The Blackhawks season is upon us. As with every Blackhawks season, the expectation is that the team will win the Stanley Cup. With future Hall of Famers as part of the management team, coaching staff, and roster, a championship should be the expectation. With another offseason that put the roster in flux, essentially changing the identity of the Defenseman and the bottom six forwards, realistic expectation need to be set.
Many players that comprised the core that won the Stanley Cup three times are still here and still within their primes. Over the past couple of seasons Patrick Kane has posted astonishing numbers. A lot of people think that without Artemi Panarin, Kane will not have as good of a season as he has had over the past two campaigns. But let’s make one thing clear, Kane has won three Stanley Cup Championships without the help of Artemi Panarin. Kane will continue to be the electric talent that he is, regardless of who his line-mates are.
Meanwhile, Captain Serious, Jonathan Toews has shown no signs of slowing down. Last year he posted a .81 points per game, the highest for any season of his career. Toews has yet to turn 30, and his prime is still open for another three or four seasons. Toews is one of the best leaders that the game has. His diverse skill-set in both the offensive and defensive zones makes him a worldly talent that the opposing team has to account for every time he steps on the ice. His leadership will be especially valuable given the amount of young talent that will be expected to perform and take on a bigger role this season.
The young talent will be worth paying attention to this season, and seen as the potential downfall of this team. While many of the young forwards performed well during the regular season last year, and flashes from the likes of Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman were very encouraging, they disappeared in the playoffs.
They need to learn how to deliver and perform in the big moments. Leaving it all on the veterans will not suffice anymore. The winning formula for any team that has won the Stanley Cup has been the result of effective and consistent third and fourth line play. If the Blackhawks cannot do that, then they will find themselves getting bounced in the first or second round of the playoffs again.
The Hawks also have to deal with the loss of Marian Hossa for the season. With the Blackhawks being allowed to place Hossa on the Long Term Injured Reserve, the team loses a generational talent. Even at the age of 38, he was still able to post 26 goals and 19 assists in 2016-2017. The Blackhawks will miss Hossa on the ice, of course, but his presence in the locker room will be missed most of all. Hossa, a first ballot Hall of Fame candidate when his time comes, has a lot to give this team still, even as he approaches the age of 40. While Hossa is not the offensive threat that he once was, the Hawks will miss having him on the ice and inside the locker room.
The defense has been a growing concern the last few seasons, and the lack of depth along the blue line has been a talking point of the Hawks’ offseason. Duncan Keith averaged 25:37 minutes of ice-time last year. Keith is a well-documented fitness freak, and it shows with him being at or near the top of the league in terms of minutes played every year. Then there is the ever-reliable Brent Seabrook, but after those two, who is going to show up along the blue line?
There is a lot of unproven young talent that has to show they are capable of playing against some of the best players on the planet, but there is very little to show that they are able to do that as of yet.
Also, Keith is 34 years old, and as the old adage goes, ‘Father Time is undefeated.’ It is fair to ask whether or not he will lose a step. Seabrook will be 33 by season’s end. Head Coach Joel Quenneville has stated the Seabrook and Keith will play together as the top defensive pairing on the team, at least to start the season. Expect these two to log heavy minutes to start the season until Quenneville learns to trust of the young unproven defensemen. Either the defensemen will be a pleasant surprise this season, or Corey Crawford will have a lot of extra work to do in the crease.
Crawford has consistently been one of the most underappreciated talents in the league for some time now. With two Stanley Cup Championships to his name, Crawford has been a staple of this team ever since he broke into the league. He will produce another statistically excellent season, and it will probably go unnoticed again.
While Crawford will stand tall in net this season, he will not play every game. Behind him is Anton Forsberg who has a lot of promise, but limited NHL experience. If he falters, the Hawks have stashed Jean-Francois Berube in Rockford and can bring him up if necessary. Berube has NHL experience which could benefit him moving forward if Forsberg does not live up to his expectations.
Will the Blackhawks win the division, and lead the Western Conference in points like they did last year? No. This Blackhawks team will experience growing pains in the first parts of the season, and hopefully be able to gel together after coach Quenneville spins his famous line blender a few times and finds the winning combination, because the talent is most certainly there to work with.