Chicago Preview (w/John Wiedeman)

Wednesday, 10.05.2011 / 9:30 AM
By Tom Callahan - Nashville Predators / Tom Callahan's 2011-12 Season Blog
Our season preview continues with a look at the Central Division, turning our attention today to the Chicago Blackhawks with a preview from Hawks radio voice John Wiedeman.

Say goodbye to the Stanley Cup hangover!

After enduring a semi-dysfunctional season where the magic of the 2009-10 Stanley Cup Championship campaign slowly faded into oblivion, the Chicago Blackhawks are poised and ready to jump back into the fight for the NHL's Western Conference Championship. Off season changes weren't as plentiful as those that took place in the abbreviated summer of 2010, but the Blackhawks did take advantage of additional salary cap space to make several significant, thought-provoking and possibly controversial moves.

With the focus beginning on the crucial area between the pipes, Corey Crawford will be back in net as the unquestioned Blackhawks starter after supplanting veteran Marty Turco during last season. Turco was not resigned for this season but instead, the Blackhawks signed veteran free agent Ray Emery to a training camp tryout. Emery, who backstopped the Ottawa Senators to the 2007 Stanley Cup Finals only to see his club go down in 6 games to Anaheim, will compete for the backup position with the Blackhawks. Most recently, Emery was in net for the Anaheim Ducks who lost to the Nashville Predators in last season's playoffs. Emery's main competition comes from Czech Republic native Alexander Salak, who was acquired by the Blackhawks from the Florida Panthers along with Michael Frolik at last season's trade deadline. Salak finished last season by leading Farjestad to the Swedish Elite League championship. Widely thought to be the best goaltender in European hockey, Salak will test his skills against North America's top shooters.

The Chicago blueline has been bolstered with two key additions. At the NHL Draft in late June, slick-skating, offensively minded D-man Brian Campbell was dealt to the Florida Panthers for center Rostislav Olesz and in doing so, freed up a little under 4 million dollars in cap space. When July 1st rolled around the Blackhawks didn't make a huge splash as they did in previous summers where they signed the likes of Campbell and Marian Hossa, but they did sign two defensemen with a penchant for playing it physical. Steve Montador was signed as a UFA from the Buffalo Sabres and Sean O'Donnell was inked to a UFA deal as his time with the Philadelphia Flyers is now officially over. Montador will give the Blackhawks a right-handed shot who can play in all situations and who could give the Blackhawks between 18 to 22 minutes of average ice time per game. His plus/minus stats and penalty minutes reflect a tough yet stabilizing presence for the Blackhawks D-corps. His right handed shot will give Head Coach Joel Quenneville additional options when formulating power play strategy and take the pressure off of Brent Seabrook, who has had to supply most of what was needed from the right point in the past few seasons. O'Donnell is a tough, experienced veteran blueliner who throws huge hits, fights, plays defensive defense, makes the safe play and is a calming, undeniably big brother-like presence in the dressing room. As he enters the 2011-12 season at age 39, O'Donnell might well be looking at his last shot at another Stanley Cup Championship as he won the Cup with Anaheim in 2007. In addition to the signings of Montador and O'Donnell, the Blackhawks signed Sammy Lepisto to a UFA deal from the Phoenix Coyotes, after electing not to resign previously acquired defenseman Chris Campoli who then became an unrestricted free agent. Lepisto gives the Blackhawks depth, stability and experience at the defense position, one that is now considered to be of strength rather than weakness. Rounding out the blueline corps will be incumbents Duncan Keith, Niclas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy and John Scott. Keith will look to recapture the form he used during the 2009-10 season where he not only won a Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman, but a Gold Medal with Team Canada at the Olympics in Vancouver and a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks. Leddy will be playing in his 2nd season and his outstanding play during his rookie campaign is believed to have been a big reason why super talent Brian Campbell was considered expendable. Hjalmarsson is the Blackhawks shot blocking machine as his body will attest when the game is over. His steady defensive play never receives the notoriety it should, but has been a crucial ingredient in the Blackhawks success in the past 3 seasons. John Scott is listed as a defenseman but will probably be inserted into the lineup as a forward as well, as the hulking giant can play both positions.

