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Blackhawks 2014-15 Season Preview

After a long summer hockey is finally back and the Hawks are ready to give the city a team they can be proud of. I feel like there is a ton of unwarranted angst among Blackhawks fans at the moment and I don’t get it. This team was a bounce away from the Stanley Cup Finals and now there are dopes writing that Coach Q needs to be “saved from himself”. As if he doesn’t have 2 Cups, 800+ wins, and a spot reserved in the Hall of Fame. As a fan base we should be so arrogant that the rest of the league grows to hate us. We should be the Patriots of the NHL. With that said, here’s a breakdown of the 2014-15 chapter of the Hawks Dynasty.

 

Forwards

Sharp-Toews-Hossa

Saad-Shaw-Kane

Bickell-Richards-Versteeg

Morin/Carcillo-Kruger-Smith

There has been some uproar from the main stream Blackhawks scribes and the bloggers about these proposed line combinations to start the year. People are upset that Richards is on the “3rd line” and the Hawks are left without a checking line. Well any line that has a Selke Trophy winner on it and one of the top defensive wingers of this generation is always going to be your “shutdown line”. The Toews line will take on the responsibility of playing against the other team’s top line. Having Toews be your best offensive and defensive center is extremely liberating when filling out the rest of your roster. Its no coincidence that Chicago and LA both have that luxury and are the odds on favorites to end up in the WCF again.

Shaw centering Bickell and Versteeg never made much sense to me. Richards gives that line more of an offensive punch and a guy who will distribute the puck. Kane is the “distributor” on the other line and he had some nice chemistry with Saad and Shaw in the playoffs last year. The beauty of the Hawks is that they are a deep team filled with versatile players. If these combinations don’t work, Q will find the right recipe. Labeling the lines first, second, and third confuses things. Remove those labels and the Hawks have a deep and balanced team with enough centers and if Shaw improves at the dot they’ll really be cooking.

As for the proposed 4th line, we all know what the Hawks have with Kruger and Smith, it’s the 3rd guy that has some question marks. Morin has been a fan/media darling for a long time. I think part of this is back-up QB syndrome and part of it is because in a small sample size he has tremendous possession stats. Personally, I still don’t know what Morin is. He has been great in the AHL and I’ve alwways thought he had a natural goal-scorer’s instinct going back to his time with the USA WJC team. I think if he puts it all together he could be a Patric Hornqvist type-guy. His skating at this point is just ok and he’s not overly big or strong. We’ll see. I am hopeful. He will likely split games with Carcillo all year until someone gets hurt or separates themselves. Morin has some bite to his game. If he brings consistent energy the Hawks will have the best fourth line in the NHL.

Capture

–The most glaring omission from the opening day roster is top prospect Teuvo Teravainen. I’ve seen varying degrees of outrage that Turbo was sent to the American league to start the year, but I don’t really see the argument for keeping him on the varsity at this point. I don’t know where he fits in the top 9 right now unless the Hawks trade Versteeg or Shaw. I understand the frustration from those who want him in Chicago. His talent is so obvious. There is a bit of magic every time he touches the puck. Great hands, good speed, elite vision and hockey IQ. It’s all there. He is no doubt ready to compete at the NHL level, and if he were on other teams he would likely be in the show. However, as I said earlier, the Hawks have one of the deepest rosters in the NHL. So even though Turbo appears to be ready, the Blackhawks, and Teravainen, have the luxury of starting him in the AHL for a bit so he can be ready-er late in the year. Turbo is the Hawks’ 2nd line center of the future and its important that they don’t screw up his development. It’s not a question of talent for Teravainen. It’s about making sure good habits are hammered home so he is ready to play championship level hockey this Spring and for years to come. There is a freedom to grow through failure in the AHL that isn’t available to him at the NHL level. And since I see Turbo being a big part of the playoffs I don’t want the wear and tear of an 82 game NHL grind on a kid with a slight frame playing his first full season in North America. I’d hate to see him hit the rookie wall in April. He’s never played more than 50 games in a season and North American hockey is more physically taxing. Turbo in the American is not a bad thing at all.

 

Defense

Keith-Seabrook

Hjalmarrson-Oduya

Van Riemsdyk-Rozsival

Rundblad/Cumiskey

The Hawks top 4 defense are as good as any in the NHL, but if there is an area for concern it’s with the 3rd defense pairing. Leddy being traded in a salary dump and Roszival rapidly aging is a problem. The Hawks are starting the season with 8 defensemen. Rundblad, TVR, Cumiskey, and Roszival will all likely get looks during the first part of the season. Hopefully 2 or more guys earn Coach Q’s trust enough to ensure that the workload on the top 4 isn’t too heavy. I also think the Hawks will see several Rockford guys get calls to the varsity this season. Dahlbeck and Clendening are first in line for a promotion. Maybe TJ Brennan, the guy the Hawks got for Leddy, gets a shot as well. Don’t be surprised if the Hawks sniff around the waiver wire for a currently unemployed veteran if these guys prove insufficient.

 

Goalies

“I think he’s a good goaltender, I’ve just never liked him.”–Anonymous Goalie Coach polled in the latest Custance blog

That is the perfect quote for Crawford. He’s good. He gets results. But there’s something that’s just not quite right. He doesn’t pass the eye test, but he has a ring. He can put your mind in a pretzel. Crawford was below average in the WCF. Hopefully new Goalie Coach Jimmy Waite can help Crawford find his best game more consistently.

 

Predictions:

Hawks finish in the top 2 of the Central as they battle with St Louis all year long. Eventually beat the Kings in the WCF and the Lightning in the SCF to win their 3rd Stanley Cup. Dynasty Reign

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PS: Playoff predictions

Metro: 1) Pens 2) Rangers 3) Islanders 4) *CBJ 5) Philly 6) Caps 7) NJ 8) Canes

Atlantic: 1) Bruins 2) TB 3) Habs 4) *Wings 5) Leafs 6) FLA 7) Sens 8) Sabres

Central: 1) Hawks 2) STL 3) Dallas 4) *Avs 5) *Wild 6) Jets 7) Preds

Pacific: 1) LA 2) Ducks 3) Vancouver 4) SJ 5) Oilers 6) AZ 7) Calgary

*=Wildcard