the biggest free agent forward to hit the market this summer is Pittsburgh's Marian Hossa. Calgary's Daymond Langkow could also be on Tallon's radar.
While Tallon hopes to add free agents to the mix this offseason, the Hawks plan seems to be to continue to draft well and build from within. That plan has yielded Kane, Toews and All-Star defenseman Duncan Keith and several other solid NHL players who contributed to the team's success this season.
Tallon, however, will have the resources to go after a top-flight free agent, as the Hawks have plenty of room under the salary cap.
Two key questions will have to be answered by Tallon this summer, one being the status of Martin Havlat. He only played in 35 games this season, and has shown signs of being injury-prone. Tallon's plan seems to be to hang on to him and see if he can stay healthy. The better alternative might be to trade the forward and see what comes back in return.
The other question will center around the goaltending situation. Patrick Lalime has shown he is a more than capable backup to Nikolai Khabibulin, but Corey Crawford has also shown flashes of brilliance, most notably his shutout of the Anaheim Ducks late in the season.
The Blackhawks organization has stockpiled a strong stable of goaltenders, and one could possibly be used as a bargaining chip in trade talks to improve other areas of the team. Tallon has stated that he would not rule out re-signing Lalime.
The Blackhawks no doubt are disappointed in not making the playoffs, but with the right moves this offseason, they can return to the postseason, and make a run at the Stanley Cup.