Chicago Blackhawks: Ranking the Hawks Top 10 Most Valuable Forwards
Unlike last season, the 2011-2012 Chicago Blackhawks will have more leadership and depth with which to compete. They should be back in the cup picture and will have a formidable mix of quality forwards.
Many journalists and prognosticators have attempted to dissect Coach Q’s brain and project line combos on a daily basis, but what is more compelling is assessing the overall value of each offensive player and the assets he brings to the hockey team.
Some forwards can play at both ends of the ice and some need improvement in a lot of areas. When breaking down the collective value of each Hawk forward for this season, here is how they stack up.
1. Jonathan Toews
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What else can you say about Toews that has not been mentioned already? This is the best leader in the NHL and maybe in all of sports. No other 23 year old has the NHL or international resume “Captain Serious” has.
A goal medal, the outstanding forward at the Olympics, a Conn Smythe, and captaining his team to the Cup capped his 2010 season. In 2011, Toews was in the running for the Hart Trophy in the middle of February while the Hawks bounced from the eighth to 10th seed, desperately trying to make the playoffs.
It was Toews who carried them and it will be this man that carries the team moving forward. Offensive production, defensive responsibility and having incredible all around awareness makes Toews a once in a lifetime player.
He is the player any new team would want to start a franchise with, and there is little question who should top this list.
2. Marian Hossa
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Hossa gets dogged from time to time when he is not putting up the offensive numbers that people like to see, but he does so many other things that make him the outstanding player he is.
You may very well see Hoss with his best season in a Hawks uniform, with a longer off-season and enhanced conditioning.
There is nobody in the league better at using his body to protect the puck. His speed is deceptive, and he comes back into his own zone hard and with purpose. He is as good as any at playing the wing position in the defensive half of the ice.
Hossa had 57 points in 65 games last season. If he is healthy for the full year it is not unrealistic to see him have a 40/40 campaign.
At 32, he still brings it and will continue to be dangerous in all situations.
3. Patrick Sharp
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Sharp busted out for 34 goals in 2010-2011 and it could have been a few more had he not hurt his knee down the stretch. In his first official all-star season he was rewarded with a well-earned extension for five years at $5.9 Million a year.
Sharp’s value comes as a center, a winger, a power play quarterback, and a penalty killer. He very quietly went plus-11 and had 22 points in 22 games in the 2010 Playoffs. That may be the most overlooked performance during that postseason run.
He reads the ice well, supports the puck and releases his shot quickly and with accuracy. He is also a great ambassador for the Hawks and the city of Chicago.
Clearly an essential piece, he gets the three-spot on this list.
4. Dave Bolland
Surprised to see Bolland at No. 4? Don’t be. He is one of, if not the most underrated players in the NHL. For a league that cherishes their centers, Bolland should not be an exception to the rule.
Don’t believe it?
He was given a task to shut down the premier player on each of the last three teams the Hawks faced in the 2010 playoffs. Against Bolland in 2010, Henrik Sedin in six games had six points, and was minus four, Joe Thornton in four games had one point and was minus five, and Mike Richards in six games had two points and was minus seven. All being shut down by the rat.
Bolland went on to have eight goals, and eight assists in the 2010 playoffs and in the four games he played in the 2011 postseason he recorded six points. Both Sedins (Henrik and Daniel) whom had nine points combined in the first three games recorded three points combined in the four games Bolland was up in their grills.
The Hawks desperately need a healthy Dave Bolland this season and if they get it, it could mean 25-30 goals and a nightmare for opposing first line players.
He is the real deal, Hawk fans, and should be valued as such.
5. Patrick Kane
Before the arguments begin about why the beloved P-Kane is only ranked at number five on the list, let’s focus on the good.
He is absolutely electric when he has the puck on his stick. Other than Detroit's Pavel Datsyuk, Kane may be the best stick-handler in the league. He is a very gifted passer when in the offensive zone and can see the play better than most. His passes are often on the mark and unexpected by the opposition. His wrist-a-bomb (snap shot) is lethal and spot on accurate.
He is a point per game player, and will forever be immortalized with his cup-winning goal in 2010.
At 22, and already a household name, there is still a lot of upside with Kane.
Now let’s shift to Kane when the puck is in the other half of the ice. He may be the worst winger the Hawks have when it comes to in-zone coverage and defensive responsibility. When he is on the ice and the puck is in the Hawks zone it is essentially a 5 on 4.
If Kane is having an off-night offensively (which happens on occasion for three straight games) he is invisible. For such a high profile talent the Hawks cannot afford to have that happen.
Do not get me wrong he is a key ingredient for sure. Kane is a gifted offensive player and he still has time to improve to become a complete player. Although he sells a lot of jerseys, as of now he is a one trick pony.
With his wrist injury, Hawks fans and upper brass should be concerned about his output in the first half of 2011-2012.
6. Andrew Brunette
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Brunette is 37, but do not let that bother you. Never the best skater, Brunette has made a career of finding open space and getting to the net. As NHLers get older the first thing that goes are their legs and he has been making up for his lack of speed his whole career.
