Complete Preview and Predictions for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015-16
When the Chicago Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six seasons last June, they categorically erased the memory of a pretty forgettable regular season. Chicago went into the playoffs in third place in the Central Division and ranked 16th offensively in the National Hockey League.
Yes, the Blackhawks shared the NHL's best defensive record with the Montreal Canadiens, but a 10th-ranked penalty kill and a power play that sat 20th, according to NHL.com, didn't look like a combination that would lead to another congratulatory chorus of "Chelsea Dagger."
Chicago comes into the 2015-16 campaign with all its core players, but the group around them has changed dramatically.
Here's the lowdown on the Blackhawks' offseason changes and the outlook for the upcoming season.
Key Roster Changes
- Patrick Sharp (LW)
- Brandon Saad (LW)
- Brad Richards (C)
- Kris Versteeg (RW)
- Johnny Oduya (D)
- Daniel Carcillo (RW)
- Joakim Nordstrom (C)
- Antoine Vermette (C)
- Kimmo Timonen (D)
- Artem Anisimov (C)
- Trevor Daley (D)
- Marko Dano (F)
- Artemi Panarin (LW)
- Viktor Tikhonov (RW)
- Ryan Garbutt (LW)
As is their habit each time they win the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks purged a significant portion of their winning roster in order to remain salary-cap compliant.
According to General Fanager, Chicago currently has 23 NHL contracts on the books, but is currently slightly over the salary cap.
By placing Bryan Bickell on waivers, the Blackhawks will get $950,000 in salary cap relief, according to General Fanager. That's enough to add one minor-leaguer to fill out their opening-day roster.
Projected 2015-16 Depth Chart
Andrew Shaw - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane
Ryan Garbutt - Teuvo Teravainen - Viktor Tikhonov
Andrew Desjardins - Markus Kruger - Kyle Baun
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Trevor van Riemsdyk
Trevor Daley - David Rundblad
Biggest Storylines to Watch
Stanley Cup Hangover
The Blackhawks' three Stanley Cups in six seasons have brought the team closer to modern dynasty status than any other squad in today's NHL. But each previous championship has been followed by a salary cap-mandated rebuilding process, which has caused challenges.
Once again, Chicago's core players will need to adjust to a new supporting cast—and as they start getting older, they may not find it so easy to cover up for their new teammates' shortcomings.
Expect to see a year of highs and lows for the Blackhawks—at least during the regular season.
How Will the New Blood Fit In?
New additions like Russian stars Artem Anisimov, Artemi Panarin and Viktor Tikhonov have heavy weights on their shoulders as they try to step into the skates of beloved former 'Hawks like Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad.
Last season, coach Joel Quenneville showed that he was able to effectively integrate short-term acquisitions like Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette and Kimmo Timonen into his team system. He'll need to accomplish another successful round of orientation to keep Chicago near the top of the Central Division again this year.
Patrick Kane's Legal Trouble
The summertime sexual assault allegations against star scorer Patrick Kane may have been weakened after a lawyer's resignation and an alleged evidence hoax, according to Cam Cole of the National Post.
According to Jared S. Hopkins and Stacy St. Clair of the Chicago Tribune, Eric County district attorney Frank Sedita has now admitted that "The question in my mind isn't when this case goes to a grand jury ... it's if this case goes to a grand jury."
Kane continues to participate in the Blackhawks exhibition schedule and assert his innocence. For the moment, he appears to be in the clear but with this case, who knows what might happen next?
Best and Worst Case Scenarios
The Blackhawks are the defending champions. Their core is intact—assuming Kane stays in the lineup. Perhaps most importantly, they've been through this before.
In a perfect world, this season's crop of new blood will strengthen Chicago's bottom six forwards and shore up the defense while learning how to integrate with the team's established players. Once the Blackhawks are back in the playoffs, they can flip the switch for another championship.
Kane's not out of the woods yet. If he does get charged with a crime, a suspension will almost certainly follow, which would significantly weaken the Blackhawks' offense.
Team chemistry could also be an issue. Chicago turned over nearly half of its lineup in the offseason, which will make for a very different vibe both in the dressing room and on the ice.
Stan Bowman did the best he could within the constraints of the salary cap this summer, but the loss of Sharp, Saad and Oduya could prove to be game-changers for the Blackhawks this season.
With Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and, presumably, Patrick Kane up front and Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook anchoring the defense, the Chicago Blackhawks still have the most-enviable starting lineup in the entire NHL.
But even with Keith's noted endurance, it's not like that crew can play for a complete 60 minutes.
Some regular season ups and downs will lead Chicago to another third-place finish in the Central Division, so the Blackhawks will make the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
Once they're into the postseason, they'll take a serious run at their first back-to-back championships.