Core, Q give Hawks Cup aspirations
The 2009-10 season isn't that long ago.
Unless, of course, you're talking to a Chicago Blackhawks fan. In that case, it seems like an eternity since the calendar read June of 2010 and the Blackhawks were raising the Stanley Cup.
Hopes of creating a hockey dynasty in Chicago were deterred with first-round playoff exits in 2011 and 2012. With those defeats, many are down on the Blackhawks again in 2013.
But the reality is 2010 isn't that long ago, and the Blackhawks aren't that far from being atop the NHL again.
Let's start with the fact the Blackhawks return their core pieces. Plenty can be expected from the likes of Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Toews and Hossa are healthy and refreshed. Kane is primed for a big year after playing in Europe during the lockout. Sharp, Keith and Seabrook will be their usual selves.
But those aren't the only players back. Of the 26 players on the Blackhawks' roster at the beginning of training camp, 23 played for the Blackhawks last season. The Hawks have a definite advantage in a shortened season where chemistry and familiarity matter.
Depth will also be a factor in the compact season, and that's another strength of the Hawks. Daniel Carcillo was lost for the season in January and is healthy again. Viktor Stalberg should be given even more of an offensive role this season. Dave Bolland and Andrew Shaw will have expanded roles. The Hawks are deeper at defenseman with the additions of Sheldon Brookbank and Michal Rozsival. They have plenty of youngsters such as Marcus Kruger and Brandon Saad who are ready to take that next step.
Two of the Hawks' major downfalls last season were their power play and penalty kill. Those are areas that can change year to year with some luck of the puck, but they're also areas of focus for Hawks coach Joel Quenneville this season. They're bound to improve.
Consistent goaltending also troubled the Hawks last season. Corey Crawford had some good and some bad last season, but his upside is still high. After enduring somewhat of a sophomore slump, Crawford is ready to move forward again.
In the end, 2013 may just feel like 2010 for Blackhawks fans.
Scott Powers is a reporter for ESPNChicago.com.
Too much to fix to call contenders
Contenders? Maybe. Serious contenders? Not just yet. The Chicago Blackhawks may have fit that description a year or two ago but not anymore.
Now they are in the "prove it to me first" category, and until they show they can be a special team -- as they did in 2010 -- then they're just like any other decent collection of players vying to get to the next level.
There are too many big things to fix from a year ago, and with very little roster turnover it has to happen from within. The power play, penalty kill and goaltending all need vast improvement. Those are no small tasks -- they're integral to winning.
In addition to that, the Hawks were simply not committed to playing good defense last season. They gave up 2.82 goals per game, second worst among playoff teams and 22nd overall in the league. So add that to the list of things that need improvement.
The good news is the Hawks probably do have the talent and coaching to get the job done. Joel Quenneville is a Stanley Cup-winning coach but needs to crack the whip a little more, even to his star players. They need to respond, remembering what it takes to win it all.
The leadership of the team, considered so strong when the Hawks won the Cup just two seasons ago, has come into question. Otherwise, a league-worst nine-game losing skid last season may have been stopped earlier. Quenneville needs to reassert himself as the true leader, and of course captain Jonathan Toews can make a big difference in this area as well.
There are too many question marks to call the Blackhawks serious contenders, but there is enough talent to change that notion over the next few months.
Jesse Rogers covers the Cubs for ESPNChicago.com.