2013-2014 NHL Conference Previews – Chicago Blackhawks

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The champions begin their defense.

The Blackhawks are a team that provides so much depth they were able to exchange their cup winning goal scorer Dave Bolland for draft choices. Bolland’s production during the season should not be overshadowed by his final goal as a hawk. Regardless of the players that have left the organization, they have done a great job at putting a product on the ice that has been a contender for the last several years and their drafting and farm system has done a great job at making sure this continues to be a trend in the windy city.

Up front the Hawks arguably have the most depth in the league.  Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp are all top-end high skill players. Young players like Brandon Saad whose rookie campaign earned him a Calder nominee will hopefully overcome the dreaded sophomore slump, while Markus Kruger has shown the ability to play on that third line while also filling in for injuries in the top 6. Although the names sound familiar, it will be interesting to see if players who have seasoned and succeeded in the AHL ranks can step up during the upcoming season and keep the Hawks atop the standings. Brandon Pirri, Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes should all be names that are on such a list. Respectively posting 75pts in 76gp, 47pts in 54gp and 45pts in 67gp, they have all spent 3 seasons or more in the farm and are now being given the opportunity to log in some NHL experience. Another face in the crowd for this young crop of forwards will be Jeremy Morin. Among the young talent mentioned earlier Morin, aged 22, is senior only to 21-year old Saad. This will not stop the Hawks from giving him the chance to earn a spot on the roster. Although unable to complete a full AHL season due to injuries, his skill has progressed enough for an outsider to believe he will crack the lineup in a third or fourth line role in the upcoming season.

For most sport fanatics the Chicago Defense is a staple in football. And for hockey fans, Chicago is a high scoring team that will beat you with skill and speed. That is not entirely true:  last season they led the league in Goals Against allowing only 2.02g throughout the season. This success is largely attributed to the amount of talent on each pairing of their D-core. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook standout as the top 2 names on the list. They are usually the ones who generate the most offensive production for the club. Fellow Swedes Johnny Oduya and Niklas Hjalmarsson both posted a +/- rating over +10 and also stabilize special teams second units. And to top that off, 22-year old Nick Leddy is quietly becoming a regular roster player for the Hawks. Mix in a 38-year old veteran Michal Rozsival who can easily contribute skill on the third pairing and the Hawks will, again, never feel the crunch to score excess amounts of goals to win a majority of their games.

Goaltending usually generates the most questions for possible projection rankings during the off-season but Corey Crawford has become comfortable in playing the majority of games for the club. In his last 3 seasons he has won, or been on pace to win over 30 games in roughly 60 appearances. His play during the lockout shortened season saw him put up 19 wins with a 1.94 goals against and a .926sv%, enough to give the Hawks confidence in releasing Ray Emery who only lost 1 game last season. (17-1-0). They did reach out to Nikolai Khabibulin to take a few games off of Crawford. In the 2013-14 scenario it can be debated whether ‘Bulin will see very limited time since the Hawks also brought over Antti Raanta from the Finnish league. For many observers, Antti Niemi comparisons are probably in the works, since his numbers,(21-10-11, 1.85gaa and a .943%)  demonstrate he has the skill to stop the puck and it’s a question as to his readiness for the North American game and having ‘Bulin to fill in if he needs any adjustment period. One point to mention would be the loss of Goaltending Coach Stephan Waite to the Montreal Canadians, whose presence and impact has enriched 2 separate goalies Stanley cup winners. With Waite no longer in the picture, one can find an interesting side story developing in Chicago

Defending the Stanley Cup usually brings a lot of pressure to a roster but with 2 Stanley Cups in 4 years, the city of Chicago has been spoiled, especially with parity developing in the league. Joel Quenneville has done a great job manning the ship, and while expectations are incredibly high there are very few who doubt that the Chicago Hawks will make another appearance come spring time playoffs.

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About CoachK

Kosta Papoulias has written 527 post in this blog.

Coach K is the producer of the Montreal Hockey Talk pre and post game shows, to which he is a regular contributor. His 15 years of coaching experience, along with his passion for the game, give him a unique perspective. You can follow Coach on Twitter @HabsCoachK

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