Blackhawks: 10 Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
The hangover is history. The team is fresh. And the Chicago Blackhawks are hungry to get back to where they feel they belong among the league's elite contenders.
"I'm liking the way this team is looking," star captain Jonathan Toews told ESPN.com. "I think it's going to be a fun season for all of us."
The Blackhawks figure to compete for the Central Division crown although there won't be any easy nights in the Central Division this season.
"We feel real confident in our team," Hawks star forward Patrick Kane told ESPN.com. "To be honest, looking at our team we would have to be one of the favorites because of what we have on paper."
ESPN Insider Previews
Want to go deeper? ESPN Insider gives you access to player perspectives on each team, plus a breakout player from Craig Custance, key stats to watch and season projections.
Atlantic: NJD | NYI | NYR | PHI | PIT
NE: BOS | BUF | MTL | OTT | TOR
SE: CAR | FLA | TMB | WAS | WPG
Central: CHI | CMB | DET | NSH | STL
NW: CGY | COL | EDM | MIN | VAN
Pacific: ANA | DAL | LAK | PHX | SAN
1. It's different this time
In the summer of 2010, the Hawks mixed Cup parties with farewell bashes, the team having to jettison nearly half the roster that won an NHL championship due to salary-cap issues. There were several more changes this offseason, although this time there was a different feel to them.
"I think the difference between the two years is that this summer was a summer of acquisition as opposed to a summer of moving guys out," GM Stan Bowman told ESPN.com. "For the most part we added guys to the mix."
Gone are Brian Campbell, Troy Brouwer, Tomas Kopecky, Jake Dowell, Chris Campoli, Jassen Culllimore, Fernando Pisani and Marty Turco. New to Chicago are Steve Montador, Rostislav Olesz, Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers, Brett McLean, Sean O'Donnell, Dan Carcillo and possibly Ray Emery (on a camp tryout).
Some of the additions have strong personalities -- and that was by design.
"I think these [new] guys are fun to be around, they like to play hockey, they like to have fun," said Bowman. "And I think we were missing a bit of that last year. We had a good group last year but it almost too quiet. We had younger guys who came in who were respectful of the guys that won the Cup and they were just happy to get along."
The veteran O'Donnell is a popular dressing room presence wherever he goes. Carcillo will be an interesting one to watch both on and off the ice with his antics. Either way, it won't be too quiet in Chicago this year.
2. New faces bring grit
The Blackhawks felt they needed to get a little more sandpaper in their lineup so they went out and got Carcillo, Mayers and Montador, in particular, who aren't shy to drop the gloves or protect their teammates.
"We got toughness; we got grit; we got experienced players that will fight and stick up for you," said Kane. "That's obviously nice to have as a skill player. That was a piece that was missing in our lineup last year. I think that's something the players talked to Stan about, and he did a great job of addressing that over the summer."
The Boston Bruins mixed skill and brawn to win their Cup last spring. The Hawks already had decided to go this route before the Cup final even began, but the B's victory just reinforced the need for toughness.
"There's no question we wanted to get a little more difficult to play against," said Bowman. "I don't think we're going to change our style. We're going to play the same style of hockey. But I think we're going to complement those high-end skill guys with guys who can play the game a different way."
3.Crawford looks to avoid summer slump
That the Hawks managed to make the playoffs despite their Cup hangover last season and almost stunned top-seeded Vancouver is in large part due to their rookie goalie. Corey Crawford took the job away from veteran Marty Turco and never looked back.
"Crow was awesome," said Toews. "I tell everybody that I didn't know what to expect from him last year. What are the odds of having another great rookie goaltender who comes in and steals the show the way Antti Niemi did the year before. I was kind of scared and disappointed when we lost Antti last summer. But my confidence is back.
"Corey was great. I can't think of any bad games he had. He only got better as the season went along, and once we got to the playoffs, in my opinion, he was the best player in the series for us and gave us a chance to win that seventh game."
The difference, the Hawks believe, is that Crawford is not a kid at 26, having played five years in the AHL before getting his shot.
