Blackhawks: Five Things You Need To Know
By Craig Custance
When Patrick Kane scored the goal nobody saw to win the 2010 Stanley Cup in Philadelphia, Chicago's youth and talent foreshadowed years of success. Even with the salary cap purge everyone knew had to happen.
Then came the Cup hangover, which is understandable. It was followed by an upset in the playoffs last season at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes, which we're almost willing to forgive considering Marian Hossa missed half of it after leaving the ice on a stretcher.
That brings us to this year's team. The Blackhawks are running out of excuses.
"We've kind of been searching for an identity," forward Patrick Sharp told ESPN The Magazine.
GM Stan Bowman brought back essentially the same team that lost again in the first round, and it's time for that group to show it belongs back among the elite.
"I think we underachieved last year. When that's the case, you don't want to overreact personnel-wise," Bowman told ESPN The Magazine. "I don't think we're far off, but when you don't reach your goal, you're not pleased with it." They've got 48 games and a potential postseason to prove that the past two seasons have been aberrations for a talented core. If it doesn't happen this season, it might be time to wonder if there's a critical flaw in the group.
1. Is Corey Crawford The Answer In Goal?
According to colleague Pierre LeBrun, the Blackhawks talked trade with the Kings regarding talented backup Jonathan Bernier during the summer. But as camp opens, the Blackhawks have the same duo of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery that shared duties last season. Crawford was remarkable during the playoffs against the Canucks in his rookie season, but was equally unremarkable last season against the Coyotes, finishing 2-4 with a .893 save percentage and 2.58 goals-against average in the playoffs. "He didn't have a good playoff. I'm not going to try to sell you on the fact he played well," Bowman said. "At the same time, you can't lay it all on him, and if you look at the two years he had -- the year before, he was probably the reason we made the playoffs." There's too much talent in Chicago for Bowman to let suspect goaltending sabotage a playoff team, so there will be some evaluating going on early this season. "[Crawford] almost won that series against Vancouver. He was so good," Bowman said. "Was that a fluke? Or was last year the fluke? I guess time will tell."
2. Dave Bolland As No. 2 Center
This isn't a new idea, considering the Blackhawks have been looking for another center for their top six the past couple years. Bolland has been a natural candidate, but he's so good in his checking role that he usually ends up returning to it. But Bowman thinks the 26-year-old is ready to expand his game this season. "I think Bolland can take on a bigger role," Bowman said. "He is really good at what he does. At the same time, sometimes just because it worked, doesn't mean things can't change. People grow and their roles evolve over time."
3. Depth On Defense A Plus
During the shortened season, injuries are going to be huge, and there are already general managers (especially in the West) on the lookout to add defense. That's not an issue in Chicago. There are seven NHL defensemen on this roster and, if Steve Montador can return to health, that would be eight. Johnny Oduya played well for the Blackhawks after being acquired from the Jets at the trade deadline, and Chicago gets plenty of value in signing Michal Rozsival for $2 million this season. "I just remember he was tough to play against in the playoffs," Sharp said of Rozsival. "Not too flashy, but he has the ability to play on the power play, and he's really tough in the defensive zone."
4. Special Teams Must Improve
The Blackhawks power play was No. 26 in the NHL last season. No. 26. The same power play that was able to send out Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Jonathan Toews any time it had a man advantage. There's no reason that group converted at a rate of just 15.2 percent. And it gets worse. The penalty kill was No. 27 in the league. Bowman said special teams was the biggest thing this team had to address in the offseason. "I've talked to Joel [Quenneville] and Joel has talked a lot about that," Bowman said. "He brought in a new coach [Jamie Kompon] that he has worked with in the past. That's really off-the-ice type thing, working on systems."
5. Hossa's Health Is Crucial
There wasn't a scarier moment during the playoffs than Hossa laying motionless on the ice after a brutal hit from Raffi Torres. The extended lockout gave Hossa plenty of recovery time, which he needed. "It was a long recovery for him, truthfully," Bowman said. Last year, Hossa was as good as he's been since signing with the Blackhawks. His 29 goals and 77 points was his best regular-season production in a Blackhawks jersey. He's been medically cleared and is ready go, and the Blackhawks will need him to return to last year's level of play during the regular season. "He took quite a hit, but he's going to be good," Bowman said.
Craig Custance covers the NHL for ESPN The Magazine.
Experience: Entering 16th NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: 1
Time-shares: Corey Crawford
Crawford and Ray Emery are an interesting case study in two very different problems that can plague goaltenders. Crawford has struggled with inconsistency during his NHL run, and this is a problem that snowballed to calamitous effect in 2011-12 for Chicago (especially in the postseason, when he gave up multiple questionable goals). As for Emery, he has had injury troubles throughout his recent NHL campaigns, and though he has been better than Crawford at times, he can't help too much if he's injured. The Blackhawks were reportedly interested in signing Martin Brodeur this offseason, but that deal fell through, and it'll be the Crawford-Emery show in the early going. If the above-mentioned problems persist, however, expect the team to explore an addition prior to the trade deadline. --Tim Kavanagh
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Blackhawks:
• May 29: Re-signed RW Jamal Mayers and D Johnny Oduya.
• July 1: Signed D Sheldon Brookbank.
• July 17: Named Jamie Kompon assistant coach.
• Sept. 11: Signed D Michal Rozsival.
• LW Andrew Brunette (unrestricted free agent)
• D Sami Lepisto (unrestricted free agent)
• C Brendan Morrison (unrestricted free agent)
• D Sean O'Donnell (unrestricted free agent)