Chicago Blackhawks: 12 Bold Statistical Predictions for the 2011-12 Season
In each of the last two summers, the Hawks have turned over a pretty significant part of the roster. After winning the Cup, Chicago was forced to shed salary to get under the cap and lost a lot of quality depth players that went on to become good players elsewhere, including now-captain Andrew Ladd and now-All-Star Dustin Byfuglien.
This summer, though, the Hawks actually had cap space to work with and were able to add quality veterans. But while the rest of the league was throwing ridiculous money at players, Chicago GM Stan Bowman almost exclusively stuck with one-year deals for veterans to fill specific needs.
The Hawks will look a little different this year, but the postseason is within reach again. Is the Cup in the cards? We'll see!
12. The Chicago Blackhawks Will Allow the Fewest Goals in the League
Last season, the Blackhawks 220 goals, which ended up tied for the 12th best total in the league. Now consider some of the names on the blue line in Chicago early last season:
Nick Leddy (six months out of college)
Of those five names, only one belongs on a NHL roster this season. Indeed, none of them were ready to begin the 2010-11 season on an NHL roster, and the Hawks' lack of depth showed as coach Joel Quenneville relied heavily on his veterans in October while Brian Campbell was hurt.
Now consider the names replacing those players:
Nick Leddy (with 46 regular season games and playoff experience)
While Campbell's departure will change the dynamics, the overall quality on the blue line this year is so much better than 12 months ago that it should show on the scoreboard.
The team has quality shot-blocking forwards as well as good, smart veteran defensemen. Dropping the team's goals against to around 185 shouldn't be out of the question.
11. The Chicago Blackhawks Will Lead the League in Scoring
Last year, only two Blackhawks players played in 82 games, and the core players on the roster were inconsistent.
Yet, despite injuries taking Brian Campbell, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa away for stretches last year, the Hawks finished the year with 252 goals—only six behind the league-leading Canucks. In 2009-10, the Hawks scored 262 goals and finished third in the NHL (51 behind the Caps).
This year's roster is as deep as any the Hawks have put on the ice in the last four years. The increased depth on the blue line and wealth of forwards up front, gives coach Joel Quenneville plenty of options when making his roster each night. Obviously, health is a primary concern, but these Hawks could top 270 goals this year.
10. Viktor Stalberg Will Score 20 Goals
If you ask anyone in Toronto or Chicago, Stalberg is one of the most enigmatic players in the game. With speed to burn, he has shown flashes of brilliance. The problem is, after looking like an All-Star for a period or two, he has regularly taken the rest of the week/month off.
Blackhawks management took a chance on Stalberg, handing him a new two-year deal despite his 12-goal, 24-point season last year being a disappointment. If he can consistently give a better effort, he certainly has the natural ability to play in the top six. If he doesn't, and disappears for weeks at a time again this year, his days in Chicago are numbered.
9. Duncan Keith Will Get Back over 60 Points
After winning the Norris Trophy after the 2009-10 season, Keith disappointed Blackhawks fans (and himself) last year. His production dropped off from 69 points to 45, and his usually-solid plus-minus dropped to a negative number for the first time since his rookie season.
But the start of last year was tough for Keith. With Brian Campbell on the shelf in October, Keith was skating over 30 minutes most nights and was the Hawks' top defenseman on both special teams units.
The increased depth on the blue line in Chicago should allow coach Joel Quenneville to use Keith in more specific roles, and his minutes shouldn't peak like they did last year. A strong 60-70-point season for Keith isn't out of the question.
8. Daniel Carcillo Will Play in Fewer Than 50 Games*
The asterisk on this prediction is because I firmly believe Carcillo won't finish the year with the Blackhawks.
Already suspended for the first two games of the year, Carcillo's addition to the Hawks roster still doesn't make a lot of sense. The team already added sandpaper to the lineup with Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette and Steve Montador. Carcillo figures to be a 13th forward on this team that splits ice time on the fourth line and does little more than rack up penalty minutes.
But, for a guy with a lot of playoff experience, his one-year, $775,000 deal could be attractive for someone around the deadline.
7. Niklas Hjalmarsson Will Double His Offensive Production
After a summer that turned on his offer sheet, Hjalmarsson came into last year with a salary cap number that was bigger than his resume would indicate appropriate. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, he did not step up to the plate and offer much in the way of offensive production.
