In the wake of a flurry of departures in the last couple weeks, there are a lot of Chicago Blackhawks fans that are soiling themselves about replacing the players that have left or will be leaving shortly.
During the historic 2009-10 season, the Blackhawks finished the year ranked third in the NHL, scoring 262 goals (3.20/gm). On the other side of the ice, the Hawks allowed 2.48 goals per game, which tied for fifth in the NHL last year. This excellence carried over throughout the playoffs, and the Hawks are now champions.
So far, in just a few short weeks since winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1961, the Blackhawks have been forced to make a number of calculated moves because they were at/over the salary cap for next year. The following players from the championship roster have either left already or will be leaving soon:
This list represents not only a lot of production, but some of the most popular players on the championship team. Consider their production from last year:
Right away, Versteeg's 44 points and the 17 goals each from Ladd and Byfuglien sound like an imposing amount of scoring for the Blackhawks to replace. How will the defending champions compensate for all of this lost offense in 2010-11? Let's look at a very simple reality.
First of all, there will be dramatically increased production from players already on the Hawks' NHL roster. Look back at last season's production from two of the most prominent players in the postseason, Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland.
Remember that Hossa didn't debut with the team until that incredible game at the end of November when the Hawks hung a touchdown on the Sharks in San Jose. Whether or not Hossa was 100 percent when he came back ahead of schedule is debatable, but his production was solid and consistent while he was in the lineup.
Meanwhile, Bolland did his best to skate through Hossa's absence despite a back injury that was bad enough he required major back surgery. His early season numbers, and those from after he came back, aren't very indicative of his potential; if you look at him posting 16 points in 22 playoff games when he was obviously closer to being fully healthy, that's likely a better representation of what he brings to the ice.
So let's begin our compensation study by looking at what we could/should expect from these two players in a full season.
If we project Hossa's production in limited action last year into 75 games, it is fairly consistent with where his production has been for the last couple years (even coming out a bit conservative). For Bolland's estimate, we used his production in the postseason and projected that out to 75 games. What could full, healthy seasons from Hossa and Bolland mean to the Hawks' offense?
Again, my opinion is that these numbers could err on the conservative side; depending on the Blackhawks final depth chart for Opening Night, if Bolland is the center on a line between Patrick Sharp and Hossa, his numbers (especially assists) could be much higher than 55 points. The increase from last year's production to these estimates is a 63 point increase from these two players alone.
Now, let's add two more players to this mix that we can conservatively project based on previous experience. If we assume for the sake of argument that veteran center Marty Reasoner, acquired from Atlanta, posts the same numbers he did on a Thrashers team with dramatically inferior talent, that's a safe projection. If we add to that fairly conservative projections for Bryan Bickell based on his production in limited NHL action in the past, we see more production being added back.
So where does this leave us?
We've estimated increased production from two Hawks that were injured last year and replaced two departing forwards with players expected to be part of the rotation next year. We still need to replace six more players on the active roster with either veteran acquisitions like John Scott or youngsters like Viktor Stalberg and Kyle Beach.
Here's the baseline reality for the skeptics and haters: the six players that fill the bottom of the Hawks' roster, in light of these estimates and to match last year's offensive output, would need to average six goals and seven assist each.
And we haven't even started talking about the random injuries that cost key players like Jonathan Toews, Brent Seabrook and Brian Campbell ice time last year.
If the talent displayed at previous stops from players like Stalberg and Beach translates to the NHL at all, 13 points each could be handled before Thanksgiving.
To the fans that have questions and concerns about other aspects of the Hawks' game, especially special teams, the new-look roster shouldn't be a concern. Madden was a faceoff specialist, but would leave the ice quickly on many occasions when the Hawks were shorthanded for a shot-blocking forward.
Meanwhile, if you watched any of the 2010 playoffs you know that Bolland can be as good of a shut-down defensive forward as there is in the game; just ask the Sedins or Joe Thornton.
Byfuglien was a non-factor defensively, and had the worst plus-minus on the team. Ladd was a strong skater, but wasn't significant on special teams either. The most prominent figure leaving the Blackhawks' power play of penalty kill will be Versteeg, but Bolland showed in the playoffs that he can easily replace Versteeg's play there.
Indeed, Versteeg's minutes on the penalty kill diminished once Hossa came back, and were cut further in the playoffs with the emergence of a healthy Bolland.
So, to all of the concerned Blackhawks fans that are losing sleep over the 2010-11 roster being able to handle the incredible production posted by the historic roster last year, take heart.
Next year could be even better.