New-look Chicago Blackhawks aiming for historic title
CHICAGO (AP) When it was all over - all the days with the Stanley Cup, the trades, the free-agent departures - the core of the Chicago Blackhawks just shrugged and went back to work.
There is precious little time for sentiment when you are trying to become the first repeat NHL champion in almost two decades.
''I feel pretty confident,'' forward Marian Hossa said. ''I think we have lots of great players in this dressing room, lots of new faces, but I think there's lots of energy in this room. Lots of guys are hungry, and I think that's important.''
Chicago won its third title in six seasons when it defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in June. While the party lasted for much of the summer, the final bill was significant.
The core group of seven players who have their name on the Cup for each of the three titles took a hit when Patrick Sharp was traded to Dallas. Walking a tricky line with the salary cap, the Blackhawks also traded away rising star Brandon Saad and forward Kris Versteeg. Defenseman Johnny Oduya and centers Brad Richards and Antoine Vermette left in free agency.
The offseason turnover was reminiscent of the aftermath of Chicago's 2010 championship, and the Blackhawks lost in the first round of the playoffs in each of the next two years. But there are plenty of reasons for optimism this time around.
Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Hossa lead a very potent group of forwards, and Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson are back to anchor the defense in front of Corey Crawford. Artem Anisimov came over from Columbus in the Saad deal, giving the Blackhawks a big center to play on the second line behind Toews.
''I think that the room here, I think we've got lots of leaders,'' Hossa said. ''I think they're not satisfied. We turn the page and we try to focus on a new season.''
The Blackhawks also have longtime coach Joel Quenneville back for his eighth season with the team. His ability to find the right combinations with all the new players and keep the core group healthy also could be key.
''Our division, conference, never been better,'' Quenneville said. ''I expect everybody to be hungry when they play us. I would say making the playoffs this year, no matter what team you are, is going to be a great accomplishment.''
Here are a few more things to watch with the Blackhawks:
KANE'S SEASON: Kane is the subject of a sexual assault investigation in western New York. The All-Star winger has not been charged, and has said he expects to be exonerated. Kane, who is heading into the first season of an $84 million, eight-year contract extension, has been with the team since the start of training camp last month, leading to some criticism of the Blackhawks and the league.
PANARIN'S POTENTIAL: Several NHL teams were interested in Artemi Panarin before the Russian forward signed with Chicago last May. The rookie was limited by an upper-body injury during the preseason, but the Blackhawks raved about his talent and ability.
''I think he could be fun to watch,'' Quenneville said. ''Kid's got a real nice gift of finding pucks and getting it off quickly.''
TEUVO TIME: Long one of Chicago's top prospects, it looked as if forward Teuvo Teravainen came into his own during the playoffs. He had two goals and two assists in the Stanley Cup Final against Tampa Bay. Teravainen has great vision and a good shot. His continued development could help make up for the lost production with the departure of Sharp and Saad.
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Oduya was one of four defensemen who carried the load for the Blackhawks in the last postseason. He also had five assists in 23 playoffs games. With Oduya gone, Chicago's defensive pairings could be a work in progress at the start of the year. The Blackhawks got Trevor Daley in the trade that sent Sharp to Dallas, and Trevor van Riemsdyk also returns after a promising debut last season.
ONE-TWO PUNCH: Crawford and Scott Darling could be one of the NHL's best goaltender tandems. Crawford had 32 wins last season with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage. Darling came up with a couple of huge performances in Chicago's run to the Cup.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap