Colorful characters, revered championships, staged fights ... the rink shares plenty with the squared circle. So here at Puck Daddy, we've decided to preview the 2010-11 NHL season with the help of old-school wrestling icons, images and lingo. It's a slobber-knocker, Mean Gene ...
Last Season (55-22-8. 1st in Central, 2nd in the Conference)
The Blackhawks completed their franchise resurrection on June 9, when Patrick Kane's(notes) shot from the left face-off circle provided one of the more anti-climatic endings in NHL history and won Chicago the Stanley Cup:
Antti Niemi(notes), Dustin Byfuglien(notes), Brent Sopel(notes), Andrew Ladd(notes), Ben Eager(notes), Kris Versteeg(notes), Adam Burish(notes), Colin Fraser(notes), and John Madden(notes) were all lost in the great Chicago Purge of 2010. Everyone knew the day was coming when the Blackhawks would have to make vast changes to their roster because of salary cap issues, but as tough as it was to say goodbye to nine members of their Stanley Cup-winning team, at least they won a title to lessen the blow a bit.
After months of figuring out what to do with goaltender Cristobal Huet(notes) and his albatross of a contract ($5.625 million for two more years), Chicago worked out a loan deal with Swiss team Fribourg-Gotteron. The Blackhawks will still pay him, but that money will be off their salary cap.
Coming on board -- cheaply, I might add -- were defensive giant John Scott(notes), forward Fernando Pisani(notes) and winger Viktor Stalberg(notes), who will have spots on the big club. Having to fight their way out of Rockford likely will be Ivan Vishnevskiy(notes), Jeff Taffe(notes) and the only draft pick from 2003 that hasn't played a game in the NHL, Hugh Jessiman(notes).
The final addition to the 2010-11 Blackhawks is an important one. Marty Turco(notes) parted ways with the Dallas Stars and signed with Chicago not long after the team walked away from the Niemi arbitration decision. A one-year, $1.3 million deal and the defense that will be in front of Turco should make that look like a bargain signing.
The NHL's third-best offense last season (262 GF, 3.2 GPG) still retained the main cogs in the engine after the turnover this summer. Patrick Kane (30), Jonathan Toews(notes) (25), Marian Hossa(notes) (24), and Patrick Sharp(notes) (25) will once again be the key goal scorers for the team, and Hossa should improve on his total from last year with a full season under his belt.
Troy Browuer will look to build on a productive season (22 goals, 40 points) and an inspiring playoffs as he enters the final year of his contract before he becomes a restricted free agent.
Chicago's remaining forwards will have a young look with guys looking to take advantage of a full-time opportunity in the NHL. Jack Skille(notes) and Bryan Bickell(notes) are two guys who have commuted back and forth between the AHL and NHL the past few seasons and with spots opening up this summer, now is there time to steal the spotlight, otherwise the likes of a Kyle Beach(notes) are ready to step in.
Wrestler(s) That Best Symbolize the Team
Not the original nWo, but nWo Hollywood; when they weren't as strong as they once were, but still were a solid unit.
Guess that would make the Atlanta Thrashers the nWo Wolfpack?
Had the Blackhawks not matched the offer sheet that the San Jose Sharks gave Niklas Hjalmarsson(notes), he would have the been the biggest loss this off-season. With Hjalmarsson back, Chicago's top four blue liners are as steady as any top two pairing around the NHL.
Norris Trophy-winning Duncan Keith(notes) has seen his production improve every year he's been in the league. Brent Seabrook(notes) has been consistently good every year. Despite his large contract, Brian Campbell(notes) has an offensive presence. And Hjalmarsson will only get better as he builds off of his first full season in the NHL.
Despite coming off a season where he won just 22 games and played in 53 (lowest since 2001-02), Turco enters a good situation to rejuvenate his career. The Blackhawks were the sixth ranked defense last season, so he'll be protected well. If he can avoid giving up the soft goals that have haunted him over the years, the transition from Niemi to Turco should be seamless.
Match We'd Pay To Watch
A lumberjack match involving the new Blackhawks additions against the Blackhawks players who had to leave town due to salary cap issues. The current Blackhawks players and team management would serve as both sets of lumberjacks.
New boy Viktor Stalberg -- acquired in the Kris Versteeg deal -- scored nine goals in 40 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and surrounded by a better cast, could be a nice surprise. The speedy winger has the size to become a dominant power forward and being behind Hossa and Kane on the wings could give him time to mature and grow into the position.
There will be nothing but pressure on Marty Turco to rebound from a couple of down seasons in Dallas and make the Blackhawks' Cup-defense campaign not go down in flames. He'll have a better team in front of him in Chicago and at age 35, this could be his last shot in the NHL if he fails.
Players coming out of the penalty boxes unsuspectingly and scoring overtime goals. It's like Hossa was hiding underneath the ring and the poor Nashville Predators walked right into the HossaPlex:
Finishing 16th in the NHL last season, Chicago's power play -- despite the slew of talent at their disposal -- couldn't match the expectations on paper. Kane and Toews did their things (nine power play goals each), but Hossa struggled (two goals). Being on the road (22.1%) brought them much more success than in front of the sold out crowds at United Center (13.9%).
Chicago led the NHL in shorthanded goals with 13 and finished fourth overall with an 85.3% kill-rate. And opposite of their power play unit, the shorthanded group was much better at home (89.4%) than onthe road (81.2%).
After taking over duties early in the 2008-09 season, Coach Joel Quenneville has guided the Blackhawks to a 97-44-11 record, with a Stanley Cup on top of all of that. He's found a way to have his players buy into his system and succeed in their role on the team. Now he has the challenge of a potential Stanley Cup hangover after a long summer of celebrating the franchise's first title in 49 years.
During his first season as GM of the Blackhawks, Stan Bowman had a Stanley Cup contender already in place. Now, after all that transpired over the summer and the roster overhaul that everyone knew was coming, Bowman faces the challenge of maintaining that championship aura around the team and keeping them in contention. He's already made some shrewd moves by walking away from Antti Niemi, the goaltender that led them to a Cup, and trading away fan favorites in Dustin Byfuglien and Kris Versteeg. This summer began the hard part of Bowman's tenure as GM: the tough decisions that will keep Chicago competitive for years to come.
2010-11 Preseason Report Card:
Forwards: A- (Great stars, but will be interesting to see reaction to loss of peripheral players.)
Special Teams: B
Main Event or Dark Match? (Prediction)
Yeah, losing nine players from your Stanley Cup-winning roster is certainly going to have an effect on future performance, but the core of the Chicago Blackhawks is locked up and it's now on GM Stan Bowman to find away to fill holes adequately going forward.
Chicago didn't lose any backbreaking players that led them to a Cup in June. They still have Kane, Toews, Keith, Hossa, and Seabrook leading the way and if Marty Turco can return to his winning form of the past, then the doom and gloom prognostications after this summer's mass exodus will quickly fade away.
Chicago Blackhawks' Entrance Music to the 2010-11 Season
The "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase, because as the Blackhawks learned this summer, "everybody's got a price" and "everybody's gotta pay".
(Is that Dale Tallon or DiBiase laughing in the background?)