Hawks storylines (No. 1): Quest for Cup

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
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Chicago BlackhawksJonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesChampionship banners are the measure of success for a Blackhawks season these days.
ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down to Friday's opening of the Chicago Blackhawks' training camp with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

The Stanley Cup is where the Chicago Blackhawks measure their seasons these days.

They're successful if they win it. Anything else is a disappointment.

The Blackhawks were disappointed last season. While they exceeded their third-place regular-season finish in the Central, knocked off the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild in the first two rounds and were a goal away from reaching the Stanley Cup finals again, the 2013-14 season will be remembered by the Blackhawks as a missed opportunity to repeat as champions.

"There's so many things that go through your mind," Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said after last season. "The what ifs and little things that could've gone differently, how confident we would be as a team if we were getting ready to play a game tomorrow about our chances to win another Stanley Cup. We were this close. We've been there before.

"Some other guys have said it, I've said it too, that when you win a Stanley Cup you get that feeling, that taste for what it's like and then you really realize what you're missing and how special it is, not only what it's like to parade around the city of Chicago with the Stanley Cup but just the feeling of being in that room and celebrating a great job with the guys you've been working so hard with for a long, long time. This is pretty much the opposite of that, and I guess maybe you learn something from that too and maybe it makes you even hungrier."

The Blackhawks will need more than hunger to get through the Central, unseat the defending champion Los Angeles Kings and capture another Stanley Cup. The Blackhawks will rely on many of the same faces again, but there will be some tweaks this season.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman addressed one of the biggest issues last season and signed veteran Brad Richards to center the second line and add depth down the middle. With Toews, Richards, Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger, Peter Regin and possibly Teuvo Teravainen, the Blackhawks have more options at center than they did a season ago. That was an area where the Kings outplayed them in the Western Conference finals.

"I think you can never have enough centermen," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said in July. "I think your depth at the blue line, your depth at the middle always impacts and exposes over the course of a season and challenges you. I'll been comfortable having guys that have versatility in playing wing and center.

"And having that ability and that depth over a course of a season, you look at L.A.'s four centermen with experience and proveness [sic] down the middle, strength at the faceoff circle, that's probably the elite four-man center package you're going to find throughout the league. I really like the centermen we have and the ability to play in different roles and in different situations and comfortable with both sides of the offense and defensive responsibilities."

A top line of Patrick Sharp, Toews and Marian Hossa followed by a line of Brandon Saad, Richards and Patrick Kane gives the Blackhawks two elite lines again. The Blackhawks are hopeful Bryan Bickell can translate his playoff success to the regular season and provide them a top-6 forward on the third line.

Bowman and Quenneville have commented they're going to give Jeremy Morin a larger role this season. Morin's offensive numbers were among the team's best when he got a chance to play last season. The Blackhawks are also optimistic Kris Versteeg returns this season as the player they hoped he would be when they acquired last season. They also return key role players Shaw, Kruger and Ben Smith.

Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy lead an experienced defenseman group. In net, Corey Crawford returns and will seek to be more consistent, but he proved again in the playoffs last season he can carry the team if needed. His six-year, $36 million contract goes into effect this season.

All in all, the Blackhawks like their chances of making another Cup run.

"It's always exciting to be part of a group that has a chance to win a Cup," Keith said on Thursday. "You look around the league and there's so many good teams, especially in our conference, in our division. But you look around the room and you look at your teammates, and it's definitely an exciting feeling knowing the opportunity that is there.

"You've been in situations before, like at the start of my career when there wasn't much talk of Stanley Cups, it was more of just try to get to the playoffs and go from there. But we have high expectations, and I think everybody on the team enjoys that challenge and having that type of expectation."

Hawks storylines (No. 2): Crawford in net

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19
9:00
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down to Friday's opening of the Chicago Blackhawks' training camp with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

Corey Crawford was one of the primary reasons why the Chicago Blackhawks reached the Western Conference finals last season.

He was extraordinary in net through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Without his 34-save shutout against the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of their first-round series, the Blackhawks likely don’t advance to the second round. All told, Crawford stopped 351 of 377 shots for a .931 save percentage in the first two rounds.

The seven games of the Western Conference finals weren’t as kind to Crawford. He allowed 26 goals and had a .878 save percentage against the Los Angeles Kings in the series.

