Chicago Blackhawks Open Training Camp: Let the Battles Begin

Michael WagnerSenior Analyst ISeptember 14, 2009

CHICAGO - MAY 24:  Corey Crawford #50 of the Chicago Blackhawks looks on against the Detroit Red Wings during Game Four of the Western Conference Championship Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 24, 2009 at the United Center in Chicago, Illinois. The Red Wings won 6-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Chicago Blackhawks made huge inroads this offseason with the acquisitions of Marian Hossa, Tomas Kopecky, and John Madden, but entering camp there are still plenty of questions that need to be answered.

One of the most immediate questions is who will replace the point production lost while Marian Hossa recovers from shoulder surgery.

There are several players who figure to attempt to replace Hossa's lost production, including Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien.

The most likely of the three players to continue where Hossa left off is Kris Versteeg. Versteeg had a strong rookie season in which he scored 53 points and was nominated for the Calder Trophy.

However this season Versteeg will be leaned on heavily because of the loss of Hossa. If he struggles in the preseason, look for Joel Quenneville to give Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien more ice time and as Versteeg falters.

Although you might not consider this a position battle, it is a battle of ice time on the top two lines, something far more significant that a battle on the third or fourth line.

The most significant battle entering the 2009-2010 preseason will be to decide the goal tender behind starter Cristobal Huet.

The two competitors for the back up goal tending position are 25-year-old Corey Crawford and 26-year-old Antti Niemi.

Crawford was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2003; 52nd overall. He has been playing for the Blackhawks AHL affiliates since 2005, starting 203 games and compiling a record of 111-80-12.

Crawford has paid his dues within the Blackhawks organization and many believe that it is time for him to get some semi-regular time at the NHL level.

On the other side of the competition is Antti Niemi, a Finnish net minder who was signed as a free agent last season. In Niemi's only season with the Blackhawks he spent most of his season in the AHL splitting time with Corey Crawford.

Niemi was fairly impressive in his first season in North America with a record of 18-14-3 with a save percentage of 91% and a goals allowed average of 2.43. Niemi's first season with the Blackhawks included a three game stint at the NHL level.

In those three games Niemi had a record of 1-1-1 with a save percentage of 86 percent and a goals allowed average of 3.40, not overly impressive numbers but they were his first three games at the NHL level.

It is anyone's game, but with Crawford's experience in the AHL and familiarity with North American style hockey you have to believe his has the inside track

These are just a couple of examples of the difficult decisions that coach Quenneville and GM Stan Bowman face entering this season. In a few weeks the season will begin and we should have a better understanding of where the Blackhawks stand in these very exciting position battles.