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The Blackhawks Season Starts Tonight And So Does The Climb Back To Relevance. LET'S GO

It starts tonight. For the first time in a long time the Blackhawks have actual, substantial, concrete reasons to be optimistic. For the past few years I have been playing mental gymnastics trying to figure out a way in my brain to give myself a glimmer of hope. Just squinting my eyes so hard that all those red flags across the organization turned pink. It's been a tumultuous summer. It's been a rough 6 years or so for hockey fans in Chicago. I have a lot of issues with this organization at the higher levels, but down where it matters most to fans...all the way down on the ice...there's hope. There's good players. Players who are ready to win now. They're just new players. New to us at least. Change is hard. I don't like it. You don't like it. But change is inevitable and we've been through a seemingly endless cycle of change and failed plans and failed rebuilds, but this time, this change...looks right. I've been reading (not to brag) a book (on tape) by this guy named Alan Watts. He had a quote that kinda stuck to my ribs and made me feel good about all the change that is happening. 

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance."

I'm plunging head first. I'm moving. I am dancing with this team. And this team is going to the dance. There's a scenario where we get our hearts slowly ripped out of our chest with this team. I considered doing a worst case scenario blog, but I've decided against it. I want to be the happy, optimistic, enthusiastic, proud fan again. That's my natural state and I am moving with it. Dancing with it. Let's dance with these forward lines to complete the preview

Now look...lines change. We had Kris Versteeg on the podcast this week and he talked about playing with Joel and what it was like to be a player on the 2nd or 3rd line in Chicago during the golden era. It wasn't easy because he called Joel the "greatest gambler in sports history". The lines will change over the course of a year. Might even change over the course of the game tonight. You all should know that by now, but this is the group they appear to be starting with and we will work with what Young Jeremy is giving us. 

Debrincat-Johnson-Kane

I LOVE the look of this line on paper and it has looked decent enough in practice through the preseason. We have seen enough of Kane and Debrincat together to believe that it'll work. Two guys who know how to play the game and how to play together. Kane was never going to have a soulmate like Panarin ever again, but Debrincat is a pretty damn good weapon who compliments Kane's game very well. Kane isn't the easiest guy to play with even though he's so awesome. He is so smart and so skilled that if you can't keep up with him mentally, well, you're kind of out. I think Johnson will be able to slide into that center role and compliment 12 and 88 very well. Johnson is also smart. He has skill and he has speed. Part of the reason why I initially had such a hard on for Nick Schmaltz as a center for Patrick Kane is because his speed through the middle of the ice. That speed down the middle will have to be respected by the defense. It pushes them back and should open things up east-west for Kane and Debrincat. That is an element that they haven't had a ton of for Kane historically. Johnson will provide that. People will look at his hockeydb page and see the drop in production. I am not really that concerned. He was bumped down the lineup in Tampa because they were an absolute wagon and he embraced a smaller role and made the best out of it. Look at what Jon Cooper had to say about him

I think Cooper will be happy to see Johnson back playing big minutes and if he's with Kane and Debrincat and getting opportunities on the PP as well then I think he gets back to the 20 goal mark while playing a great 200 ft game. If Johnson can get to 40-50 points that means Kane is likely near or over 100. That's good. Johnson being good defensively and good on the forecheck means more kicks at the can for 88. Johnson likely won't even need to be a forechecking force on this line because he's a) going to be F3 most of the time and b) the Hawks will just have the puck more because 12 and 88 are soooo good at holding on to it. If you thought those two were good in transition before, just wait until Johnson creates space and another option for them with his wheels. Everyone penciled Dach into this line over the summer, but this combination makes a lot of sense. 

Kubalik-Toews-Kurashev

I gotta say…another line that looks VERY good on paper. Toews and Kubalik have shown that they work well together. Having Toews back in the top 6 just sets the whole lineup in order. No more rookies being asked to do more than they are capable of. No more leadership vacuum. No more looking down the bench during a big moment of the game and thinking to yourself "oh fuck, there's not one single center I want out there right now" and then sinking into the couch as another game slips away. No. This line will be asked to do a bit of everything. They'll get the tougher matchups defensively and do well with that assignment and they should be able to control the play and be an impactful line offensively too. 

I really like Kurashev's game. He can skate. He is smart. He can hold on to the puck and make creative plays. That's good because Toews' presence will create space for him to do just that and find Kubalik for BOMBS. In his two years Kubalik just continues to show he knows how to score. I think you can safely pencil him in for 25 goals playing with Toews and another winger. I like Kurashev a lot and I think he can do well in this spot, but my gut/brain/balls tell me that this RW spot will eventually go to Hagel or Reichel. Probably Reichel. In the meantime, Kurashev makes sense here and compliments the other two and maybe just maybe he proves me wrong and turns into a bonafide top 6 winger. He's definitely an NHLer. Just might be better suited as a 3rd line wing. Having said that. This is not the same as previous years where we'd a Nylander as Toews' wing for 40 games just because…well because they had zero good options. Kurashev is a good option and a good player. 