Crawford wasn’t to blame for all of the goals, but he took responsibility for the end result. If the Blackhawks are going to make another Stanley Cup run, they need him to be better.

“It wasn't good enough,” the 29-year-old Crawford said after last season of his own play. "We lost. It was too many goals. Take away the Game 2, that was a blowout in the third period. That couldn't happen, but it did. They seemed to get a lot of traffic in front of the net. I felt pretty much all year I was pretty strong battling through traffic and finding pucks, and that was probably the worst part of my game in that series.”

After an up-and-down 2013-14, Crawford will be aiming for more consistency this season. He struggled early in the season and had .907 save percentage through his first 27 games. He went down with an injury in December and was a different player when he returned in January, posting a .926 save percent over the final regular-season 32 games. He finished with a .917 save percentage, which put him 15th in the league among goalies with at least 40 games.

Crawford is expected to shoulder a heavy starting load again this season. It would be beneficial both to him and the Blackhawks if Antti Raanta became more comfortable in the backup role. Raanta’s struggles as the No. 2 goalie late last season didn’t allow Crawford much rest -- a change from the previous season, in which the balance between Ray Emery and Crawford was key to Chicago's regular-season success.

Bowman: Cap issue will play itself out soon

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
5:24
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman reiterated Thursday he’s confident the Blackhawks will get under the salary cap before the start of the regular season.

The Blackhawks are around $1.3 million over the $69 million cap and would have to shed more cap payroll if they wanted to include Teuvo Teravainen or any of their other prospects on the NHL roster.

Bowman believed the Blackhawks would be able to locate a trade partner in the coming weeks.

“I think leading into training camp most guys want to get going,” Bowman said Thursday before the Blackhawks open training camp at Notre Dame. “Like I said, everyone sort of has a plan that they like how things go. Then a week from now, your plan might have to be changed because players you expected to do something [don’t do something.]

“A lot of teams have some high hopes for some of the young players and then you get them in games and you realize, well, they’re a young player, they’re not going to be able to do what I thought they might. It’s a bit of a waiting game at this point. We’ve had a lot of discussions over the last weeks or months, but until guys get on the ice not a lot changes from July until now. I think we’ll see that play itself out over the next couple weeks here.”

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Hawks storylines (No. 3): Richards impact

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Friday with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

The Chicago Blackhawks will have some positions to sort out in training camp, but they finally have someone they can mark down as their second-line center.

Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman took care of that in the offseason by signing Brad Richards to a one-year deal. The Blackhawks offered Richards another chance to win a Stanley Cup, and Richards offered the Blackhawks a veteran center at an affordable price.

Richards
"It was important for us to try to get some depth at that position," Bowman said during the offseason. "Obviously, Brad is more than depth. He's an established, experienced player. I just think you can never have too many guys who can play in the middle."

The Blackhawks have been missing a steady second-line center in recent years. They tried everyone from Dave Bolland to Michal Handzus to Brandon Pirri to Ben Smith to Marcus Kruger to Andrew Shaw to even Brandon Saad. Some of the centers had more success than others, but none were permanent solutions.

Richards might not be permanent himself for the entire season, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville already has said he expects Richards to start there. That's progress considering Quenneville was toying with the idea of Saad as the second-line center during last year's training camp. Whether Richards remains there will depend on how his 34-year-old body holds up over the course of the season and whether the organization's top prospect, Teuvo Teravainen, proves to be ready.

Richards will be one of the more offensive centers Patrick Kane has played with on the second line in recent seasons. Richards has recorded 60-plus points in 10 NHL seasons and is coming off a season where he had 20 goals and 51 points for the New York Rangers.

Richards was second on the Rangers with 8.79 shots per 60 minutes last season, but he likely will shoot a little less and become more of a distributor with Kane and Brandon Saad on his wings. He's recorded 50-plus assists four times in his career.

"I've watched these guys play the last 6-7 years," Richards said during the offseason. "Patrick Kane is one of the most explosive players in the league. It's not just him. It's a great group that's been together and knows how to win. When you get a chance to maybe team up with one of those players on a line, whoever is on your line, it makes you feel pretty excited. I can't wait to get to work and try to make it a great experience for everybody."

Hawks storylines (No. 4): Defense return to form

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
3:27
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Friday with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville hit the panic button with his defensemen by the end of the Western Conference finals against the Los Angeles Kings last season.

