Chi-Town Rumble: Chicago Blackhawks 2010-11 NHL Season Preview

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Chi-Town Rumble: Chicago Blackhawks 2010-11 NHL Season Preview
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
For Chicago's Marian Hossa, winning the Stanley Cup eliminated two years of heartache. Can they repeat?

Key Additions: G Marty Turco, D Ivan Vishnevskiy, RW Fernando Pisani, C Ryan Potulny, LW Viktor Stalberg, D John Scott.

Key Subtractions: RW Dustin Byfuglien, LW Ben Eager, C Colin Fraser, D Brent Sopel, LW Kris Versteeg, LW Andrew Ladd, G Antti Niemi, C John Madden, RW Adam Burish.

There is a price to be paid for any team wanting to win it all, and the Chicago Blackhawks found out just what that price was in 2010 offseason.

Within the span of two months, Chicago lost half a dozen key players from their Stanley Cup run due to a salary-cap crunch, leaving them to find cheap replacements all around.

Gone were tough, gritty role players like Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien. Veterans like Brent Sopel and John Madden departed, too. Then, the Blackhawks passed on star goalie Antti Niemi in favor of a cheaper Marty Turco.

Running back to the Finals will be an arduous task for Chicago, but they’ve kept close to the pieces that got them there in the first place.

Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are the poster boys for the team, proving with each year of experience that they are superstars of a new generation.

Since stepping foot on the ice for their rookie seasons, both have been explosive forces for the Chicago offense.

Kane, a natural scorer with great speed, and Toews, a solid playmaker with fantastic awareness in the offensive zone, are point-per-game players this year.

After three consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup finals, Marian Hossa finally accomplished the greatest victory of his career. Now, he has 11 more years to prove he’s in it for more than the money.

When he was healthy last year, he was a very strong force both physically and at the net for the Blackhawks.

A full season this year will yield his 400th goal and 450th assist, totals that are quite impressive for a career with several miles left to go.

Chicago is also returning key team pieces like Patrick Sharp, Troy Brouwer, and Dave Bolland. Sharp is one of the league’s best defensive forwards who discovered his scoring touch a few years ago and hasn’t let go. He’s a consistent threat shorthanded and will press for another 30-goal season.

Bolland and Brouwer, meanwhile, are 40-point players who are about to receive increased responsibilities with the departure of their fellow teammates.

Both know how to play big and are still waiting to peak when they’ve got the puck. If kept together, they’ll help keep the establishment of a deep three lines in Chicago.

Other youngsters, like Jack Skille and Bryan Bickell, will fill any of the remaining gaps on the offensive front. Skille has been used in very limited action for three seasons, yet he's got the skill to make a splash at the NHL level. Bickell is almost the same story, except he managed to get some very valuable playoff time in with three games.

The Hawks offense is rounded out by several inexpensive options that could prove to be big-time bargains.

Fernando Pisani and Viktor Stalberg have the ability to play better than what they’re valued at, giving Chicago more reason to be excited about the offensive front this season.

Defensively, the Blackhawks made their best effort to keep a Cup-winning squad together. It all starts with Duncan Keith, who will be playing in a Chicago jersey for the rest of his career.

Keith earned the respect and admiration of his peers over the past five seasons, particularly last year, with 55 assists to lead a crop of NHL defensemen. He’s quick, steady, and most importantly, still has room to grow and improve.

While Chicago may have to look the other way on the massive contract of Brian Campbell, it isn’t as if he’s eating up cap space in the same way as Wade Redden was in New York.

Campbell is a generally smart two-way speedster who plays like a third man in on the rush. Over the next six years, Campbell stands to earn over $42 million, putting him under the gun to produce and keep up with his teammate Keith, especially since he's out for the start of the season.

Another player who came into the league at the same time as Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook is looking to prove he’s a keeper for Chicago.

In the final year of his contract, Seabrook has consistently posted about 30 points a year while keeping himself out of trouble in pressure situations.

He’s also gotten progressively smarter as time goes by, taking less penalties each of the past three seasons.

The final member of Chicago’s big defensive front emerged last year and has tenacity and skill to boot. Niklas Hjalmarsson a stellar scorer like Keith or Campbell, but his large frame makes for some big hitting and big shot-blocking abilities.

The Hawks were quick to retain the former restricted free agent when San Jose signed him to an offer sheet in July.

The most chaos for the Blackhawks this offseason came when Antti Niemi, who broke out in the same way as Cam Ward just a few years previous, went to arbitration looking for a large settlement.

When the price was too high for Chicago to pay, they walked away from Niemi and quickly signed veteran Marty Turco for about half as much.

Believe it or not, Turco’s play could make or break the Blackhawks this year. After a decade in the league, Turco’s impressive career numbers (262 wins, 2.31 career goals against average, .911 career save percentage) were enough to give him a look at the starting job in Chicago.

He’s stable enough to win at least 30 games yet has only ever pulled 40 once. As he fell out of favor in Dallas last season, he won only 22.

Where Turco will be under the most scrutiny is in the playoffs, in which he has notoriously been a slow starter who can cost a team everything with inconsistent play. Though his last trek was certainly his best, a career 21-26 record casts a shadow over him.

That said, he generally had a better goals against and save percentage than he did in the regular season most of those years, negating that the record was entirely his fault.

If Turco isn’t up to snuff, it’ll likely be Corey Crawford’s turn to try the NHL on full-time. Crawford has been called up numerous times over the past few years but used only sparingly, typically as an injury replacement.

Crawford won’t be battling Cristobal Huet too often for the backup position, seeing as how Huet won't be around at all this year if the Hawks can keep their current arrangement overseas going.

 

Rookie Watch

Though this is a team already built on youth, one could argue that another young, up and coming player wouldn’t hurt. Defenseman Nick Leddy could be that guy, given his announcement to leave a comfortable college gig in favor of starting minutes at the NHL level.

Leddy is a very smooth skater who, often times, plays more like a forward than he does a defenseman. He’s not afraid to shoot the puck at will and could do some damage if given the opportunity.



Outlook

The Blackhawks’ losses make them vulnerable to other improving teams out West, yet they are still good enough at the core to repeat as champions. Second in the Central, Fourth in the Western Conference.

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