Chicago Blackhawks: 10 Questions That Will Be Answered in 2011-2012
The 2011-2012 Chicago Blackhawks will look different. This much we do know. Despite many predictions we won't know what will be determined over the course of the next few months until it plays out.
Stan Bowman made many offseason moves trying to shape up what he believes will give the Hawks a better chance to win the Stanley Cup.
All moves and adjustments aside, there remain lingering questions, and the answers to these will influence the course of the Blackhawks’ season.
Let’s take a quick look at 10 queries that are in the minds of the Blackhawks and their fan base.
Will Patrick Kane’s Wrist Injury Be Detrimental to His Offensive Production?
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Patrick Kane was poised to return for 2011-2012 improved and in better condition after a disappointing end to the 2010-2011 campaign. Then the music stopped, and his offseason plans were halted.
The wrist injury Kane sustained in the 2011 postseason may have been further aggravated by his work in the weight room in June. It would require surgery, originally labeled to be a six-to-eight week recovery, but it may now render Kane inactive for the beginning of training camp.
Training camp is critical for all players and may be more important for a player of Kane’s caliber as recapturing a scoring touch after a long offseason is vital to his success.
During the 2008-2009 season Kane labored through a high ankle sprain that he suffered in Detroit in the game prior to the Winter Classic. The Hawks hope that his recent wrist injury is not something that plagues Kane’s season and results in a decrease in offensive production.
For a player that thrives on stick-handling and a deadly wrist shot, only time will tell how this will affect his season.
Will Age Catch Up to the Experienced Offseason Acquisitions?
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It was Bowman’s goal this summer to mix the core with more seasoned veterans. He did just that by adding players like Sean O’Donnell, Jamal Mayers, and Andrew Brunette.
The 2010-2011 Blackhawks had too many youngsters in and out of the lineup with little to no experience on their NHL resumes. It does look like the added leadership will be a positive for the Hawks in 2011-2012.
A lingering question though is age. O’Donnell will turn 40 in October, Mayers will turn 37 in the same month and Brunette just turned 38.
For any athlete there is a time when age catches up to you, your body breaks down and you are not the same player you once were. All of these players are expected to contribute this year and see regular playing time. It would be a setback for the team if any of the three break that inevitable threshold in their careers.
The Hawks need their “new” veterans to perform, but there is a concern as to how much they have left in the tank.
Can Corey Crawford Replicate Last Season’s Performance?
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Before 2010-2011, Corey Crawford waited, waited and waited some more. He finally got his chance last season when Marty Turco failed to establish himself as the Blackhawks' starting goaltender.
Crawford first put on a Blackhawks jersey during 2005-2006 and has been back and forth with the big club and the AHL ever since. Crawford spent most of that time honing his game with the Norfolk Admirals and the Rockford Ice Hogs. In 2009-2010 he narrowly lost a roster spot when the Hawks decided to go with Antti Niemi. We all know what happened from there.
Last season, Crawford earned the top spot on the goaltending depth chart and posted 33 wins in 57 appearances and had a 2.30 GAA. He performed remarkably in the first round against the Vancouver Canucks and nearly stole the series.
Now Crawford shoulders the burden of expectation for the upcoming 2011-2012 season. Can he continue or even improve on last year's accomplishments? For a player that has assumed an underdog role for most of his brief career, how will he respond to being without question “the go-to guy"?
The Blackhawks will need Crawford to be the most reliable player on the club, and his overall play may dictate the season’s outcome.
Will Daniel Carcillo Fall into Line?
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I cannot remember a time when this mediocre of a player caused this much of a stir amongst the Blackhawk faithful, but it's what people want to talk about. Daniel Carcillo comes with a bullet and some baggage.
Philadelphia Flyers management and fans were all too happy to be rid of the enigmatic player, and Blackhawks fans should tread cautiously as well.
If the Carcillo experiment is to work, he will have to become the hare and not the greyhound later on in the season. It would be great if ultimately another agitator will chase Carcillo, effectively taking another team off of its game plan.
When Carcillo does relapse and get suspended (and it will happen), Hawk fans should hope that all it takes is a cold stare from across the locker room from No. 19 and Car-Bomb will cool his Jets.
If Carcillo becomes a sideshow and a distraction, it will have a negative effect on the Hawks. I doubt it will come this far, and it’s very possible he will be out of the lineup come playoff time. You can never know for sure though with this volatile of a player.
Will Duncan Keith Return to Form?
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The best defenseman in hockey during the 2009-2010 season was humbled last year with a lack of consistent play. As has been mentioned before, Duncan Keith perhaps was trying to win the Norris Trophy on every shift as opposed to focusing on the little things that made him the game's elite defender.
In 2010-2011, Keith’s offensive production and defensive play took a dip as the Hawks were having an early season identity crisis. Dunc eventually recovered and was one of the best players on the ice in the second half of the Vancouver series.