Hagel-Dach-Borgstrom/Strome

It feels great to finally say this…the Blackhawks have depth. 

This is a PERFECT place for Dach to really prove himself in his 3rd year. If everyone is honest I think they will tell you that Dach wasn't ready for the NHL at age 18 and the Blackhawks put him in the pros because his size allowed him to and the Hawks had NOBODY else. By the time he came back for the bubble he looked like a real difference maker and then the Hawks let him go play for Team Canada when they shouldn't have and he got hurt and then his whole timeline for return smelled fishy to me too. When he came back he wasn't the player we saw in the bubble, but I don't think that is his fault.

I think Dach is going to be a VERY good player in the NHL for a long time and I think he is going to be vitally important to the Blackhawks as they push towards the playoffs. This is where he should be in the lineup as a promising 20 year old center. Getting good minutes, but not necessarily the most important minutes. AND…most of his minutes will come against lesser competition because other teams will be more focused on the Kane and Toews lines. He's impactful in all three zones and in multiple situations. I am VERY high on him. I think he too could be a 50 point guy this year. 

The question comes down to Borgstrom or Strome on this line. Borgstrom has a ton of skill. He just doesn't necessarily have the chest you want. Or at least he hasn't displayed it. He was UNREAL as a college player. He looks like an athlete. 6'3, hands, good shot, good skater. He was a first round pick and the tools he has make it obvious as to why. 

My issue is that he's getting preferential treatment over Strome which I personally don't think he's earned. People are aware of the issues around Strome's game, but eventually the production has to out-weigh the skills. Think of a pitcher in baseball. Like a Jamie Moyer. Jamie Moyer threw like 80 mphs but he just knew how to pitch. He could get guys out and help you win. He pitched until he was 49 years old because he was mentally better than a lot of the guys who threw 100mph. Strome is kind of that way. He's not perfect, but he produces. He needs to be put in good situations. And, for the first time since his first year with the Hawks, they actually have guys who could compliment his game well. Strome is never going to be a guy who is an F1, get in there and retrieve pucks like a Zach Hyman. He needs a guy like that to help his game. You know who is a guy like that? Brandon Hagel. Maybe you don't trust Strome defensively in big spots (he's gotten better, but he isn't Bergeron by any stretch)…you know who is pretty good defensively…Kirby Dach. I think those three would be very effective together. Maybe Borgstrom will be that guy too. He is a higher ceiling guy, probably, based on tools, but tools don't necessarily make a player good. It feels like Strome is just the latest shiny toy that Stan is going to throw away because he made a trade for another shiny toy that someone else threw away based on merit. We've seen it many times. Danault, Teravainen, Panarin, Forsling, Duclair, Hartman, Saad (twice), and on and on it goes. Borgstrom is going to have a chance to grab a good NHL opportunity here. I hope he is successful. I just wish it was a pure meritocracy.

Khaira-Entwistle-Carpenter/Gaudette

Look, I am just a blogger. I am not an expert in hockey. My eyes tell me that Gaudette earned a spot in the lineup. Doesn't look like he will be in there for opening night. He had a very good preseason. I did NOT think he was much of a player when I watched him last year and previous games for Vancouver. He popped on the tv this preseason. He, like Borgstrom, was a great college player. Maybe this thing with his diet straightened him and his game out. I hope so. Nice depth piece. I am sure he will get an opportunity at some point. I don't really like him as a center. I think he's a natural wing and as I stated above…the top wing spots are pretty loaded. 

I also liked Entwistle in camp and I've like him in the past when I saw him play for Team Canada and some juniors games. 

He always thought the game fast. His skating this preseason looked better than I remembered, but I could be just an idiot. Who knows. I like his game enough to learn how to spell his fake ass millennial name. So credit to him for that. I am interested to see if he can embrace that 4th line role. He's been a more offensive player historically in his career. Point per game in junior. Even .5 in the AHL. The Hawks will need him to check, win some draws, and bring some energy. I like him. Worth a look here to start the season. 

I've always loved Carpenter. Every team needs a Carp. He knows exactly what he is and doesn't try to be more than that. He brings effort and energy every night. Good guy in the room by all accounts. Smart. I'd be thrilled if he played all 82 games on the 4th line. 

Khaira is sort of the same thing as Carp, but a different package. A type that every team needs. I hope he plays with some bite. Obviously we haven't seen too much of his game yet but he's never going to be more than a 4th line guy. To me, he doesn't need to be in the lineup every night. Against a team like St Louis where you're going to be in a physical war, sure. Against Colorado where their D are insanely fast and active…I think I'd rather have someone else but he is in the lineup tonight. We'll see how it goes. 

Nothing is ever set in stone on opening night. You gotta plunge in and move with it. Ride this wave and I think it is going to be fun. Join the dance. Join or die. Let's get back to the playoffs.