At times during the 2009-10 season the Chicago Blackhawks seemed to be leaps and bounds ahead of their competition. The ability to play with four strong lines enabled for ample opportunities and much easier damage control should a couple players be "off-their-game."
After the merry-go-round of what may be one of the most chaotic offseasons, the ride has nearly come to a stop. Exiting will be perhaps a team that is younger than last year.
Aside from Marty Turco, 34, the next oldest players are Marian Hossa and Brian Campbell at 31. From that point there currently isn't another player on the roster older than 28. In fact of the 19 players on the roster, the average age is 25.8 years old.
Critics and pessimists have come out of hiding to rub the future of the recent champions in dirt.
If any one needs reasons to still believe in the Blackhawks then look no further...
Some ask what it takes to make a good captain...
Answer? Jonathan Toews.
While obvious differences appear between captains in the league, the Blackhawks have what they need in Toews.
He leads by example...and most of all he plays with confidence and heart.
The ideal captain is one who goes out and performs when called upon. Stepping up to any occasion, regardless of any challenges or difficulties. Serving as a model to fellow teammates, that the path the team is on is the right one. If headed the wrong direction they take the wheel and get it pointed correctly.
This is Jonathan Toews, but he is not ideal. He is a great. Having an uncanny ability to lead with very few words is what speaks to more than just players. Fans believe as well in what comes from the mouth of a 22-year-old center.
After suffering a concussion early last season, the Blackhawks just seemed voiceless. Missing a captain is obviously a struggle when he represents who you are on and off the ice.
Toews conducts himself as the face of the Blackhawks off the ice no more than he does on. This will not only facilitate for offseason change, but instill that the success he desires is the main goal of the team.
The mere idea of fans criticizing an organization creates upsetting speculation. With the unfortunate release of Antti Niemi, many have caved in to the notion that the Blackhawks have downgraded to the point of possibly missing the playoffs.
Ladies and gentleman...this is salary cap era hockey.
Year-in and year-out rosters change for the very reason that the NHL is a business. When players have a big year, they expect to cash in. While some can't blame them, there are two sides to any coin.
Turco and the recent signing of Mike Modano to the Detroit Red Wings are examples of wanting to "win now" mentalities.
The steps that Stan Bowman took in rebuilding a team to remain a contender were appropriate. The top six forwards can hardly be matched in the Western Conference, while the top four defensemen are the best pairings in the NHL.
Beyond that has yet to be seen playing together.
What can be said is this: Looking at the likes of Viktor Stalberg, Jake Dowell, Jack Skille, Kyle Beach, and Shawn LaLonde, how could any fan not be excited?
For a final question for any skeptic, why can't these men be the next role players that become part of a team willing themselves into a position of success?
Keep doubting if you must, but that bulletin board outside the locker room only continues to grow with motivational propaganda. The brass of the organization don't consider the critics for a second and neither do the players.
They want to win—even if it's just to prove some of their own fans wrong.
The early offseason banter on the Blackhawks fan boards began when the trading began in late June.
First, there was the big Atlanta trade in which fans saw big-man Dustin Byfuglien, Brent Sopel, and Ben Eager traded.
Shortly after, many were devastated to see Kris Versteeg go to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and then Andrew Ladd dealt to Atlanta where he would join fellow teammates.
This clearly created holes, where depth was at one point considered just as much of the backbone as the Blackhawks defense. What many are quick to squander is what the Blackhawks have brought in to replace these important roles.
Viktor Stalberg (pictured above) will bring added speed to an offense that is noted as one of the fastest in the NHL. While on the upswing of development he is a young player that possesses the skills to score 30 goals in a season. Undoubtedly, he will play the position of Versteeg on the third line, likely alongside Dave Bolland and Bryan Bickell.
For those questioning the departure of the big Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer will be the one turned to in hopes of fulfilling this role on the first line. In comparison Brouwer will bring a frame that will be smaller, but much more mobile. On top of that the coaches are hoping to bring much more needed consistency to this role on the top scoring line.
While Byfuglien was outstanding at times, he endured streaky output. At times he could completely take over a game, but the regular season served as a polar opposite. While accumulating only 34 points throughout the season it is easy to assume the frustration of those wondering if Byfuglien suffered from lack of motivation.
Andrew Ladd may be one of the harder roles to replace. He had the much needed playoff experience that many on the team did not. Now that the majority of the team has that valuable experience, the Blackhawks will look toward Bickell to fulfill the position on the third line.
While not a scorer, Bickell will add defensive capability and a reliable body. Bickell will serve alongside Bolland, which means facing some of the best offensive weapons the other teams have.
As for Eager, and some may mention Adam Burish, the men were simply there to create headaches. The big bodies of John Scott and possibly the youthful Kyle Beach will be more than willing to step into that penalty-prone position.
The Blackhawks have the depth, but the familiarity is lacking. Obviously a fan favorite goes and the questioning begins. Look for that to change after the first month or so, as the new Hawks develop their new roles and names such as Stalberg and Skille become more chanted than criticized.
While the Blackhawks have gone through much change, what hasn't changed is their defensive appearance. Returning for the 2010-11 season are the top four defensemen from last year. Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brian Campbell, and Niklas Hjalmarsson all return for their second year together.
Impressive defensive rankings that will carry over to the 2010-11 season:
- Ranked No. 1 in shots allowed (2058 shots)
- Ranked No. 5 for goals allowed (203 goals)
- Ranked No. 1 in shutouts (11 shutouts)
- Ranked No. 4 in penalty killing (85.3% PK)
- Ranked No. 1 in Shorthanded Goals (13 shorthanded goals)
Hard to argue that the Blackhawks have one of the best defensively structured teams heading into training camp. On top of that, with the savings from signing Turco, the Blackhawks rumors have surrounded the search for a final defenseman to bolster the defensive depth.
Hardly believing that many haven't read story after story regarding the Antti Niemi-Marty Turco situation, it came down to a simple fact.
Marty Turco wanted to win now.
While Niemi had his moments during the playoff run and deserves a pay raise for it, that seemed to rate higher than having the opportunity to do it again.
Some will argue that the Blackhawks whistle-blowers made the wrong move here, but what should be pointed out is that Turco has the attributes to fill in. While obviously past his prime age-wise, Turco still has incredible skill.
He managed to post a .913 save percentage during a season where his team was anything, but supportive.
Dallas ranked 12th in shots allowed and had one of the worst penalty kill percentages in the NHL last year at 77.4 percent.
Obviously heading into the season Turco will have much to prove to a fanbase that fell head-over-heels for its former netminder, Niemi.
What fans will notice quickly will be Turco's ability to move the puck. At times last year fans saw Niemi struggling with that aspect of his position. What the Blackhawks now have is perhaps one of the greatest ever transitional goalies. He will bring hockey IQ and experience to a position that is in much need of it.