After pairing Johnny Oduya with Niklas Hjalmarsson, Duncan Keith with Brent Seabrook and Nick Leddy with a rotating player all season long, Quenneville decided the Blackhawks needed a change. He paired Hjalmarsson and Keith, Oduya and Seabrook and Leddy and Michal Rozsival.

The late move didn't help. The Blackhawks kept allowing goals to the Kings and dropped the series. The Kings were held to just one goal in Game 1 of the series, but averaged 4.5 goals over the remaining six games. While the Blackhawks' offense produced, especially late in the series with 13 goals in the final three games, it wasn't enough.

The blame can be pointed all around from the defensemen to the forwards to the goaltending, but the Blackhawks weren't as solid defensively as they were the season before, and it cost them. The Blackhawks will look to get back to their 2012-2013 defensive form this season.

The Blackhawks held opponents to 2.02 goals per game during the 2012-2013 regular season and 2.09 goals during their Stanley Cup run. Last season, those totals rose to 2.58 goals in the regular season and 2.90 goals in the playoffs. Opponents averaged 31.2 shots a game against the Blackhawks during the playoffs last season.

"I look back a year ago and we were the No. 1 team in the league in defense and had the lowest goals-against average and won a Cup," Quenneville said after last season. "And this year we had a tough start to keeping the puck out of our net, and I think our penalty-killing got stabilized and all of a sudden those numbers were better and I always feel in this league you win by how well you check and how well you play defensively, and I always think our team can score enough goals to win hockey games, and in this last series we did score enough goals to win and we didn't win.

"So that's the area that we've got to make sure that we have awareness around our net and the willingness to get there, make it hard and [whether] it's the bounces or clearing loose pucks, but you know, maybe a little tighter in the detail department in that area could've been the differential."

The Blackhawks' defensive struggles could also be seen in their possession numbers. Their Corsi close percentage (shot differential with the game tied or within a goal in 5-on-5 situations) was 50.1 against the St. Louis Blues in the first round, 49.7 against the Minnesota Wild in the second round and 47.8 against the Kings in the Western Conference finals. The Blackhawks had an average Corsi percentage of 54.9 through all four playoff rounds in 2013.

Agent eyes deal for Hawks' Marcus Kruger

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
3:16
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The agent for Chicago Blackhawks forward Marcus Kruger is eyeing the beginning of the season as a time to begin talks with general manager Stan Bowman on a new contract.

Kruger
"I wouldn't be surprised once camp is done and the season is underway there, I wouldn't be surprised that we start talking more about Kruges there," Kruger's agent Pat Brisson said on Thursday. "He's done a great job, and I think it's mutually a good place for him and the Hawks to have him."

Kruger, who was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2009, is set to become a restricted free agent after the 2014-15 season. He signed a two-year, $2.65 million contract extension prior to the 2013-14 season.

Kruger, 24, has established himself as one of the Blackhawks' top defensive forwards. He's played a fourth-line center role and has been their top penalty-killing forward in recent seasons. He has 21 goals, 46 assists and is a plus-16 in 206 career NHL games. He led the Blackhawks forwards with 206:51 of short-handed ice time last season.

Brisson has negotiated a contract extension midseason with the Blackhawks before. He also represents Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw, and Shaw signed a two-year contract extension in November of 2013.

Brisson also represents Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, who each signed eight-year, $84 million contract extensions in July.

Kruger, Brandon Saad and Nick Leddy are all set to become restricted free agents for the Blackhawks after the 2014-15 season. The Blackhawks already have 15 players signed and a cap payroll of about $66 million for the 2015-16 season, according to capgeek.com.

Barker among 52 on Hawks camp roster

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
3:01
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The Chicago Blackhawks announced their training camp roster on Thursday.

Among the free agents attending the camp will be defenseman Cam Barker, selected by the Blackhawks with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2004 draft and later traded to the Minnesota Wild for Nick Leddy. Barker played in the KHL last season.

The Blackhawks open training camp at Notre Dame on Friday and will hold their annual Training Camp Festival at the United Center on Monday. Their preseason schedule begins on Tuesday.

Here’s a look at all 52 players attending the camp:

Forwards
Cody Bass
Bryan Bickell
Alex Broadhurst
Matt Carey
Phillip Danault
Ryan Hartman
Marian Hossa
Patrick Kane
Marcus Kruger
Pierre-Cedric Labrie
Drew LeBlanc
Brandon Mashinter
Mark McNeill
Jeremy Morin
Joakim Nordstrom
Dennis Rasmussen
Peter Regin
Brad Richards
Garret Ross
Brandon Saad
Ryan Schnell
Patrick Sharp
Andrew Shaw
Ben Smith
Teuvo Teravainen
Jonathan Toews
Kris Versteeg

Defensemen
Cam Barker
Mathieu Brisebois
Adam Clendening
Kyle Cumiskey
Klas Dahlbeck
Dillon Fournier
Kirill Gotovets
Niklas Hjalmarsson
Justin Holl
Stephen Johns
Zach Miskovic
Duncan Keith
Nick Leddy
Johnny Oduya
Michal Rozsival
David Rundblad
Brent Seabrook
Viktor Svedberg
Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltenders
Mac Carruth
Corey Crawford
Scott Darling
Michael Leighton
Antti Raanta
Kent Simpson

Hawks storyline (No. 5): More Kane, Toews

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
4:11
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Friday with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

The Chicago Blackhawks aren't going to pay Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews a combined $168 million in their next contracts for what they have already accomplished.

[+] EnlargeBlackhawks
AP Photo/Daily Herald/Mark WelshThe Blackhawks are counting on more of the same from Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane during their new contracts.
Their individual successes -- the two Stanley Cups and being the faces of the organization -- certainly added to their price tag. But ultimately what the Blackhawks are paying Kane and Toews to do in the future is to keep it up.

The Blackhawks are banking on their superstars being superstars for many years to come.

"Jonathan and Patrick have become cornerstones of this franchise during their time in Chicago," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said after signing Kane and Toews to extensions in July. "We are excited to ensure they will continue to lead our organization for years to come."

Kane and Toews have certainly set the bar high for themselves after their first seven NHL seasons:

• Toews and Kane have produced in the regular season. Toews has 195 goals, 245 assists, 440 points and is a plus-141 in seven seasons. Kane has 178 goals, 315 assists, 493 points and is a plus-41.

• They have been clutch in the playoffs, too. Toews has 29 goals, 52 assists, 81 points and is a plus-10 in 94 playoff games. Kane has 37 goals, 54 assists, 91 points and is a plus-1 in 93 playoff games. They have combined for 17 game-winning playoff goals. Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2010, and Kane was awarded it in 2013.

• Toews is considered one of the best two-way forwards in the game. He won the Selke Trophy in 2013 and has been a finalist multiple times. He's ranked in the top 20 in on-ice Corsi in six of his seven seasons.

• Only Henrik Sedin, Martin St. Louis, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have registered more points than Kane in 5-on-5 situations over the past seven seasons. Kane has recorded 291 points during that span.

• Kane and Toews have been durable for much of their careers. Out of 540 regular season games in the past seven seasons, Kane has played in 515 games and Toews has played in 484.

• The Blackhawks had been to the playoffs once in the nine years prior to their rookie season. Since their arrival, the Blackhawks have been to the playoffs six times, reached the Western Conference finals four times and won two Stanley Cups. The Blackhawks have gone 309-163-68 over the past seven seasons.

Hawks storylines (No. 6): Saad's progress

September, 17, 2014
Sep 17
12:54
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Friday with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

It's not as if the Chicago Blackhawks didn't have an idea what they had in forward Brandon Saad prior to the Western Conference finals last season.

But what Saad did during that series against the Los Angeles Kings was something beyond what he had shown the Blackhawks during his first 1 1/2 seasons. Against the Kings, especially late in the series, he was simply dominant.

[+] Enlarge Brandon Saad
Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images)Brandon Saad had a dominant series against the Kings in the Western finals.
Saad had his stat-filled games before and often played a complementary role to the Blackhawks' other top players. He did more than that in the Western Conference finals. He protected the puck. He made the right passes. He was smart about his movement in the offensive zone. He played off his teammates. And in the end, he either set up goals or scored them himself. He scored three goals and dished out four assists in the series' final four games. His seven points were the most he had ever recorded in a four-game span in the NHL.

The question now is whether Saad can consistently be that player over a full season. If not, the Blackhawks will gladly welcome his contributions wherever he can provide them. But if he can resemble that dominant player over time, the Blackhawks have themselves another game-changing forward.

"Young kid, consistency, putting it all together, that's what we're looking for," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said of Saad in the Western Conference finals. "But he has that ability to play a high-level game, almost like an impact player. Throughout the league, not too many guys that can make an impact on a game like he did [in Game 5]. He has that ability, which was great last night, that consistency we look for. He had one of those games you always remember."

Inconsistencies aren't uncommon for young players like Saad, who won't turn 22 until Oct. 27. The Blackhawks were careful with him as a rookie and put him alongside Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa to ease his transition. He was given more responsibility last season and endured some ups and downs. Quenneville was so frustrated with Saad's play late in the season that he made him a healthy scratch for a game. Saad bounced back in the playoffs.

A third year in the league could help Saad find his groove, but sharing a line with Patrick Kane likely will also be beneficial. Saad and Kane have clicked whenever they have been on the same line. Kane record 16 points while on the ice with Saad in 5-on-5 situations in the regular season, and Saad had 12 points on a second line with Kane and Andrew Shaw for much of the Kings series last season. Quenneville is likely to combine Saad, Kane and Brad Richards on the second line to start the season.

Hossa was optimistic after last season Saad would take his game to another level.

"I think that guy has so much potential," Hossa said. "He's proving that. This season he was unreal. This series he was one of our best players. This guy, you know, watch out for him. I think he's got a real bright future. He's an unreal hockey player."

Hawks' Danault impresses at rookie tourney

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
5:25
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Nearly everyone on the Chicago Blackhawks rookie tournament team displayed some positives and negatives throughout their recent games in London, Ontario.

That was expected considering it was the first real competition most of the players had experienced since April.

The one exception was Blackhawks forward prospect Phillip Danault.

Coming off a so-so first professional season, Danault began his second season on a high note. He set up two goals in the Blackhawks’ first game against the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie team and scored a goal in the second game against the Ottawa Senators rookie team.

Blackhawks rookie team coach Ted Dent, who also coaches Danault for the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, came away impressed by Danault’s play, especially his skating, puck play and offensive zone positioning.

“He had a really good week, the whole tournament,” Dent said Tuesday. “He played well, was very assertive. You could tell he was going after it hard, really wanted to make an impression. He did a good job.

“That’s a good sign. He was over in Sweden in August training there for 7-8 days. Really focused on coming back and getting off to a good start, very encouraging.”

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Hawks storylines (No. 7): Cap management

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
2:26
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Sept. 19 with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

How Chicago Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman manages the salary cap and whether he can keep the Blackhawks a Stanley Cup contender will be an ongoing storyline for nearly the next decade.

Bowman succeeded in re-signing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to long-term extensions this offseason. While Kane and Toews are essential to the Blackhawks' future, their annual cap hit of $22 million makes Bowman's job more difficult down the line.

The new contracts for Kane and Toews don't go into effect until next season, but Bowman has to already be planning his moves. His first objective is to get the Blackhawks under the cap for the upcoming season, and that could include reducing cap space for future seasons as well.

Next season will be the first massive challenge for Bowman. The Blackhawks have 15 players signed for the 2015-16 season, and their cap hits equal almost $66 million, according to capgeek.com. Even if the cap increases, Bowman still has to include 5-8 more players for likely less than $10 million.

A major part of next season's hurdle will be re-signing Brandon Saad, who is set to become a restricted free agent after the season and could easily demand $3 million-$5 million a year in his next contract.

Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy, two players the Blackhawks have developed in their system, are also headed toward becoming restricted free agents after this season. Johnny Oduya is set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Defense is where Bowman may begin saving money. He has only three defensemen signed for the 2015-16 season and could begin handing those spots over to the organization's prospects such as Adam Clendening, Klas Dahlbeck and Stephen Johns, who are in line for that jump.

Beyond that, Bowman will have to make decisions on defenseman Brent Seabrook, who will be a free agent after the 2015-16 season, and Bryan Bickell and Patrick Sharp, who will be free agents after the 2016-17 season. Seabrook and Sharp have been part of the Blackhawks' core for some time.

The Blackhawks have Duncan Keith, Kane and Toews signed through the 2022-23 season, Marian Hossa through the 2020-21 season, Corey Crawford through the 2019-20 season and Niklas Hjalmarsson through the 2018-19 season. The six players' cap hits total almost $42 million beginning in the 2015-16 season.

Hawks storylines (No. 8): Aging players

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
11:06
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Sept. 19 with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

Age appeared to catch up with Michal Handzus and Michal Rozsival last season.

Rozsival
Hossa
Both had played roles in the Chicago Blackhawks' run to the Stanley Cup during the 2013 playoffs, and neither could return to that form in the 2014 playoffs. Handzus was demoted to the fourth line, and Rozsival was a healthy scratch for two playoff games last season.

The Blackhawks have six players in their 30s heading into the 2014-15 season.

Rozsival likely will be one player the Blackhawks watch closely again this season. He turned 36 on Sept. 3 and has been part of a defenseman rotation the past two seasons. He played in 27 of 48 regular season games in 2013 and in 42 of 82 games last season.

Marian Hossa, who will turn 36 in January, is the next oldest Blackhawk. He returned from a back injury suffered in the 2013 Stanley Cup finals to play in 72 regular season games last season. He proved last season to again be one of the NHL's top two-way forwards. He has suffered a variety of injuries since turning 30, so the Blackhawks always will have to be concerned at some level about him, but last season was a good sign for the near future.

Brad Richards, 34, has been slowed down in recent years, but showed last season he still has something left in the tank. He likely won't be at a 90-point level again, but he is still capable of contributing offensively at even strength and on the power play. He had 20 goals and 51 points and proved durable, playing in a total of 107 games, including the playoffs.

Johnny Oduya, who will turn 33 in October, is again expected to be paired with Niklas Hjalmarsson and they likely again will receive the toughest defensive assignments.

Patrick Sharp, who will be 33 in December, hasn't allowed his game to be hampered by age. He scored 34 goals and recorded a career-high 78 points last season. He had the most points among all of the league's players 30 or older. He also finished first in the Blackhawks' fitness testing during training camp last season.

Duncan Keith, who turned 31 in July, is also still playing at a high level. He was voted the Norris Trophy winner after continuing to lead the Blackhawks defenseman in points and ice time.

Hawks storylines (No. 9): Consistent Bickell

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
6:49
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Sept. 19 with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

Chicago Blackhawks forward Bryan Bickell is hopeful a big summer leads to a big regular season for him.

Bickell
Bickell understood going into the offseason he's expected to begin producing in the regular season as he has in the playoffs the past few seasons.

"I think this is a big summer for me to get in shape and to be more of a regular-season guy, not just a playoff guy," Bickell said after last season.

Bickell has been ordinary in the regular season, scoring a total of 20 goals in the past two seasons. As for the playoffs, he's been a star. He has 16 playoff goals the last two seasons.

Bickell has admitted he plays harder and more aggressively in the playoffs. He's also said it's difficult to duplicate that style in the regular season without being constantly banged up.

The Blackhawks would like him to at least meet them somewhere in the middle. They want more from him considering he's being paid $4 million each of the next three seasons.

"I think every team in the league would love to have that power forward that brings that element to their game, and [where] their production's in the 20-goal numbers and brings a physicality and a presence and has speed and can be disruptive in a lot of ways," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said in the playoffs. "Those players are hard to find, and I think everybody's wish list would be that guy. So, you know, we're happy to have him now, but certainly we'd love that consistency, and I think that's where we're working to get as we go along."

If Bickell can establish that consistency, the Blackhawks' third line could have some real offensive potential. Andrew Shaw or Teuvo Teravainen could center that line, and Shaw, Jeremy Morin or Kris Versteeg could end up as the right winger.

Hawks storylines (No. 10 ): Third D-pairing

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
3:30
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Nick Leddy is expected to be a fixture as the Chicago Blackhawks’ No. 5 defenseman again. What’s up in the air is which players will fill the No. 6, No. 7 and even possibly No. 8 defenseman roles for the Blackhawks this season.

Unless Leddy is traded, which his agent recently said he doesn’t expect, Leddy could be paired with a different defenseman on any given night as he did last season. He found himself partnered with Michal Rozsival, Sheldon Brookbank, Mike Kostka and David Rundblad last season.

[+] EnlargeMichal Rozsival
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsMichal Rozsival's play declined last season and he was a healthy scratch for two playoff games.
The possibilities right now for Leddy are to be paired with Rozsival and Rundblad. Brookbank wasn’t re-signed in the offseason and Kostka was picked up on waivers in March.