"It's his second year in the NHL, but he's been building up to this spot for a long time, truthfully," said Bowman. "We had envisioned him working his way up to the league and working his way towards becoming a No. 1. He's paid his dues.
"The guys really like playing in front of him. In players' minds, that makes a big difference. It always helps you to relax."
4. Keith looks to rebound
We blogged about this during our camp tour -- a lot of the Hawks' season rides on their 2009-10 Norris Trophy winner bouncing back from a season that was below the lofty standard he placed for himself two years ago. Tired both mentally and physically last season, Duncan Keith is raring to go this season.
"Certainly he's well-rested," said Bowman. "The year before was so taxing. So many minutes in so many big games. He still had a good season but not to his standards. I think he's so energized this year to play hockey."
Keith played team-leading, heck, league-leading minutes last season. He also at times tried to do too much.
"I like to play. I love to be out on the ice," Keith told ESPN.com. "Maybe sometimes I'm guilty of trying to be out there too much and trying to do too many things. Just focusing on small little details, shorter shifts, keeping it simple. Small little things like that can make a big difference."
Keith sounds focused and recharged.
"Last year is over with," he said. "I'm excited to get this season going."
5. Loss of Campbell hurts
It's almost as if Brian Campbell's departure has been glossed over in Chicago. It might be because Bowman should win GM of the year for dumping that contract (five more years at $7.14 million per season). Having said that, Campbell was still a very good blueliner for the Hawks, but even he wasn't worth that money. The Hawks still need to replace Campbell's 22:58 per game.
"We do, there's no doubt about that," said Bowman. "When we look at our defensive group, we see Nick Leddy being ready for a bigger role. He's 20 years old, and I think he's a guy that came an awful long way in a short period of time. He's so much more confident now. Even in the playoffs, you saw him playing more in a pressure-packed situation. And I think Montador is underrated."
It's been Leddy and Montador to partner up with Niklas Hjalmarsson on Chicago's second pairing.
Interestingly, Montador's 26 points in Buffalo last season were only one fewer than Campbell's. Leddy also has good offensive upside.
"Offensively I don't think we're going to miss that much but we will miss how Brian lugged that puck up the ice," said Bowman. "There's no question. And that's what we've talked to Nick Leddy about."
6. The value of Olesz
The Panthers waited six years for Rostislav Olesz to deliver on his potential before they gave up and sent him Chicago's way in the Campbell deal.
At 25, the Hawks are hoping a change of scenery will help the winger find his stride. He has offensive talent but hasn't shown any consistency. And he's got three seasons left on his deal which pays him $3.125 million per season.
"I'm hopeful that he's one of those guys -- and he seems like it when I talk to him -- who is excited to start over," said Bowman. "He's obviously got a lot of talent; he hasn't realized his potential yet. He's fought injuries the last couple of years, which hasn't helped him. I think he's got the attributes in terms of size and skill. He does work hard; he's not a dog out there. I think he's going to embrace the opportunity. I just think it wasn't working for him down there and sometimes guys need a chance to turn the page and start over."
7. Finding a new level, Part 1
Toews was Hart Trophy-worthy last season for the way he willed his team back into a playoff spot late in the season. And he's always been terrific in his own zone. But he sees another gear for his game.
"I feel like I can take my game to a whole new level that I haven't really been able to find the last couple of years," said Toews, who had 76 points (32-44) last season. "I had the time this offseason to look at what I do on the ice and find ways to go outside my comfort zone and push the envelope a little bit. I'm motived and pumped about this year. I think I can still bring that smart defensive type of game this year but the offensive thing is tricky and I think there's a lot of improvement I can have in that regard."
It says here that Toews will be nominated for the Hart Trophy this season, if not win it outright.
8. Finding a new level, Part 2
Like Toews, Kane sees another level. He dipped from 88 points (30-58) in 2009-10 to 73 points (27-46) last season, although he missed nine games via injury.
"I think the biggest thing for me is to try and take the next step to be one of the top players in the league," said Kane. "People might say I've already been there the last few years, but I feel there's still a next step I can get to and want to get to."
This is a big season for Kane. He's got 100-point potential if he puts his mind to it.
