BT's 2008-09 NHL Season Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

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BT's 2008-09 NHL Season Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

Preface: As some of you know, and some of you may not, the Bleacher Report Fantasy Hockey League held its draft last night.

Needless to say, the trash-talking has begun, and the league would be sure to have more than a few bench-clearing brawls if we were coaching real teams.

The trades are hitting the wire, the free agents are getting sorted, and Tyler Hill is dropping Radulov. Does it matter whether he took Igor or Alexander?

Needless to say, there are a few surprises—but you'll have to wait for a few of the articles dealing with our little escapade to find out about those.

 

The Chicago Blackhawks are back. Are you surprised?

As I've talked about in my previous looks at St Louis, Nashville, and Columbus, it used to hurt to watch all these teams struggle against a powerhouse like Detroit.

It's not like I need to tell you again that Detroit may be facing one of its more difficult seasons—although with the way things have been going in the Central the past few years, difficult isn't exactly a stretch.


Roster Additions: Christobel Huet-G (Free Agent), Brian Campbell-D (Free Agent), Doug Janik-D (Free Agent), Tim Brent-F (Trade)

Roster Subtractions:
Patrick Lalime-G (Free Agent), Yanic Perreault-C (Free Agent), Rene Bourque-F (Trade), Danny Richmond-D (Trade), Jason Williams-F (Free Agent), Robert Lang-F (Trade)

How Did 2007-08 Go? 40-34-8, 88 points, 10th in conference, third in the division.

2008-09 Goal:
Top ten in Conference, make the playoffs.

Let's Break'er Down...

There hasn't been a team that's been more talked about this offseason than the Chicago Blackhawks.

They have the crafty, young, explosive forwards that can bring the fans to their feet, some gutsy defensemen, and they’ve now added Scotty Bowman—a man who has coached his way to nine championships (with three different teams, which no other coach has done) and “advised” his way to another with the Detroit Red Wings this past season.

In every single way, the Blackhawks have risen above the basement, and may challenge to be the first original-six team not named Detroit to win a Stanley Cup in thirteen years within the next few years.



Sharp(ening) my Kane and Stepping on Toews…


No one starts talking about the Baby ‘Hawks without mentioning their two budding superstars—the reigning Calder Trophy-winner Patrick Kane, and team captain Jonathan Toews.

We know about Toews' deft stickhandling, pinpoint passing accuracy, two-way game, and his leadership skills. We know that Kane is a bit undersized, but will skate like the devil, never give up on a play, and he’s a little point machine—this coming from the guy who thought he should stick with the London Knights another year.

But let's play a game of "Did you know?"

Did you know that Patrick Sharp scored 36 goals last year, ending up with 62 points? Granted, I don’t think he can score quite that many again—I think he’ll begin to settle around 25 or 30—but that’s still not a total to be ignored.

Did you know that Andrew Ladd came over in the late-season trade that alleviated Chicago of Tuomo Ruutu, and rediscovered his scoring touch?  In 43 games with Carolina, Ladd was only able to net 18 points. In 20 games in Chicago, Ladd got 12 points—improving his point-per-game average from 0.42 to 0.60.

Did you know that youngsters David Bolland and Jack Skille will be looking to make memorable impressions with the big club and stick around for an entire season? If they’re able to do that, then the ‘Hawks have added even more energy to a youthful lineup with two solid competitors.

Did you know that Martin Havlat hasn't been able to stay healthy throughout his Chicago career? You may also be interested to know that I took Havlat in the B.R. Fantasy Draft.

Although Havlat has produced in a ‘Hawks uniform—84 points in 91 games—he’s missed 46 games. All of those games have been scattered throughout his two seasons in the Windy City, making it hard for Havlat to generate consistent success with the team.

If he falls victim to the injury bug again this season, it’ll be interesting to see the team’s course of action with the oft-injured Czechoslovakian.

Oh, and did you know that Robert Lang was traded to Montreal? Good riddance.



Can I get a Keith's with my Campbell soup?


If you aren’t aware of where one of the most-sought after free agents of this year’s market went, then you may want to take your fingers out of your ears, and take off the eyepatch(es).