Hjalmarsson is one of the elite shot-blockers in the game and will likely be asked to be a specialist on penalty killing. But looking to him for 26 points in 80 games isn't a huge number.
6. Nick Leddy Will Post 40 Points
Eighteen months ago, Nick Leddy was preparing to be a sophomore at the University of Minnesota.
After a fantastic summer, he received a professional contract from the Hawks, and,when Brian Campbell went down due to a knee injury during the preseason, there he was on the ice as a teenager as the Stanley Cup Champions banner was added to the rafters at the United Center.
He played in 46 games last season, but his NHL activity was broken into two parts. In October, he replaced Campbell and wasn't ready for the NHL. Later in the year, when Jordan Hendry's season ended because of a knee injury, Leddy was brought back and was clearly a more confident players.
In the postseason, Leddy saw ice time with Duncan Keith and moved the puck effectively considering his experience and the quality of the opponent the Hawks were battling with.
His role will change this year, though. With the veteran additions on the blue line in Chicago, Leddy will be able to focus more on his offense and could see time on the power play. Fifteen goals and 25 assists from a player with his ability isn't out of the question.
5. Michael Frolik Will Score 30 Goals
After being acquired by Chicago before the deadline last year, Frolik's offensive numbers weren't overwhelming. He scored only three goals in 28 games with the Hawks and added just six assists.
But his resume is stronger than last year's broken season. He had consecutive 20-plus goal seasons in Florida and should return to that level with a full season (and new contract) in Chicago. The 23-year-old has job security on a championship-caliber team and could be playing regular top-six minutes.
For Frolik to skate opposite Marian Hossa or Bryan Bickell would provide him a lot of open ice and opportunities to take chances around the net. He has great instincts and could elevate his scoring to a new level.
4. Bryan Bickell Will Emerge as a Top Power Forward
In his rookie season, Bickell scored 17 goals in 78 games, and his 178 hits ranked third on the team. Because of veterans like Tomas Kopecky and Troy Brouwer being ahead of him on the depth chart, Bickell saw his ice time being very inconsistent throughout the year.
This year, both Brouwer and Kopecky are gone. Bickell is a better skater than free-agent addition Andrew Brunette and could be in line for more consistent ice time this season. He could even emerge as a top-six forward for Chicago.
A 20-goal season should be a given for Bickell with consistent ice time, and 200 hits should be a reasonable goal as well. He could also eclipse the 45-point mark.
3. Jonathan Toews Will Have (Another) Career Year
Toews has already established himself as one of the best winners in hockey history but had deferred the premier scoring on the Blackhawks to other players in his first few years. Last year, when the postseason was in question, Toews put together a stretch of hockey that was among the best in the game.
He finished last year with 32 goals and a team-leading 76 points (and a fantastic plus-25).
This year, a healthy Toews could surpass the 90-point mark and might challenge the 40-goal plateau.
2. Marian Hossa's Point Total Will Be Higher Than His Jersey Number
If Marian Hossa was tired last year, he would be the last person to apologize. But considering he had played in three straight Stanley Cup Finals and a Winter Olympics, there isn't a player in hockey that played more games over the last four years than Hossa.
He got off to a fantastic start last year before an injury slowed his pace. Still, he scored 25 goals in only 67 games last year.
Depending on how coach Joel Quenneville arranges the lines for the Hawks to start the season, Hossa is expected to play with either Dave Bolland or Patrick Sharp as his center on the Hawks' second line.
Hossa should also draw added motivation from the awful loss of a dear friend and former teammate, Pavol Demitra.
Expecting more than 30 goals and 81 points from a healthy, well-rested Hossa shouldn't be out of the question.
1. Corey Crawford Will Challenge for the Vezina Trophy
Last year, Corey Crawford burst onto the NHL scene with a fantastic rookie season. His 2.30 goals against average ranked seventh in the NHL, his .917 save percentage made the league's top 16 and his 33 wins were tied with Pekka Rinne for 14th in the league.
Hockey fans and analysts universally agree that the Blackhawks didn't have the same bounce in their game last year as they did on the way to the Stanley Cup championship.
If Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson return to form and newcomers Steve Montador and Sami Lepisto add the quality veteran depth they're expected to on the blue line, Crawford's numbers could be even more impressive this year.
Crawford 2011-12 Projections:
2.15 goals against avg
.922 save pct