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The 2011/12 edition of the Chicago Blackhawks looks drastically different than the cup winning team of last year.
So much so that it's barely recognizable. Virtually every player not deemed a core member has been traded away to free up cap space, forcing management to bring in veterans or bargain players to fill holes.
While the team finally has some cap space to work with, it has left a lot of questions about their line up for the upcoming campaign.
Losing Brian Campbell's offensive ability and Troy Brouwer's energy has left the Blackhawks exposed. They've lost too much too quickly, and while veteran Andrew Brunette will help, players like Rostislav Olesz, Daniel Carcillo or Jamal Mayers are hardly replacements for the talent that they've sent away.
Are the Blackhawks still a good team? Of course. Are they a serious cup threat? It remains to be seen, but don't hold your breathe.
Detroit Red Wings
The Detroit Red Wings are a team that never cease to amaze me. They manage to stay highly competitive every year without fail, despite the fact that they're one of the oldest teams in the league.
Even after sustaining injuries to their key players, Mike Babcock's squad continues to gain ground in the standings and remain competitive in the conference.
This is no doubt a testament to the fantastic coaching and team play in Motown that allows players to come in and out of the lineup without missing a beat.
With Lidstrom getting another year older and Rafalski retiring, it will be a more daunting task this time around in Detroit.
With promising netminder Jimmy Howard between the pipes, and dazzling talent like Datsyuk and Zetterberg terrorizing opposing goaltenders, this team will still have more than enough talent to pile up some wins next year.
While FA additions Mike Commodore or Ian White will help, a weaker defense and the pressure on their veterans to play significant roles will cause the Red Wings to take a few steps back.
The Penguin's fate next year rests on the return of superstar captain Sidney Crosby.
After suffering a season ending injury that included multiple setbacks, the hockey world will be awaiting his return to action next season, closely analyzing his every move.
Will the kid return to form, or be a shadow of his former self? More questions without answers. One thing is for certain however—without Crosby, Pittsburgh's chances of a cup in the 2011/12 campaign will be slim at best.
The Penguin's remarkably steady play despite missing both Crosby and Malkin was impressive, and like Detroit, the team sustained a high level of performance because of the system put in place by Dan Bylsma.
The Jack Adams winner would need a minor miracle to return to the post season without his stars though, a miracle that could arrive in the form of two healthy players.
If Crosby and Malkin can stay healthy for 82 games, Pittsburgh is right back in the hunt.