The Chicago Blackhawks went out and addressed their biggest need this offseason, getting one of the better puck-moving defensemen in the NHL in Brian Campbell.

In all honesty, I’m surprised Campbell left San Jose. Yes, he came farther East in order to be closer to his family—but San Jose seemed to agree with him, and with more time to acclimatize to his new surroundings, I’m sure he would’ve fit in perfectly.

Either way, the ‘Hawks were able to add a defenseman that will be able to move the puck and put up points—especially more than the 32 Duncan Keith had to lead the defense corps last season.

Because of Campbell’s ability, though, you can expect Keith to get the puck even more on the power play, and his total of 12 goals last season should see a bit of an increase.

Although James Wisniewski will be sorely missed after suffering a torn ACL in March, Cam Barker can help alleviate the hole if he can finally display the ability to play at the NHL level consistently.

While Brent Seabrook will continue his development into a dependable top-three defenseman, expect Brent Sopel, Jordan Hendry, Doug Janik, and Aaron Johnson to be relied upon heavily for depth reasons.



Check out these pipe


Chicago’s other big free-agent acquisition has led to some questions blowing about the Windy City.

Does Cristobel Huet’s entrance mean an exit for Nikolai Khabibulin and his Chicago career?

Since entering the fold, the ‘Bulin Wall’ has rebounded from his disappointing first season in Chicago. However he’s also suffered through injury problems, playing in only 50 games in 2005-06 and 2007-08 while suffering from a vast array of injuries, mostly centralized in his back and knees.

Instead of re-signing Patrick Lalime to backup Khabibulin, the Blackhawks targeted a second starting goalie—perhaps to push Khabibulin to be the man, or maybe to replace him altogether—former Montreal Canadien and Washington Capital Christobel Huet.

Whether Nik gets traded or not is still debatable.  The Robert Lang trade opened up some room, but it'll be interesting to see if Chicago yearns for—or needs, as I'm not quite sure—more room under the cap. but Chicago will be prepared with a solid 30-game winner in Huet waiting in the wings.

 

So what does it all mean?

So what's the biggest necessity needed for the Blackhawks to challenge for a spot in the upper tier of the Western Conference this season?

Consistency.

Will the goaltending (be it Khabibulin, Huet, or otherwise) be consistent? How productive can Brian Campbell be (or choose to be) after receiving his big-money, long-term contract? Will Kane and Toews remain to be Chicago's two consistent scoring threats—or will the 'Hawks have to look in other places as the two suffer through sophomore curses?

Side note: Of the past 14 Calder Trophy Winners, seven saw relevant statistical categories drop the season after winning the Calder, and seven saw their stats rise. In some cases (Teemu Selanne, Martin Brodeur) the drops in stats were due to a lack of games played, but it’s interesting to note that Kane has a 50-50 chance of suffering some sort of sophomore jinx.

Depending on how consistent these players are, the 'Hawks could be the trendy pick over Columbus for second in the division (although I seem to think they'll tie), but if they aren't consistent, the kids could falter.

 

Second in Central Division (Tie)

 

And now, with the Community Leader View from the Pressbox is Blackhawks Community Leader Michael Wagner:


Key Roster Additions: Tim Brent F, Pascal Pettiler F, Brian Campbell D.

Key Roster Subtractions: Patrick Lalime G, Danny Richmond D, Martin St.
Pierre F, Robert Lang F.

2007-08 Record: 40-34-8, missed playoffs by three points.

2008-09 Goal: To make the playoffs.

The Blackhawks are still a very young team, but after a year of struggling to get into the playoffs they have gained tons of experience in the process. Toews and Kane showed tremendous ability and if they can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump they will have even better seasons.

I think that if the Blackhawks can avoid being bit by the injury bug once again, they will be poised for a strong playoff push—and dare I say, contend with Detroit in the Central division.

A man can dream, can’t he? I do see the Blackhawks being a powerful team in the Western Conference for years to come.

 

As always, thanks to Michael for helping out with my season previews. And as always, tomorrow is another day.


Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer for Bleacher Report and an NHL Community Leader. If you'd like to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile, and you can check out his previous work in his archives.

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