Brunette is a modern day iron man, playing all but three games in his last nine seasons. He has pumped in an average of 20+ goals in his last three seasons, playing on Wild teams that historically have had trouble providing any offense.
There is little question that Coach Q will shuffle his lines from time to time, and many have Brunette penciled in on the wing with Kane and Toews. If indeed that does happen, Brunette will emerge with a 25+ goal season and a lot of those coming right at the lip of the crease.
7. Michael Frolik
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The Blackhawks currently have two outcasts from the Florida Panthers and this is the better of the two. Hawks fans did not see Frolik come play to his full potential until the first round series with Vancouver.
He only scored three goals in the regular season since coming to Chicago at the trade deadline, which was tough as he was doing the little things well.
Frolik has the potential to have a 50-point season and is versatile enough to play center or wing. If he is paired with Sharp and Hossa, which could be the case, he will certainly get points.
This one time 20-goal scorer will have a better year for the Hawks and is one of their best players in the neutral zone. A very skilled puck mover, be prepared for Frolik to make a significant contribution in 2011-2012.
8. Jamal Mayers
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Jamal Mayers will have a simple role on the Hawks.
1) Win your face-offs
2) Keep the play in front of the defensive blue-line as much as you can
3) Kill penalties when called upon
4) Be and effective leader on and off the ice
5) Protect your teammates
The role will be simple in nature, but only a well-tested veteran such as Mayers can handle that responsibility. Mayers is a gritty defensive center-man who was a key signing when Bowman wanted to change the team’s identity.
While Mayers had a 15 goal season in 2005-2006 in St. Louis and a 12 goal campaign in 2007-2008 with the Blues, Hawk fans should be thrilled with anywhere from 7-10.
His locker-room presence, experience and two-way play will be vital for the Hawks. A fourth line center can go a long way in this league and the Hawks should be happy that they found a good fit in Mayers.
9. Bryan Bickell
In his first full season as a Hawks Bickell posted a respectable 17 goals. A few of those were meaningful. He had a big goal in Game 2 of the opening round series against Vancouver and a bigger one to tie Game 6 in the first period after Bolland steam-rolled Dan Hamhuis.
Coming back from wrist surgery will test Bicks early, and one would hope that the Blackhawks identify his role early.
For his career, Bickell could be a solid third line player, perhaps squeaking in to the top six when injuries happen, but I would be surprised if you see him have more than a 20-goal season.
With his size, Bickell needs to focus on winning loose pucks and in-zone and offensive zone battles. He should become a presence in front of the net as well, but if he can establish himself and win the 50/50 pucks in the corners it would benefit the team immensely.
You won’t see Bickell be a super scorer, nor should he be. If he can settle in to a role and approach the game accordingly, there is no reason he cannot be a solid mainstay on the third line this season.
10. Rostislav Olesz
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When you ask your former GM to take on a $7 million former signee, you should expect you are going to get some dirty laundry in return. Or is it a player that needs a new setting and teammates that know how to win?
If you were a player in Florida for the last ten years, you had poor management, poor coaching and some really dismal teams. It would be very easy to become an individual if your club was mathematically eliminated by January 1st every season.
Rosti, a former 7th overall pick, comes with talent and can be physical when healthy. That certainly is the kicker as he played only 44 games last year with six goals and 11 assists.
The year before, he had 14 goals in 77 games. Hardly numbers for a $3.1 million salary, but he should know that this may be his last chance.
Being surrounded by a great team could bring out the best in this player as it did this past season in Tampa Bay when Sean Bergenheim resurrected his career.
Will that happen to Olesz? We certainly hope so, and he has the talent to do it. He will play and will most likely see a regular shift. A player that many know little about will get a shot on the big stage, and could be a pleasant surprise.
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Viktor Stalberg: After a decent start he tailed off midway through the season and certainly did not play as big as his frame. He is fast, but his first two steps are not quick enough and it takes him forever to get going. Not sure where he will fit into the lineup this season. Trade bait.
Dan Carcillo: Entertainment for the whole family sure, but with a mere two goals under his belt last year and suspensions to add to that he will only be used in certain situations. He will be on the fourth line during the regular season, but it may be well advised to make “Car Bomb” a healthy scratch come playoff time.
Marcus Kruger: Still young and unpolished, it will be interesting to see how much time he gets with the big club. Games in Rockford will benefit him immensely. He was one of many who perhaps were not ready yet, but got a roster spot last season out of team necessity. A lot of upside and I hope the Hawks continue to work with him.
Ben Smith: He showed heart and class when given his shot in the postseason. He had a memorable overtime goal and provided offense when needed. The knock on Smith is he does not have anything significant that separates him from other players. He will get some time here and there but truthfully, he needs more time in Rockford to develop. He's another player who may hit the trade market.
John Scott: He’ll dress and beat the bag out of opposing pugs when need be but the less ice time he see the better.
Thanks for reading.