For the Blackhawks to get back to the promised land, they will need Keith to be every bit of the player he was in 2009-2010. With over 100 games played that season and logging a significant amount of ice time in the 2010 Olympics, fatigue came into question last year.
He should be rested and in better condition this year to be the leader in the back.
Are Expectations Too High for Nick Leddy?
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Nick Leddy fell into an ideal situation for any young player trying to make an NHL roster. He was one year out of college, playing regularly for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Let’s be realistic. Nick Leddy has a ways to go before being a staple on the blue line. He was not overwhelmingly outstanding in his freshman year at the University of Minnesota but was able to make the jump a year later right into a cap-strapped lineup.
Those who expect Leddy to efficiently replace Brian Campbell should think it over. In a league where defensemen need a few years to mature as players, the 20-year-old Leddy needs work in several areas of his game.
It is possible for Leddy to have a breakout year. He certainly has the raw talent, but we will see how far he came this offseason and find out if he is ready to be an impact player for the Hawks. If Leddy is off his game early, the Hawks will have to reshuffle the deck. They have the depth to do it, and right now they may be too hopeful that Leddy is ready play a vital role in 2011-2012.
Which Young Player Will Be a Pleasant Surprise?
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With the depth that the Blackhawks added during the offseason, there are a few younger players who fans will see with less regularity in 2011-2012. This is a good thing as some of them need development in the AHL, but it does not necessarily mean that you will not see a young player step up to the plate and have a solid season.
Many are hopeful that Ben Smith will be a mainstay following his playoff performance in 2011. In reality, Smith has limited overall skill, and the Hawks have added depth at wing. You will most likely see him spending more time in Rockford.
My money is on Marcus Kruger. Kruger was thrust into the Hawks lineup and managed a mere seven games and played in five postseason contests. He is undersized and needs to get stronger, but he plays the center ice position extremely well, is solid in his own zone and is excellent at moving a puck through neutral ice.
There is a possibility that Dave Bolland will get dinged up at some point of the season, Jamal Mayers could be inconsistent or the Hawks will decide to move Sharp back to the wing. If and when this does happen Kruger will get the opportunity to join the lineup, perhaps on a regular basis.
Though he may start his season in Rockford (and rightly so), at the end of 2011-2012 Kruger may log as many as 50 games or more and could be solid down the stretch.
Will Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa Stay Healthy for a Full Season?
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Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa are two of the Blackhawks top five forwards and do so much more than put up numbers on the score sheet.
For the Blackhawks to be successful and provide timely offense, it will start with their defensive zone. They need both Bolland and Hossa in this regard.
Hossa has not played a full season in his time in Chicago. He joined the team in November of 2009-2010 and did not play a full season in 2010-2011, appearing in 65 games.
Bolland has been in a similar situation, and if he is not the third line center with regularity, this will present a serious problem for the Hawks.
Apparently Bolland has been hitting the gym with purpose this summer, striving to have a long and successful season. If both Hoss and Bolly are healthy for the majority or all of the 2011-2012 season, look out, folks. If not, you may again see the Hawks bouncing around in the standings late in the season in search of a playoff spot.
How Will Coach Q Round out the Bottom Six Forwards?
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If you read about the Blackhawks during the summer you saw a lot of proposed line combinations. Not that these are inaccurate, but we won’t know for sure the breakdown until Joel Quenneville gets his arms around the situation.
It is likely that we will see Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and probably Andrew Brunette and Michael Frolik in the top two lines. Dave Bolland and Jamal Mayers will assume the third- and fourth-line center responsibilities, but where will the remaining wingers be slotted?
Training camp is going to be immensely important for Bryan Bickell, Victor Stalberg, Dan Carcillo, Rostislav Olesz, Marcus Kruger, Ben Smith, Jeremy Morin and to some extent John Scott. Bickell will likely play in a third-line role but the others will be fighting for their professional lives in a couple of weeks.
With Bowman’s offseason moves there are few roster spots remaining. We can predict all we want, but we won’t know the starting mix until October 7th in Dallas.
How Far Can Jonathan Toews Take This Team?
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Jonathan Toews had little choice but to take the Blackhawks on his shoulders and forge towards a playoff spot in 2010-2011. With added depth, he may not carry as much of a burden in 2011-2012, but No. 19 will still need to be the straw that stirs the drink for the Blackhawks.
Without question, this is the most complete player in the NHL. Assuming that the league will not hand out hardware to a player who has twice the amount of assists as goals (half of those being the second assist), you will see Tazer win a Hart Trophy in his career.
This season he will have more proven leaders around him to pick up the pieces from last year, but the captain will still need to set the tone. Carcillo will need to be put in his place early, other players will have to accept their roles and most importantly Toews will have to lead by doing.
Nobody in the league will be more prepared to do this than Toews. If he is the Jonathan Toews that we have seen the past two years, the Hawks will be in good shape to make a serious run.