The Chicago Blackhawks enter training camp with plenty of questions, especially regarding Patrick Kane's status. We’ll let that one be until there are more facts. For now, here are 20 questions and answers about the Blackhawks’ upcoming season:
1. Did the Blackhawks give up too much this offseason to have a chance at repeating?
The Blackhawks lost key pieces in Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Johnny Oduya and contributors like Kris Versteeg and Brad Richards. The players who will replace them have potential, but they’re not all proven. Marko Dano and Artemi Panarin could be top-six forwards, but they only have a combined 35 games of NHL experience between them. Trevor Daley has played in the NHL for a while, but he isn’t the same type of defenseman as Oduya. Artem Anisimov should fit in well as the second-line center, but also expect an adjustment period there. The Blackhawks are a different team -- a lot like they were after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup -- but they appear more prepared for all the changes this time around. This question should be easier to answer in a few months. There is the fact that no team has repeated during the salary-cap era.
2. Where will the goal-scoring come from?
The Blackhawks lost four of their 10 double-digit goal scorers from last season with the departure of Sharp, Saad, Richards and Versteeg. The four players totaled for 65 of the team’s 220 regular-season goals. Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa will need to be in that 25-30 goal range again. If Hossa can continue his shot rate and get his shooting percentage back up to normal, he could easily do that. Dano and Panarin have the potential to be 20-plus goal scorers. If Teuvo Teravainen gets some power-play time, his production should rise. Anisimov had just seven goals last season, but he did record 22 goals two seasons ago. Andrew Shaw has also recorded 20 goals before in his career.
3. How important will Corey Crawford be?
Crawford is coming off the best regular season of his career. He was more consistent than any goaltender in the league. He had a .702 quality-start percentage, which was the highest among all goaltenders with a minimum of 40 starts. If Crawford can keep that up, the Blackhawks will have a chance most games. That likely won’t be an easy task, though. Shot suppression wasn’t one of the Blackhawks’ strongest traits last season. The Blackhawks allowed 30.2 shots per game, the highest number since Joel Quenneville took over as coach in 2008. That number could grow this season with Oduya gone, Daley being more of an offensive defenseman and the uncertainties of inexperienced defensemen Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad and an unknown seventh defenseman. By the way, Scott Darling had a .769 quality-start percentage in 13 games started last season. The Blackhawks do possess two quality goaltenders.
4. Who are the Blackhawks’ centers?
The Blackhawks were mindful of improving down the middle last season after losing to the Los Angeles Kings the season before. Richards and Antoine Vermette filled key centerman spots in the playoffs last season. Toews will obviously be the top-line center again. The Blackhawks plan for Anisimov, who signed a five-year extension after being acquired, to be their second-line center. Teravainen has played center throughout his career and is expected to be given a chance there this season. Marcus Kruger returns to the fourth-line center. The Blackhawks also have the option of utilizing Andrew Shaw and Andrew Desjardins at center.
5. How much cap room do the Blackhawks have entering the season?
Based on this 20-player projected lineup, the Blackhawks have $1,819,038 in cap space. The Blackhawks will likely add one defenseman and one forward to the roster. Ryan Garbutt, who has a $900,000 cap hit, is the leading candidate for the forward position. Erik Gustafsson, who has a $667,500 cap hit, has a chance to be that defenseman, but Quenneville may prefer a veteran defenseman like Jan Hejda, Michal Rozsival or Lubomir Visnovsky, who will all attend camp on professional tryout agreements.
6. What do you need to know about Marko Dano?
Dano is from Trencin, Slovakia, the same hometown of Hossa. He’s 20 years old and won’t be 21 until Nov. 30. He was drafted 27th overall in the 2013 draft. He received his first extended NHL look late last season and ran with it. After being called up in mid-February, he had seven goals and 12 assists in the final 27 games for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman previously said of Dano, “He certainly impressed our scouts with his all-around game. He’s a very active player. He plays a very high-energy game. He’s very strong, competitive, he’s physical. The goals he scores are from around the net and he’s not afraid to go in the corners and battle. I think he’s a guy that our coaching staff is going to become favorites of and I think our fans are going to like his style as well.”
7. Who will be the major unrestricted and restricted free agents after the upcoming season?
Brent Seabrook is the main unrestricted free agent as his five-year, $29 contract expires after the season. Kruger and Shaw are the major restricted free agents. Kyle Baun, Phillip Danault and Mark McNeill will also be restricted free agents.
8. Could the Blackhawks make any in-season moves?
Kruger’s agent recently said he hoped the Blackhawks would figure out a long-term contract for his client during the season. The Blackhawks could also work on an extension for Seabrook during the season. The Blackhawks will eventually need to find some more cap space, and that could still mean trading Bickell, who has a $4 million cap hit, at some point during the season. Unless he really turns it on like he did in the 2013 and 2014 playoffs, he simply makes too much for the Blackhawks’ budget. Don’t expect the Blackhawks to be significant players at the trade deadline unless something strange happens like it did last season with Kane’s injury.
9. What do you need to know about Artemi Panarin?
Panarin is a 23-year-old left wing from Russia. He’s coming off a career season in the KHL where he had 26 goals and 36 assists in the regular season and another five goals and 15 assists in 20 playoff games. He currently only has a $815,500 cap hit, but he has a number of performance bonuses which add up to an additional $2.75 million. Quenneville said of Panarin this summer, “Looks like he’s got a little pizazz to his game. He’s got some strength in the puck area, seems like he likes the puck, looks like he likes to score. Offensively, got some talent. So, that could be a nice addition.”
