The Blackhawks went into 2019-20 training camp feeling optimistic. They had signed Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner to strengthen their 1-2 punch in goal, traded for defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta to bolster the back end, reacquired fan-favorite Andrew Shaw and were excited about Swiss league MVP Dominik Kubalik entering the mix.
The vibe was different on Monday at Fifth Third Arena for the start of 2020-21 camp, at least from an outside perspective.
There was no Corey Crawford, who had spent the last 10 seasons as the Blackhawks' starting goaltender.
There was no Jonathan Toews, who's out indefinitely with an unidentified illness.
There was no Kirby Dach or Alex Nylander, both of whom could be out for the season with injuries.
There was no Brandon Saad, who was traded to Colorado during the offseason in a deal that brought Nikita Zadorov to Chicago.
There was no Evan Barratt, Brent Seabrook or Pius Suter, who were all deemed "unfit to participate."
There was no Carl Soderberg, who's waiting on immigration documents and is expected to join the team at a later date.
There was almost no Dylan Strome, who signed a two-year extension late Sunday afternoon.
The Blackhawks know not many outsiders are giving them a chance this season. And they have something to say about that.
"A lot of people are doubting us this year," Strome said in a video conference call. "It would be nice to turn it around and kind of quiet some people up."
"A lot of people are doubting us this year, but in the locker room we know we have a lot of good players," echoed Alex DeBrincat. "If we battle every night, we’re going to have a chance to win. For us, that’s our mentality: work hard, not really listen to anyone on the outside and believe in ourselves."
Head coach Jeremy Colliton knew going into training camp that he'd have to feel the pulse of the room and make sure every player had a positive mindset despite the absences of Dach, Nylander and Toews. And he was pleased with the team's attitude.
"It was something we wanted to monitor, no question, but all the conversations I’ve had, be it older guys, younger guys, new guys and the response today was really good," Colliton said. "The mood has been excellent, the work ethic is what we were looking for. That’s Day 1, but we have to keep that mentality, be excited about the opportunity we have and prove that we’re more than what people say. That little chip on our shoulder is something we can use."
Kane is a three-time Stanley Cup champion and still hungry for more. Nobody wants to win more than him. So while he understands the state of the franchise, don't expect Kane and the Blackhawks to just lie down this season.
"As a player, you want to win now, " Kane said. "You want to compete now. And I think we can do that with this group. I think we can surprise some people and put together a good team game.
"We have a lot of guys that work hard. We have a lot guys that are competing for a job that will follow a team structure. ... Hopefully we can make the most of this season."
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