I’d like to say I waited to do Chicago because Detroit is tomorrow and I wanted to do this year’s Winter Classic participants back-to-back, but that wouldn’t be totally accurate. This will probably be the last time someone forgets the Blackhawks this year, who will be the trendy pick to make a big step forward in the Western Conference.
2007-08: 40-34-8, 88 points (third in Central)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Simply put, with the help of team president John McDonough and a couple of teen sensations named Pat Kane and Jonathan Toews, owner Rocky Wirtz made the Blackhawks relevant again in the Windy City. After years of sagging interest and attendance, the Hawks were playing to sold-out crowds and United Center was rocking (just ask the Caps – that was their last lost before the playoffs) by the end of the season. Kane and Toews were the lynchpins, but other guys like Dustin Byfuglien and Patrick Sharp also had breakout seasons.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Martin Havlat and Jason Williams missed large chunks of the season with injuries. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin missed a month in late February/early March. The Blackhawks were the Western Conference’s feel good story at the turnstiles, but they still came up two wins shy of the playoffs, while the East’s version (hint: they play in Chinatown) finished the late surge and made the postseason.
ARRIVALS: D Brian Campbell, G Cristobal Huet, D Doug Janik, D Aaron Johnson
DEPARTURES: F Jason Williams, C Yanic Perreault, LW Rene Bourque, F Kevyn Adams, D Andrei Zyuzin
IMPACT PROSPECTS: RW Jack Skille, C Dave Bolland
Who is the goaltender?
If they both stay, no one will pay more money for their goaltending this season than the Chicago Blackhawks. Huet and Khabibulin are both among the eight best-compensated players at the position in the NHL. This actually could work for a year, because Chicago isn’t spending a lot of money on its forwards (there will be hefty extensions for Kane and Toews coming soon) and the Bulin Wall is in the last year of his deal. Still, who is THE guy?
Are the kids ready for Round 2?
It is a big step from being a bunch of young guys with nothing to lose to a group with legit expectations. All of these fans returning to United Center aren’t showing up just because the home games are on TV – they are going to expect wins. With the additions of Campbell and Huet, Chicago will be expected to make the playoffs.
PROGNOSIS: It is possible that a couple of these guys (namely Sharp and Byfuglien) take a step back this year, although if Byfuglien spends the year with Kane and Toews it will tough for him to not score 20-25 goals. Having Toews for a full year, don’t be surprised if the newly-minted captain ends the year with more points than the Calder trophy winner on his line. As long as the goalie situation works itself out and one other young guy (namely Skille or Andew Ladd) takes a step forward, the Hawks could challenge for not only a playoff spot, but a No. 4/5 seed.
*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations