Blackhawks' season primer: 10 to know
October, 1, 2013
By Scott Powers
Rob Grabowski/USA TODAY SportsJoel Quenneville and the Blackhawks will try to become the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cup titles since the Red Wings (1996-97 and 1997-98).Here are 10 things to know about the Chicago Blackhawks before they raise the banner Tuesday night and begin the 2013-14 NHL season:
1. The Blackhawks won't discuss a Stanley Cup repeat, but they have constantly emphasized getting off to a positive start to the season. The previous time the Blackhawks tried to defend the Cup, their season was derailed by some early woes. They aren't likely to match last season's 24-game points streak to begin the season, but they would like to do better than the 9-9-2 record they had after 20 games in the 2010-11 season. The Blackhawks do have the advantage this time around of returning nearly everyone from last season's team.
2. The Blackhawks found magic in a top line of Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane in the playoffs last season, and Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville will be rolling that out again to start this season. The major change that occurred since the trio last played in a real game together is that Bickell is now making about $3.4 million more than he was last season. With that money comes higher expectations, and Bickell understands that. The line only played together once in the preseason, but it looked dangerous.
3. The other Blackhawks' lines likely will be Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa; Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Jimmy Hayes; and Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Joakim Nordstrom. Ben Smith likely will rotate in on the third and fourth lines.
Just some quick notes on the lines: Sharp stood out in the preseason. Playing on the third line should take some pressure off Saad. Hayes was impressive offensively with his size and quickness at times. Bollig had a solid preseason, but he needs to be more than an enforcer to keep his spot.
4. The defensive pairings likely will be Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook; Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson; and Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival. Michael Kostka and Sheldon Brookbank likely will rotate with Rozsival throughout the season. Having an eighth defenseman will allow Quenneville to sit players when they need some time off or are consistently struggling.
5. You can always hold a special place in your heart for Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik and Viktor Stalberg because they helped win last season's Stanley Cup, but they were role players and replaceable. Hayes, Nordstrom and Smith should have no trouble filling in those spots. Nordstrom is expected to replace Frolik on the penalty kill.
6. The Blackhawks didn't really answer the second-line center issue in the preseason. The plan to use Saad barely got off the ground. Brandon Pirri was the second option, but an injury set him back, and he never got a chance to show off his game. That brought Quenneville to his backup option, Handzus. Handzus was recovering from his offseason surgeries during training camp and was held out of all six preseason games. It will be interesting to see how his body holds up over 82 games, especially in such a vital role. As a side note, the Blackhawks' power play didn't look any better in the preseason, either.
7. Hossa also didn't play in any preseason games, and there has to be some concern about his health. Hossa looked great while at Notre Dame to start training camp, but he apparently aggravated his back injury sometime in that first week and has been dealing with some issues again. Hossa missed a Stanley Cup finals game due a back problem and wasn't the same player in the last three games of the season. If he's affected again by it early, it might be in the Blackhawks' best interests to sit him for an extended period to get him healthy. As of now, he said he's fine and will play in the season opener.
8. The NHL has re-aligned its conferences and is back to two divisions per conference. That means the Blackhawks are now joined in the Central Division by the Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. The Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets are now in the Eastern Conference. The new playoff format will include the top three teams from each division receiving spots and then two wild cards. The first two rounds will be within the division, but with the possibility of the final wild-card team having to cross over divisions to play.
9. Nikolai Khabibulin is back with the Blackhawks and has looked reliable enough in the preseason. If Khabibulin's age (40) catches up to him, the Blackhawks will probably turn to Antti Raanta to be Corey Crawford's backup. Raanta, who is from Finland, is getting accustomed to the smaller North American rink in AHL Rockford to start the season. Either way, Crawford will see a bulk of the workload.
10. Oddsmakers have made the Blackhawks the favorites to win the 2014 Stanley Cup. Most have them at 5-1 or 6-1. They're followed by the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Blues, Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks. The Penguins were favored by most to win the Cup last season.