Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Title Defense Begins
2013/14 Season Preview


It's hard to sum up the 2013 Stanley Cup run into words. As fans, we went from disappointment and dispair to the ultimate fangasm of euphoria in just 6 months. In January everyone, including myself, was talking about canceling the season, and look what ended up happening. Aren't we all glad that didn't happen, now? I digress. With little rest, and tasks at hand, the Blackhawks start their title defense just shy of three months after hoisting the silver chalice. This is the beginning of the new dawn...


This summer was relatively quiet be the summer following a Stanley Cup win. At least from what we all witnessed the summer of 2010. Dave Bolland was traded to Toronto for three Toronto draft picks, Michael FrolĂ­k was traded to Winnipeg for two draft picks, and Ray Emery signed in Philly. The buyout's of Rusty Olesz and Steve Montador were hardly a ripple in the pool. Thanks about all she wrote for depatures, which is a stark contrast from 2010, when half the supporting cast ended up in Atlanta. Let's all breathe a sign of relief.

And lets give a moment of silence, or absolute joy, that Stan was able to get anything for Dan Carcillo's useless rotting carcass. That was a day that will live in infamy! RIP Gorilla Salad.


The new players coming in, really aren't much of anything. Nikolai Khabibulin is back for his second stint as a Blackhawk, but this time strictly as a rarely used veteran backup. This is insurance, in case Antti Raanta pulls his best Alex Salak impression and flakes out. Michael Kostka, and Theo Peckham were brought in for depth, but that depth will probably be at the AHL level. The rest of the arrivals will be Blackhawks prospects that we're all fairly familiar with. Ben Smith will probably be the most prominent addition to the roster, but we could see Jeremy Morin, Jimmy Hayes, Brandon Pirri and Drew Leblanc, as well. Pirri, and LeBLAH will be fighting for the ever vacant second line center center spot, but I'll dive more into that later. At this point the Blackhawks have won two Stanley Cups with a revolving cast of characters in that slot, so who am I to criticize?


Lets work our way down the lineup, and take a look at just what Dr. Lineblender has at his disposal, but lets be completely honest, he has quite an impressive assortment of weapons at his disposal.

CENTERS

19 - JONATHAN TOEWS
26 - MICHAL HANDZUS
16 - MARKUS KRUGER
65 - ANDREW SHAW
14 - DREW LEBLANC
37 - BRANDON PIRRI
24 - PHILLIP DANAULT
15 - MARK McNEILL
23 - TEUVO TERAVAINEN
62 - ALEX BROADHURST
58 - BYRON FROESE
68 - DAVID GILBERT
42 - JOAKIM NORDSTROM
51 - BRAD MILLS

The collective work of Centers looks promising. When you start a list with Jonathan Toews, you're starting with one of the elite centers in the entire NHL and one of the top two in Blackhawks history. The problem is that there is a drop off in talent and NHL readiness. Handzus is old and busted, Kruger is a solid bottom 6 center, and Shaw isn't really a center. This isn't to say Shaw didn't do exceptionally well, but you have to think they would prefer him at the wing, where he can cause holy hell as a first forechecker. I always envisioned Kruger as the replacement for Bolland with Shaw and Saad flanking him. Again, we may very well see Shaw open up at #3 again, and Kruger on the checking line. As far as the ever contested second line, Brandon Pirri and Drew Leblanc will get first crack at it. Pirri is in the last year of his entry level deal that would pay him $67K in Rockford ($870K NHL), and Leblanc has a 2 year deal that would pay him $110K and $600K in Rockford ($575k NHL). If that doesn't tell you who holds the lead right off the bat, then you're as dull as a butter knife. There was hinting and speculation that Brandon Saad would get a shot at the spot, but that makes no sense to me. Why take a rookie that faded down the stretch and put him in a position he's not comfortable with.

After the initial NHL group you have the top prospects from the last two drafts in McNeill, Danault, and Teravainen. Nothing replenishes a thin position like 3 straight first round draft choices. Each player brings their own unique qualities to the table. Danault seems to be the closest to NHL ready, which suffice to say, is still a ways away. Teravainen is a wild card because he's been playing against, at least, AHL caliber talent since he was 17. He seems to have the most NHL upside, if he can continue to keep from having his head knocked off. Mr. Kane can help him in that category. He's probably going back to Finland for one more year of seasoning, before he comes to Rockford next season. McNeill seems to be third in line, and there has been talk that they Hawks may move him to Right Wing. He's more of a power forward that would be good for digging out pucks in front of the net. All 3 could be good Blackhawks players in the next few years. Broadhurst, Froese, Gilbert, Nordstrom and Mills are all nice players, but the chance of seeing them playing at the UC are extremely slim. Weirder things have happened, though.

