2010-11 NHL Preview: Chicago Blackhawks
The Blackhawks went all-in during the last year of rookie contracts for cornerstones Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Duncan Keith.
The gamble paid off for Stan Bowman in the cities first Stanley Cup Championship in 49 years. Led by the 21-year-old Kane (30G-58A-88P), and Toews (25-43-68), along with big free agent pickup Marian Hossa (57GP,24-27-51), the offense was the deepest in the NHL, finishing third in the league in goals per game (3.20) and first in shots per game (34.1).
Defensively they were led by Norris Trophy-winning defenseman Duncan Keith. The 26-year-old was second in defensive scoring (14G-55A-69P), led the entire league with 2,180:24 of ice time, and is a plus-84 over the last three seasons.
Goaltending was a hot topic throughout the season, as Chritobal Huet was unseated by first year netminder Antii Niemi. The 26-year-old Fin was third in the league in GAA (2.25) and won 26 of his 39 regular season starts.
A lot went right in the postseason for the Blackhawks. They survived a first round scare from the division opponent Predators, pushed aside the Canucks, and swept the Sharks to get to the Cup final.
They won the Cup on a Kane overtime goal in Philadelphia, as Toews was named the Conn Smyth winner with 29 points in 22 games played.
G Marty Turco (DAL: 53GP, 22-20-11, 2.71 GAA, .913 save %), F Viktor Stalberg (TOR: 40 GP, 9G-5A-14P), D John Scott (MIN: 51 GP, 1G-1A-2P), LW Kyle Beach (WHL: 68 GP, 52G-34A-86P-186 PIM)
Offseason Outs: G Antii Niemi (26 W), C John Madden (23 Pts), RW Kris Versteeg (44 Pts), RW Dustin Byfuglien (17 G), LW Andrew Laad (38 Pts), D Brent Sopel (73 GP), LW Ben Eager (120 PIM), RW Adam Burish (27 GP), C Colin Fraser (70 GP)
What Makes Them Tick:
The Miami Heat thinks it has the "Big Three," but the Blackhawks trio is one of the best in sports.
The organization has so much faith in those three players—Kane, Toews, and Keith—that they were willing to trade away their depth this offseason.
Kane has blossomed into one the league’s top snipers with 76 goals in his three seasons. The 5'10" forward has quieted critics about his size by being the model of durability, only missing two games in his NHL career.
Toews is the perfect ying to Kane’s yang. The lead-by-example, hard nosed player that steps up in big situations, Kane came up big in the cup run.
The last piece is the elder statesman, Keith. Not many players had the year Keith had last season with a Stanley Cup, Norris Trophy, and Olympic Gold Medal. The Blackhawks showed how important this former second round pick was by signing him to a 13-year deal.
With these three players on the Blackhawks roster, they expect to contend each year.
Forward depth players like Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa round out the deep group. Sharp has 116 goals in four-plus seasons with Chicago and Hossa, in his first year with the Hawks, had 51 points in 57 games and finally ended the Cup curse that had followed him through Pittsburgh and Detroit.
What Could Make Them Go Boom:
The Stanly Cup hangover is hard enough to shake, and now because of cap reasons the team has to deal with a whole roster shakeup.
Team chemistry is the difference between a good team and a great team. The Blackhawks lost nine players who suited up for them during their run to Lord Stanly Cup, including the goalie that led them.
This high turnover could be a positive, as a new batch of young players are hungry to win a cup. Or it could be the downfall, as the team could struggle to find that offensive depth that fueled them last season.
The decision to walk away from the contract rewarded to Stanley Cup winning goaltender Antii Niemii, and the consequential signing of 35-year-old Marty Turco to a one-year, low salary deal, will be key to the team's success.
Turco is coming off a season with the Stars that saw him hit career lows in both wins and games played since he became a full-time starter in 2002-03. The three-time All-Star will now try to accomplish a feat he could not in Dallas—get past the second round of the postseason.
Turco’s 21-26 postseason record and the idea that he can’t win the big one will be tested this season, and ultimately decide how the Blackhawks season will end.
Player to Watch:
With all the departures, there will be openings in the top nine forwards for the Blackhawks this season. In step three, capable young guns in Kyle Beach, Jack Skille and Jake Dowell, to take those spots.
All three will have an opportunity to make the squad out of training camp, and all of them have the pedigree to contribute right away, as Beach and Skille are both former first round picks and Dowell a former fifth round pick.
Skille, the seventh overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, has suited up in 30 career NHL games with eight points, and had 23 goals and 49 points for AHL Rockford last season. The 25-year-old Dowell, has 23 games of NHL experience and added 23 points in 78 games in Rockford last season.
Beach, the No. 11 pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, comes to Chicago with the biggest upside of them all. The 20-year-old finished his junior career with the WHL Spokane Chiefs last season with 52 goals, 86 points and 186 penalty minutes. Beach finished the season with Rockford with three goals in four playoff games in their playoff run.
He will bring an attitude to this club that the likes of Eager, Burish and Byfuglien brought, and at half the price. The young kid was so excited to show off his brashness that he started three fights in the Blackhawks' prospect camp.
There are a lot of reasons why the NHL has not seen back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions since the Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
The Blackhawks are a great example of the turnover that could happen after achieving the ultimate prize. But they need look no further than their own division and senior adviser Scotty Bowman on the tools needed to create continued success.
The core of the team stayed intact; just the outer shell supporting that core will be drastically different. The Blackhawks can still win this tough division with the players they have, and if they get Marty Turco of a couple years ago this team will put up a good fight to defend the Stanley Cup
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