Up front, the Blackhawks top 5 forwards are as good as any in the NHL. That list begins with Captain Jonathon Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Dave Bolland. Toews will occupy the #1 center position and try to improve on a career season in 2010-11. Patrick Kane, who scored the possibly the most famous goal in Blackhawks history in Philadelphia against the Flyers in game #6 of overtime of the Stanley Cup Finals. Kane, whose goal ended a 49 year cup drought starting a celebration that helped produce the aformentioned Stanley Cup hangover, is coming off of off season wrist surgery but will be ready to play when the puck drops to start of the season. Versatile sniper Patrick Sharp inked a contract extension during the summer and is back in the Blackhawks fold for 5 more seasons, but will begin the campaign on the mend after an emergency appendectomy on September 13th. Sharp's return is expected to be in mid-October. Marian Hossa's injury-riddled season in 2010-11 was one he'd like to forget and will strive to put up Marian Hossa-like offensive numbers in 2011-12. And Dave Bolland has quietly but confidently elevated his game to the point where he should be a favorite for the #2 center position. When Bolland rejoined the Blackhawks in game #4 of their playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks surged, tying the series at 3 games apiece after it had been 3 games to none in Vancouver's favor. The all purpose Bolland could well be the most underrated player on the Blackhawks roster. The supporting cast that will comprise lines 3 and 4 could be decided among the following players: Michael Frolik; Andrew Brunette; Viktor Stalberg; Ben Smith; Brian Bickell; Rostislav Olesz; Daniel Carcillo; Jamal Mayers and possibly Jeremy Morin and Marcus Kruger. Of this list, Brunette, Olesz, Mayers and Carcillo are newcomers with all arriving via free agent signing or trade. Brunette is a known power play specialist and is known throughout the NHL as a guy who can create. Carcillo joins the Blackhawks after a 3-year stint with the Flyers and didn't waste a second in announcing his intentions to several players around the league. Known to be an irascible, quick-tempered player who can change the tone and flow of a game with a single body check, Carcillo also possesses an ability to play the game. Olesz is a former first round draft pick of the Florida Panthers who can show flashes of offensive brilliance but inconsistency has been his ally in his 6 year career. The move to Chicago could be a career altering experience for the youngster, as he'll be surrounded by talented players who can only help make him a better player. Mayers comes to the Blackhawks with abundant experience as a checking forward who wins faceoffs in all 3 zones and will play it any way an opponent wishes. At age 36, Mayers knows this might be his best opportunity to win a Stanley Cup as he is now reunited with the coach who brought him to the NHL back in the late 1990's in Joel Quenneville, who was then the head coach of the St. Louis Blues.

In summary, the general feeling among hockey people in Chicago is that health permitting, the Chicago Blackhawks should once again be a contender for the Western Conference title, along with the Stanley Cup. Unlike the summer of 2010, the Blackhawks players got quite a bit of much-needed rest and recuperatory time. The new Blackhawks players will be supremely motivated to make this season their best ever, as many know that this could also be their best shot at a Stanley Cup. And rest assured all of the Blackhawks will know that the expectation of winning is now more present among the members of the organization and fan base than at any time in franchise history. 2011-12 could well be another of the most memorable in Chicago Blackhawks history.

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1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67


S. Weber 79 23 33 -2 56
P. Hornqvist 76 22 31 1 53
C. Smith 79 24 28 16 52
M. Fisher 75 20 29 -4 49
R. Josi 72 13 27 -2 40
M. Cullen 77 10 29 4 39
C. Wilson 81 11 22 -1 33
N. Spaling 71 13 19 2 32
R. Ellis 80 6 21 9 27
G. Bourque 74 9 17 -5 26
C. Hutton 20 11 4 .910 2.62
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