10. Who are the Blackhawks’ left wings?
The Blackhawks lost their two top left wings in Sharp and Saad. Panarin will likely step into one of those places. Versteeg also often played on the left wing. Dano is a right wing, but he said he’s comfortable on the left side. Bickell and Desjardins will probably be the left wings on the third and fourth lines. Garbutt is also a left wing.
11. Where can Teravainen improve this season?
Beginning the season in the NHL will be a good starting point for Teravainen. Remember, he played more AHL regular-season games than NHL ones last season. He played well on the right wing with the Blackhawks, but he has spent most of his career at center and is expected to be provided that opportunity in camp. He has also flourished on the power play in the past, and his role could expand there. He added muscle and weight in the offseason while working with a trainer in Finland. That should also benefit him.
12. Could we begin to see a decline in Hossa this season?
Hossa will turn 37 in January. He’s certainly getting up there in age, but he hasn’t shown many recent signs of slowing down. He's continued to be one of game's top two-way forwards. The back issue was a concern a few years ago, but that’s gone away. He played 82 games last season for the first time since the 2006-07 season. That said, the Blackhawks would probably like to get him some more rest throughout the season.
13. Which Blackhawks would ideally have a bounce-back season?
Shaw had arguably his worst NHL season. His Corsi percentage of 53.5 was the lowest of his career. His minus-17 goal differential was the worst of his career. He had 13 points fewer than the season before. Shaw stepped up during the playoffs when moved to the right wing on the fourth line, but the Blackhawks need more of that consistency throughout the season.
14. Who will wear the second ‘A’ with Sharp gone?
Seabrook is the most likely candidate. He wore the ‘A’ for a while earlier in his career, and he was given it whenever Duncan Keith or Sharp were out of the lineup. Hossa and Niklas Hjalmarsson could also get consideration.
15. Who are the Blackhawks’ right wings?
The Blackhawks return nearly everyone here. Hossa is on the first line and Kane on the second line. Viktor Tikhonov could fill the spot on the third line. Shaw ended last season on the right wing on the fourth line. Teravainen and Dano can also play on the right wing.
16. Who are the Blackhawks’ top defenseman prospects?
The Blackhawks really depleted themselves in this area over the last season. A year ago, they had potential NHL defensemen in Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck, Stephen Johns and Mike Paliotta. All four of those players have since been traded. Ville Pokka, who was acquired in the Nick Leddy trade, has the makings of a dependable defenseman. He turned 21 in June and may need another year of seasoning in the AHL. Gustav Forsling, who is 19, is likely a year or two away, but he made a strong impression with his play for Sweden in last year’s World Junior Championship. Gustafsson, 23, has played professionally in Sweden and is likely the most-ready young defenseman now. Viktor Svedberg and Dillon Fournier also return from last season. The Blackhawks will be watching Sam Jardine and Nolan Valleau as they make the transition from college to the AHL this season. Both earned contracts after this year’s prospect camp. This is also important year for Carl Dahlstrom, Robin Norell and Robin Press to prove themselves as prospects in Sweden.
17. Who are the Blackhawks’ top forward prospects?
There isn’t another Teravainen coming up right now, but the Blackhawks have a number of potentially solid NHL players. Danault would have been a candidate for the NHL roster out of training camp if he hadn’t recently had surgery. McNeill and Garret Ross both are entering their third professional seasons and are coming off 20-plus goal seasons in the AHL, but both are still waiting for their NHL debuts. They need to impress Quenneville at camp. Kyle Baun did just that in his first three NHL games last season and could be a bottom-six candidate this season. Ryan Hartman, the Blackhawks’ 2013 first-round pick, is also expected to take another step this season. Ryan Haggerty, Vinnie Hinostroza and Tanner Kero are three players to keep an eye on in Rockford. Jeremy Morin is back with the Blackhawks. While he still has a ton of offensive upside, it may still be wasted with this organization. Outside of the AHL, Nick Schmaltz, the 2014 first-round pick, is the highest-rated prospect. The Blackhawks will likely look to sign him and a number of their college juniors after this season.
18. Who will the Blackhawks turn to if Crawford or Darling go down?
Michael Leighton is the No. 3 goaltender on the depth chart now. He went 22-13-2 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .920 save percentage for the IceHogs last season. After him, the Blackhawks are looking to strike gold with Mark Visentin as they did with Darling. Visentin, 23, was a 2010 first-round pick and once represented Canada’s younger national teams. He played in one NHL game at the end of the 2013-14 season and is coming off an ankle injury which kept him out last season. He signed an AHL contract, but that could be quickly changed to an NHL one if needed.
19. Who is the team to beat in the Central?
Honestly, every team in the division nearly falls in this category. The St. Louis Blues only tweaked their roster after winning the division last season. The Nashville Predators gained a ton of experience. The Minnesota Wild will have Devan Dubnyk in net for a full season. The Winnipeg Jets feel they’re capable of more. The Dallas Stars added some skill and experience to a team that already felt like it underachieved last season. The Colorado Avalanche won’t be looking to avoid a repeat of last season. It’ll be the best division in hockey again.
20. If there was one key to the season, what would it be?
Obviously, the Kane situation will impact the season. But aside from that, the Blackhawks need their defensemen to stay healthy. Seabrook, Hjalmarsson and Keith were vital to the Blackhawks’ playoff success last season, and they could be even more important this season considering the defenseman depth throughout the organization. The Blackhawks need Daley to play well in a top-four role and for van Riemsdyk and Rundblad to move forward in their games.