GAME DAY: at Chicago
WATCH: FOX Sports Ohio (HD) | LISTEN: CD102.5 FM & BlueJackets.com
|Expectations were at an all-time high for the Chicago Blackhawks last season following their thrilling run to the Stanley Cup championship in 2010. Former general manager Dale Tallon (now with the Florida Panthers) assembled a well-rounded club that would eventually run into salary-cap troubles, and his successor, Stan Bowman, was forced to make significant changes last season.
Several pieces were moved out, and the Blackhawks were bounced early from the playoffs by the Vancouver Canucks. The motive this summer from the Chicago front office was clearly to add veteran talent and improve the Blackhawks’ scoring depth.
The Blackhawks already boast one of the deepest and most impressive cores of players in the entire league, with captain Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook just a few of the names on a roster full of home-grown talent. Patrick Sharp is one of the league’s best snipers, and a seldom-mentioned trade with the Philadelphia Flyers to bring him to Chicago may be one of the more underrated deals in the past few years. Coach Joel Quenneville has put solid acquisitions by Bowman to good use and helped balance the Blackhawks’ scoring, beginning with Marian Hossa agreeing to a long-term contract two years ago.
This summer, the Blackhawks added veteran Andrew Brunette to be a presence in and around the net on the power play after he spent several successful seasons with the Minnesota Wild. Notable agitator Dan Carcillo, Rostislav Olesz (acquired from Florida in exchange for Brian Campbell) and Jamal Mayers are also first-year Blackhawks in 2011-12.
Chicago’s blue line has been a trademark for organizational success. Bowman made sure to keep Keith and Seabrook in the Windy City with new contracts and was able to retain shutdown man Niklas Hjalmarsson by matching a restricted free agent offer sheet from the San Jose Sharks. Youngster Nick Leddy, also acquired in a trade by the Blackhawks, is a skilled and fleet-footed defenseman who is a big part of Chicago’s future. Bowman complemented the offensive skill on the back end with a pair of gritty free agents in Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell.
In goal, the Blackhawks are led by 26-year-old Corey Crawford, a product of their minor league system who earned the role of No. 1 goaltender last season. Chicago had a heated race for the backup goalie job take place in training camp, but it was veteran Ray Emery – in town on a professional tryout contract – that won the spot over young Alexander Salak.
Quenneville’s offense has been heavily shouldered by his top players in the first nine games, and Hossa is tops in goal-scoring with five already. Sharp and Kane had eight points each entering last night’s game, with Kane leading the Blackhawks in assists with six.