In 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks sent their fans to a place they haven't been in 49 years (besides in the arena to watch the game live) when they won the Stanley Cup, culminating a meteoric rise in the standings since the end of the lockout. There were very high hopes for the Hawks entering the 2010-11 season despite having their roster decimated by the salary cap.
While players like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd, Ben Eager, and Antti Niemi were being traded or allowed to leave the team via free agency, the core of the Hawks remained intact, and it was thought that they would be enough to keep the Hawks as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Unfortunately for Hawks fans, an extremely slow start took them out of the race for both the Western Conference and Central Division, and had it not been for a Dallas Stars team deciding that April golf is much more enticing than playoff hockey, the Hawks would not even have gotten the chance to defend their title.
The Hawks are trying to get back to contender status, and made a number of moves that they think will help them achieve that goal. Will they help? Follow the jump as we analyze the Chicago Blackhawks.
Despite struggling throughout the regular season, the Hawks were able to sneak into the playoffs as the number 8 seed in the West, and faced off against Cup favourite Vancouver. After the Canucks took the first 3 games of their series fairly easily, the Hawks roared back and won the next 3 to force a 7th game. Although they ended up losing Game 7 in OT, I had to (grudgingly) give them respect for taking a team that clearly had more overall talent to the limit. Overall, last year had to be a disappointing one for Hawks fans, even if we all took relish in the sudden fall of a champion. They will be looking to rebound and get back to the top of the standings in 2011-12.
Arrivals: Steve Montador, Sean O'Donnell, Dan Carcillo, Andrew Brunette, Rostislav Olesz, Sami Lepisto, Jamal Mayers, Ray Emery.
Departures: Brian Campbell, Troy Brouwer, Chris Campoli, Tomas Kopecky (LOL), Jake Dowell, Marty Turco.
Pertinent Stats from 2010-11:
Points: 97 (13th NHL, 8th West)
Goals For: 252 (4th NHL)
Goals Against: 220 (12th NHL)
Power Play: 23.1% (4th NHL)
Penalty Kill: 79.2% (25th NHL)
Offense: Despite the loss of some players last year, the Hawks were still a formidable offensive team, finishing 4th in the NHL in goals for. However, they were extremely top heavy, with only Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp topping the 70 point mark. Toews and Sharp topped 30 goals, but other than that they were thin offensively, and that lack of offensive depth was a big reason why they struggled at times last season. It remains to be seen how Patrick Kane's off-season wrist surgery is going to affect his on-ice scoring, but no cab drivers were assaulted this summer, leading one team official to declare that the surgery "is already paying dividends for society." Sharp signed a big contract extension this off-season, and will be counted on to be the team's primary goal scorer once again.
While we have no doubts that the loss of Kopecky will be crippling to the Hawks' chances at winning the Cup, the biggest loss offensively has to be Campbell, the $7M man who was traded to Florida (along with a giant "thank you" note from Stan Bowman). Campbell was still an effective PP quarterback and a solid contributor from the second defensive pairing. The Hawks will be hoping that Nick Leddy can help offset the loss of Campbell, while Duncan Keith will be hoping to regain his Norris-trophy winning form.
The Hawks still have a top-6 group of forwards as capable offensively as anyone in the league, and will be able to keep pace with the other good teams in the West. Marian Hossa should be better as he tries to stay healthy and has had a few months to stare at his Cup ring, finally convincing himself it was not all a dream.
Defense: The loss of Campbell is going to be felt more than some pundits believe, as we've always believed that he was underrated defensively. While there's no question he was not worth what he was being paid, he was still an important player on the Hawks (think a more offensive and less physical Kronwall). However, the Hawks will live and die with their top pairing of Keith and Brent Seabrook, still one of the best defensive pairs in the league.
Keith took a major step backwards last year after winning the Norris in 2010, which is an indication that his teeth were where his talent was housed. Seabrook emerged from Keith's shadow to show that he is a very good defender in his own right, and if Keith can get back to where he was 2 years ago, that pairing will be extremely difficult to play against.
Goaltending: In a story that should sound familiar to Wing fans, the Hawks had a goalie in their system that for years was supposed to become the team's number one goaltender. However, after years of toiling in the AHL, the time had come to see if he could cut it at the NHL-level. After the veteran starting goalie struggled to start the season, the rookie stepped in and carried his team to the playoffs.
Corey Crawford, 26, came in and put up really solid numbers last year (2.30 GAA, .917 SV%), and had he played from the beginning of the season, might have been a nominee for the Calder Trophy. There will be a lot of eyes on him to see if he suffers the dreaded "sophomore slump", but the Hawks brought in Ray Emery to be there in case Crawford falters.
The Skinny: The Hawks have a core that is young and talented, but it was their lack of depth that prevented them from even coming close to repeating as Cup champs last year. They hope to rectify that by becoming the Midwest Ducks in signing Carcillo, O'Donnell and Mayers, believing that having a bunch of idiotic "tough guys" will catapult them back up the standings and take them far in the playoffs. Out of their new players, only Brunette has more than 20 career playoff points, and it was a lack of depth scoring that was their downfall against the Canucks.
I will be watching every Hawks-Canucks game this year, since that is quickly becoming one of the better rivalries in the NHL. While the Wings and Hawks have the history and geography, there is mutual respect between the two teams since they play the game the same way. The Hawks and Canucks simply hate each other, and for once it's nice being an outsider looking in at 2 teams (and fanbases) that spew such venom.
I expect the Hawks to be better this season, and should contend for the division. Once again, however, they will be looking up at the Wings at the end of the year, setting up a showdown in the playoffs for division supremacy.