Chicago Blackhawks: Puck Daddy’s 2015-16 NHL Season Preview

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(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)

Last Season: 48-28-6, 102 points, third in Central Division. Stanley Cup champions.

2014-15 Season, In One Tweet

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Photo via Twitter
Photo via Twitter

Did They Get Better, Worse, Or Are They About The Same

Worse.

Even without the Patrick Kane rape investigation situation, the defending Stanley Cup champions would have been in worse shape this season.

Gone are Stanley Cup stalwarts Patrick Sharp (43 points), Brandon Saad (52 points and 23 goals), Kris Versteeg (34 points in 61 games) and Johnny Oduya thanks to the NHL’s minimally increasing salary cap.

All four won a total of nine Cups with the Blackhawks, and are now on other teams. Sharp, a former alternate captain, won three with Chicago and was one of the team’s core guys.

The Blackhawks did a decent job trying to find value for those veterans, getting center Artem Anisimov to play second-line center, replacing Brad Richards who left for Detroit via free agency. Marko Dano was a first-round draft pick by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2013 and has point-per-game potential. He had 21 points in 35 games with the Jackets last season. Both Dano and Anisimov were acquired in a mega-deal for Saad.

Chicago went to the KHL to grab sniper Artemi Panarin, who had 62 points with St. Petersburg last season and 10 points in 10 games with Russia in the World Championships.

The Blackhawks also signed former NHL first-round pick Viktor Tikhonov ($1.04 million) from the KHL for cheap. Tikhonov is 27 years old and should provide a level of stability on the team’s lower lines.

Forward Teuvo Teravainen, who had 10 points in 18 playoff games, is just 21 years old, but has the talent to be an decent offensive contributor for the team, though his immediate ceiling is unclear. Andrew Shaw (he of the playoff header no-goal) also gives the Blackhawks the type of grinding third-line center you need.

Defensemen Duncan Keith (25:34 of ice-time per-game during the regular season) and Brent Seabrook (22:11 per-game) should take care of the blueline for Chicago, even if that group lacks some level of depth.  

Also, Toews (plus-30 and 28 goals) and the ageless Marian Hossa (61 points and 22 goals at age 36) will pick up the slack again up front.  

But there’s that big question mark of Kane, who has proclaimed his innocence, and his status moving forward. 

Will the NHL suspend him? Will Chicago suspend him? Will he get charged with a crime?

It’s all going to play out during the year and, regardless of the legal implications, will be bad for the Blackhawks’ bottom line. 

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Five Most Fascinating Players

1. Patrick Kane, F

When Kane spoke with reporters at training camp – his first news conference since the rape investigation in Buffalo started – he looked like he aged about five years since we last saw him. He’s an electric talent and was leading Chicago with 64 points in 61 games before he got hurt last February with a broken clavicle. Kane returned for the playoffs and paced the Hawks with 23 points in 23 games. His off-ice status, and what it does to his on-ice numbers and his off-ice behavior, merits watching throughout the season. 

2. Duncan Keith, D

Keith averaged 31:07 of ice-time in the playoffs on his way to winning the Conn Smythe trophy as postseason MVP. Even though Keith appeared to never slow down, in spite of playing mega minutes, he’s a human being and you have to wonder if his numbers will take a hit this season. His 45 points were 16 lower than the prior season. Keith is the type of guy who knows how to pace himself during 82 games and turn it on in the playoffs. 

3. Jonathan Toews, F

Toews never puts up mega numbers but he’s considered one of – if not the – best centers in the NHL. He’s also one of the league’s top leaders. The latter will be put to the test in regards to how he handles the Kane situation in the locker room. He’s also going to need to figure out how to help all the new faces blend in with the Hawks.  

4. Marko Dano, F

Dano is not expected to replace Saad this season. But he’s a high-end prospect with a lot of scoring potential. He’s currently playing wing with Toews and Hossa, which means he could put up big numbers in his first full NHL season. 

5. Corey Crawford, G

Is he underappreciated? Is he overrated? Is he a function of Chicago’s defensive system? Depends on the day with Crawford who just backstopped the Blackhawks to his second Stanley Cup with the team. In the last three years, his highest goals against average was 2.27. His highest save percentage was .917. He’s put up some solid NHL numbers despite his doubters. 

Potentially The Best Thing About This Team

Toews, Hossa and Keith, without question.

In a summer that saw a lot of upheaval and character questions about the team, Toews, Hossa and Keith are three of the most professionally sound players you’ll find in the NHL and probable Hall of Famers.

You know what you’re going to get with them every time you put them on the ice.

Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team

The third defense pair.

Coach Joel Quenneville played Keith massive numbers in the playoffs due to lack of defensive depth. He can’t get away with that for 82 games.

The Blackhawks can’t play Seabrook, Keith, Hjalmarsson and newly acquired Trevor Daley for the entire game.  

The trio of David Rundblad, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michal Rozsival, who will all patchwork the third pair, is this team’s weak link. 

Dream 3-on-3 OT Group

Toews, Kane and Keith. Three players with Hall of Fame talent. 

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)

Quenneville has won three Stanley Cups since 2010. Something cataclysmic would have to happen for him to get the axe. 

Awkward Old School Video Break

The day that forever changed the Blackhawks franchise. Note how Toews was even serious as an 18-year-old. 

Their Best Case Scenario Is …

All the new faces blend in better-than-expected. Anisimov turns into a solid second-line center and Dano develops his scoring touch and replaces Saad’s numbers.

Panarin and Tikhonov turn into nice value options at forward.

On defense, Keith continues his minute-crunching ways and Daley becomes an upgrade over Oduya.

Kane sees his legal issues resolved in the first couple of months of the season, giving the Blackhawks some sort of early closure – good, bad or indifferent for Kane. 

Their Nightmare Scenario Is …

Kane’s legal problems last the whole season, providing off-ice questions for Chicago. Keith sees a noticeable drop-off because of all the minutes he played in the postseason.

Hossa shows his age and drops into 40-point territory. All the new pieces turn into terrible fits and don’t come close to replacing the numbers of all the departed stalwarts.  

Prediction

Toews, Keith, Hossa and Seabrook all play their typically remarkable hockey to lead Chicago to the playoffs.

Kane, if he plays, sees a drop-off in his production, but not enough to derail this team. Dano notches in between 50 and 60 points and turns into a pleasant surprise.

Chicago is ousted in the first round. 

PUCK DADDY SEASON PREVIEW 2015-16: Winnipeg Jets/Washington Capitals/Vancouver Canucks/Tampa Bay Lightning/San Jose Sharks/Pittsburgh Penguins/Philadelphia Flyers/Ottawa Senators/New York Rangers/New York Islanders/New Jersey Devils/Nashville Predators/Montreal Canadiens/Minnesota Wild/Los Angeles Kings/Florida Panthers/Detroit Red Wings/Dallas Stars/Columbus Blue Jackets/Colorado Avalanche

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