WINGS
88 - PATRICK KANE  
81 - MARIAN HOSSA  
10 - PATRICK SHARP
29 - BRYAN BICKELL  
20 - BRANDON SAAD  
28 - BEN SMITH  
52 - BRANDON BOLLIG  
11 - JEREMY MORIN  
22 - JIMMY HAYES  
12 - KYLE BEACH  
56 - TERRY BROADHURST  
61 - GARRET ROSS  
46 - MAXIM SHALUNOV  
38 - RYAN HARTMAN  
25 - BRAD WINCHESTER
5 - WADE BROOKBANK
47 - PAT MULLANE

Moving on to the wingers, the Blackhawks have some of the best in the league. Kane, Hossa and Sharp will be nothing but what they always are, consistently excellent. Bickell looks like he might have finally figured out just what he's good for in the NHL, and he better have, because the Blackhawks are paying him like he has. Saad is a calder nominee, that will only get better with age. Ben Smith is one of the hardest working players the Hawks have in their system and will be a nice replacement for Frolik. Bollig....pass. He is what he is. Quenneville has shown that he requires at least one slobbering cement head on his roster at all times, and at least he's not Gorilla Fucking Salad.

The next level forwards are a talented bunch, with edgy Jeremy Morin and big Jimmy Hayes, and the continually disappointing Kyle Beach. We WILL see Hayes and Morin playing with the big boys this season, and Beach would be a great 4th line grinder if he could just ratchet that 10 cent head on long enough to do something productive. This contract is clearly his last chance to make something of himself in Chicago. The other Broadhurst, Terry, has some potential, but as with his brother, they are very thin for NHL standards.

Garret Ross has been on my radar, because he is basically Andrew Shaw 2.0 with more scoring touch, but still not NHL ready. Shalunov might be a solid AHL guy with his size. Hartman is far from NHL ready after just being drafted in June. Winchester and Brookbank are veteran face punchers that will play in Rockford, and Pat Mullane is a free agent prospect invitee.

DEFENSE
2 - DUNCAN KEITH
7 - BRENT SEABROOK  
4 - NIKLAS HJALMARSSON  
8 - NICK LEDDY  
27 - JOHNNY ODUYA  
32 - MICHAL ROZSIVAL  
17 - SHELDON BROOKBANK  
55 - RYAN STANTON  
34 - DYLAN OLSEN  
49 - ADAM CLENDENING  
6 - MICHAEL KOSTKA  
70 - THEO PECKHAM  
44 - KLAS DAHLBECK  
43 - VIKTOR SVEDBERG
64 - TRAVIS BROWN  
45 - DILLON FOURNIER  
48 - JOE GLEASON
57 - JARED NIGHTENGALE
59 - BOBBY SHEA

The Blackhawks back end is pretty solid and spoken for, as well. Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Oduya, Leddy and Rozsival are your top 6, with Brookbank being the swing man and resident press box lurker. You won't see much deviation from that crew, unless someone gets hurt. If there is an injury, I would expect to see Stanton, Olsen, Kostka or Peckham. Just a hunch but unless Clendening is absolutely blazing though the AHL this season, I don't think the Hawks want to rush him up for any reason. No need to rush him. He's progressing nicely, and slipping him in next year as maybe a #6 would work out well for him.

Viktor Svedberg has always been a guilty pleasure of mine, since I saw him at prospect camp 2 summers ago. He's enormous at 6'8' and from the lineage of Swedish defensemen, which teach exceptional fundamentals. He has a chance to be a total Bowman steal. Don't be surprised if he eventually gets an NHL deal, because he's only 22 and a solid prospect.

Dahlbeck is a stay at home defender that could fill a spot, in a pinch. He won't do much on the offensive end, but he won't be a liability. Brown is a green prospect, Fournier is going to be a good one. He has very good hands for a young defender, but he is green as well. Cleason, Nightengale, and Shea are FA invitees that are just filling spots.

GOALTENDERS
50 - COREY CRAWFORD  
39 - NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN  
31 - ANTTI RAANTA  
40 - KENT SIMPSON  
60 - MAC CARRUTH  
53 - BRANDON WHITNEY

Last but not least, the Goalies. The Blackhawks goalies are going to be the "Bears QB" controversy of the Hawks. The Backup will always be the fan favorite, because the meatballs are, well, meatballs. Crawford is the man. He will continue to be that man, in theory, for the next 7 years. Antti Raanta might have something to say about that, but for the moment, Crawford is THE man. Khabby is back, for a year, as an insurance policy. Raanta can write his own story, and that story will begin shortly in camp. Simpson and Carruth are the next generation of Hawks goalies, and both had excellent years with their respective teams, last year. I like Carruth better, but Simpson has more experience, playing a few games with Rockford last year. Carruth was in Portland all season with Mr. All American Seth Jones. Whitney came out of the draft very highly regarded, and has great size. He's the least experienced, and youngest, of the crop.
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