9. Good shape with the cap
Well, well, what do we have here? A Hawks team with no cap issues? The nightmare is finally over. The Hawks can breathe again. Chicago entered camp with more than $3.4 million in cap space. That means the Hawks can add a player or two this season if they have to and not worry about making any trade dollar for dollar.
"You certainly need that flexibility," said Bowman. "In the past we certainly didn't really have the ability to add players. We like our team now, but if two months from now it's not clicking for whatever reason and you need to make a change, we at least have the ability to do that. We don't have to trade dollar for dollar [can take a contract on]."
The Hawks are in this to win another Cup. The cap room allows Bowman to be more aggressive this season. It bears monitoring.
10. Not a popular Cup pick
Interestingly, the Hawks did not enter camp as one of the more popular Cup picks. Last season's fall down the standings obviously has affected some of the experts.
"That's fine with us," said Toews, with a piercing look. "We always say in our room, it doesn't matter what people think; it only matters what we think and what our belief is in ourselves in our locker room. We tried to have that attitude against Vancouver last year when no one was picking us and no one was giving us any respect. That could be a good thing for us. I don't think it's that much motivation. It's not like people are picking us to miss the playoffs and be dead last. I think that would motivate us a bit more. But it's all up to us. We'll set our own goals and we know what we're capable of."
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering 15th NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 1
• Joel Quenneville enters his fourth season behind the Hawks' bench.
A fan favorite in Chicago, Quenneville balances both a tough and understanding approach with his players depending on what the situation calls for. He's got the respect and attention of his dressing room. He also has a say in how things are run in Chicago.
His end-of-season comments that his team needed to be harder to play against were heard loud and clear by management, which went out and acquired more toughness and grit. -- Pierre LeBrun
Best bet: Duncan Keith
Keith will have to shoulder even more offensive responsibility for the Blackhawks with the departure of Brian Campbell. No one was more bummed out by Keith's drop in production in 2010-11 than Keith himself, and we expect a good rebound season out of the former Norris Trophy winner. A complete package, the ultra-durable D-man should again be an elite asset across all fantasy categories. -- Victoria Matiash
Risky pick: Andrew Brunette
Brunette has great on-ice awareness, decent offensive instincts and a knack for approaching 25 goals in a season. If he ends up on the Blackhawks' top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, all bets are off. It was only five seasons ago that Brunette scored 83 points, thanks to his chemistry with Joe Sakic. Brunette is unlikely to be a regular power-play contributor, though, given that Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa will help make up the top unit. -- Sean Allen
Sleeper pick: Ray Emery
He'll compete with the untested Alexander Salak to be Corey Crawford's backup in Chicago, and the team will decide by Oct. 1. Crawford is one of the league's promising young starters, but the Blackhawks may adopt a time-share if Emery proves to be a fit, on and off the ice. -- Tim Kavanagh
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Blackhawks:
• May 19: Re-signed G Corey Crawford.
• June 25: Acquired LW Rostislav Olesz from Florida for D Brian Campbell.
• June 29: Acquired rights to negotiate with D Steve Montador from Buffalo for 2012 or 2013 seventh-round pick.
• June 30: Signed D Steve Montador.
• July 1: Signed LW Andrew Brunette, RW Jamal Mayers, C Brett McLean, D Sean O'Donnell and LW Dan Carcillo.
• July 10: Re-signed LW Viktor Stalberg.
• July 15: Re-signed LW Michael Frolik.
• July 15: Signed D Sami Lepisto.
• Aug. 3: Re-signed C Patrick Sharp.
• LW Troy Brouwer (traded to Washington)
• D Brian Campbell (traded to Florida)
• C Tomas Kopecky (traded to Florida)
• C Jake Dowell (unrestricted free agent, signed by Dallas)
• D Chris Campoli (club exercised 'walkaway' from arbitration award)
• D Jassen Cullimore (unrestricted free agent, signed by German club Iserlohn)
• C Ryan Johnson (unrestricted free agent, invited to Detroit training camp for tryout)
• D Jordan Hendry (unrestricted free agent)
• RW Fernando Pisani (unrestricted free agent)
• G Marty Turco (unrestricted free agent)