Chicago Blackhawks 2015-16 preview
COACH: Joel Quenneville
2014-15 RECORD: 48-28-6, 102 points (third in Central, won Stanley Cup)
VITAL SIGNS: 2.68 goals-for per game (17th); 2.27 goals-against per game (2nd); 17.6 power play pct. (20th); 83.4 penalty kill pct. (10th); PDO: 100.5 (13th); Corsi For pct.: 54.2 (1st); Fenwick For pct.: 53.1 (4th); face-off pct.: 52.0 (5th)
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
Andrew Shaw – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin – Artem Anisimov – Patrick Kane*
Viktor Tikhonov – Teuvo Teravainen – Kyle Baun
Andrew Desjardins – Marcus Kruger – Ryan Garbutt
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson – Trevor Daley
Trevor Van Riemsdyk – David Rundblad
OUTLOOK: The Blackhawks earned their victory lap as the reigning Stanley Cup champs, but this is a very different team physically and emotionally than the group that won it all last season. Cap issues forced the sell-off of several integral players but their absence seems like a minor inconvenience next to the lingering black cloud caused by sexual assault allegations against Patrick Kane. Even as the likelihood of charges being filed diminishes, the reality is that Kane could be yanked from the lineup by the judicial process at any time. That uncertainty has to weigh on him as an individual and on the group. No one questions this team’s mental toughness, but is any hockey team prepared for a challenge like this?
With Patrick Sharp and Brandon Saad out of the mix and Kane’s status uncertain, the top-six will have a decidedly different look. Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa will skate with a revolving cast of wingers, with Andrew Shaw likely to get an early look. Marko Dano, a surprise cut in camp, could be an early recall to fill that role as well. Injuries have limited Artemi Panarin’s exposure in camp, but after scoring 26 goals last season in Russia, he could give the second line a boost. The bottom-six offers a nice mix of skill and grit. Teuvo Teravainen, who flashed his brilliance in the playoffs, will get a long look at third line center and could skate with Kyle Baun. The college free agent brings size, speed and a strong attention to the details. ARyan Garbutt is a tireless forechecker and an excellent penalty killer but he wore out his welcome in Dallas with a penchant for undisciplined penalties. If he can stay out of Joel Quenneville’s doghouse he’ll be a nice add ... but that’s a big if.
It’s a good bet that goals will be hard to come by early on as Quenneville works his blender to find the right combinations, but the talent is there. This group will be dangerous when it matters.
Even without Johnny Oduya, the Hawks remain a formidable team from the goal line out. Corey Crawford should finally have silenced all but his most determined detractors with another outstanding spring performance. With two Cup rings on his fingers to compensate for whatever flash his game lacks, he’s now established as one of the best in the game. Scott Darling played just 14 games last season, but his 1.95 GAA and .936 save percentage suggests he’s capable of assuming a heavier workload to keep Crawford fresh for the postseason.
The blueline remains solid, led by 2015 Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Trevor Daley, acquired from Dallas in the Sharp trade, adds an element of speed and puck panache that should bolster the attack. Trevor van Riemsdyk is one to watch. Patella and wrist injuries derailed his rookie season, but he could see time in multiple situations this year. Don’t be surprised to find him skating top pairing minutes with Keith from time to time.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Artemi Panarin
With Sharp a cap casualty and Kane’s future uncertain, the Hawks needed a transfusion of top-six talent. They may have found just what they needed in Panarin, the free agent/former KHL star whose explosiveness and creativity have earned him comparisons to No. 88. He’s quick to dispute that “Comparing me to Kane is like to get to Russia by walking,” he said), but the early returns from camp suggest he has a chance to be a special player. There already are hints of chemistry with Teravainen, which would create a dynamic pairing. Panarin need to demonstrate a two-way game, though, to earn consistent ice time from Quenneville.
PREDICTION: 100 points, fourth in Central