Rozsival was solid throughout the Blackhawks’ playoff run in 2013, but his play declined last season and was made a healthy scratch for two games in the playoffs. He just turned 36 and his age has slowed him down in the recent years. He played in 27-of-48 regular-season games in 2013 and in 42-of-82 games last season. If he remains on the roster, the Blackhawks would likely rotate him again.

Rundblad was acquired by the Blackhawks near the trade deadline for a second-round pick last season. Although Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said just before acquiring Rundblad that having eight defensemen on the roster was too challenging, the Blackhawks were again given eight defensemen when Rundblad joined the team.

Rundblad, 23, appeared in five regular-season games last season, but he’s expected to be given a greater chance this season. Bowman coveted Rundblad for some time and did give up a high pick for him.

“I think he’s an example of a young player who’s ready for an opportunity,” Bowman said in June. “He’s in that age bracket where he’s 23, 24 years old. I think he just needs an opportunity for us. He’s got a ton of talent. He’s got a little more familiarity with our system now. It’s tough when he came in at the trade deadline, he didn’t get a lot of games, but everything is new in terms of how we play, what the coaches are looking for. Now he comes into training camp he’s way ahead of where he was back in March, so I would expect that to be a benefit for him. He understands the style of our team, what our coaches like and what they want him to do and I think he’s going to have a comfort level, so it’s good for a player like that to come in and have a chance.”

The Blackhawks also have four defensemen who could make the NHL jump from the AHL this season if needed. Adam Clendening, 21, has been one of the AHL’s most offensive defensemen the past two seasons. Klas Dahlbeck, 23, is a stay-at-home defenseman who has improved his offensive game. He practiced with the Blackhawks throughout the playoffs last season. Stephen Johns, 22, joined the organization last season after playing four years at Notre Dame. He’s a physical defenseman. Kyle Cumiskey, 27, spent the last two seasons in Sweden after playing in 132 NHL games earlier in his career.

Hawks storylines (No. 11): Shaw's role

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
11:57
AM CT
Powers By Scott Powers
ESPNChicago.com
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ESPNChicago.com's Scott Powers counts down the days to the opening of Blackhawks training camp on Sept. 19 with a look at 20 storylines facing the team this season.

The Chicago Blackhawks' offseason signing of Brad Richards likely ended Andrew Shaw's second-line opportunity. But coming off Shaw's successful stint with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad on the second line in the playoffs last season and now nearing 200-plus NHL games in a variety of roles, especially as the third-line center, the question is how do the Blackhawks best use Shaw?

Shaw
Shaw, who is more athletic than many think, battles for pucks, causes a disturbance around the net, is defensively responsible, adapts to playing with different players and certainly doesn't need to get his when on the ice. He's a team player and is versatile enough to play on the wing or at center.

On the flip side, Shaw has struggled at faceoffs, his puck-handling and ability to carry the puck cleanly into the offensive zone aren't always smooth, his offensive game is limited to mostly around the net and he still can end up on the wrong side careless penalties.

Shaw has had chances to play a top-6 role before, but they have never lasted too long and the outcomes have varied. Shaw opened eyes in the playoffs last season when he, Kane and Saad were the Blackhawks' most successful line against the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference finals. In the final three games of the series, Shaw, Kane and Saad combined for 19 points. What Shaw especially did well with Kane and Saad was get to pucks, keep possessions alive and allow them room to maneuver.

Shaw was hopeful after the season he would get a chance to work with Kane and Saad again, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville has already said he expects Richards to begin as the second-line center. Richards' offensive game (867 points in 982 NHL games) and faceoff ability (around 50 percent) give him the edge over Shaw.

Shaw is likely back to the third line to begin the season. Quenneville has utilized Shaw mostly as his third-line center in the past. The line often wins the possession game (Shaw has had a 55.2 Corsi percentage over the past three seasons) and it scores more than it allows. Quenneville has always touted Shaw's defensive game, but Shaw got a chance at more offensive starts last season. He started 67.9 percent in the offensive zone last season compared to 52.7 percent the season before.

Another possibility would be moving Shaw to the wing and putting prospect Teuvo Teravainen at center. Wherever he ends up, Shaw, who turned 23 in July, is expected to play a key role again for the Blackhawks.

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