NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy: Fourth in the Western Conference and second in the Central Division 46-24-12, 104 points). At the start of last season, the Chicago Blackhawks were accused of believing their own hype; arriving in limos and walking the red carpet at their home opener despite not having made the postseason since 2002.
Those critics had a laugh when Joel Quenneville replaced Denis Savard four games into the season; Coach Q had the last laugh, going 45-22-11 and leading the Hawks over the Calgary Flames (4-2) and the Vancouver Canucks (4-2) in the conference playoffs before getting humbled in the conference final by the Detroit Red Wings, 4-1. (The same Wings that showed us earlier in the season that even if the game is played in January, Wrigley Field can still be a shrine to crushing failure in Chicago sports.)
The Hawks were powered by a career year from winger Martin Havlat(notes) (77 points), season-salvaging play from Nikolai Khabibulin(notes) in goal (2.33 GAA, .919 save percentage in 42 games) and the continued maturation of the team's star-studded young core.
After that unexpected rise to prominence, the Blackhawks had two paths from which to choose in the offseason: Preserve the roster, even if in the short term, for a run at the Cup this season; or make some aggressive alternations/additions to the roster to, in theory, increase the team's chances for a Cup.
They chose "aggressive." In the eyes of many, they chose "way too aggressive." It's been a tumultuous summer for the Hawks, from firings to hirings to Patrick Kane(notes) being involved in the most embarrassing celebrity interaction with a taxi since that Jimmy Fallon movie.
Yes despite the bad karma, the squandering of fan goodwill and the potentially disastrous personnel decisions of the last three months ... can the 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks still end up being your Stanley Cup champions?
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): Lost amid the shock, awe and NHL investigation of Marian Hossa's(notes) 12-year contract with the Blackhawks is the fact that, when healthy, he's one of the best players in hockey.
He tallied 40 goals and 77 points with the Red Wings last season, averaging 2.75 points per 60 minutes. Hossa's an elite sniper that will improve Chicago's power play and scoring depth. And while his selection of the Blackhawks probably means they won't win the Cup for the next decade, there's still a slim chance this move puts Chicago over the top.
Two depth moves should make an impact, too. Former Wing Tomas Kopecky(notes), the scrappy Czech whose offensive numbers are improving; and former New Jersey Devils shutdown center John Madden(notes), a rink rat who fits perfectly in the mold of other gritty Hawks down the lineup.
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): Remember that chat we had at the start of this preview about choosing one path or another?
The Blackhawks could have passed on Hossa, re-signed Havlat and Khabibulin short-term, and made a run with the group they had last season. Instead, Khabibulin signed with the Edmonton Oilers, Havlat left for the Minnesota Wild, and the Blackhawks received a heaping serving of regret that would put a Chicago-style pizza to shame.
Havlat's departure was famously bitter, with the former winger blasting Hawks management on Twitter and TSN following the Hossa deal and the removal of Dale Tallon as general manager. His message to disillusioned Hawks fans: "If you care about the direction of the team, do something about it."
Checking center Samuel Pahlsson(notes) left for the Columbus Blue Jackets. One departure worth remembering: Defenseman Matt Walker(notes) to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He was a valuable grunt for this team last season when he wasn't grossing out the ladies.
The Pitchman (Top Offensive Player): While this very well could be Hossa by season's end, the focus here is on Samwise and Frodo.
Patrick Kane saw his points slip by two and his goals increase by five from his rookie of the year campaign. He overcame a January swoon (three points) to finish well and post 14 points in 16 playoff games. He's unpredictable, explosive and dangerous ... and not just when he doesn't receive exact change (yuk yuk).
Jonathan Toews(notes) scored 34 goals in 82 games last season, and had a higher points per 60 minutes average (2.40) than Kane (1.90). If you're one of those who believe Toews is the next Steve Yzerman, he's starting to provide amply evidence for that argument: Scoring goals and making others, like rookie standout Kris Versteeg(notes) (22 goals, 51 points), into better players.
If you had to pick one, it'd probably be Toews for his consistency. But it's a close debate.
From Puck Buddy Trevor E.
Introducing ... (Potential Breakout Player): The breakout started last season for center David Bolland with 19 goals and 47 points, and should continue this year. He's not going to appear in the headlines all too often; heck, many fans outside of Chicago probably just know him as the guy who was overpaid (5 years, $3.375 million per season) in one of Dale Tallon's final deals. But he's a versatile player with great defensive instincts; and best of all, he isn't going anywhere this season with that contract.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): Whatever the goaltending gives Chicago this season (more on that in a moment), the Hawks know they'll have the rock-solid defense of Duncan Keith(notes) (25:34 TOI) and Brent Seabrook(notes) (23:19 TOI) to rely on at even strength and shorthanded. One of the best duos in hockey, without a second thought.
Brian Campbell's(notes) defensive deficiencies were widely ridiculed last season, which obscured the fact that he was exactly what the Hawks wanted him to be: a puck-moving defenseman and a boost to the power play (20 assists).
Cam Barker(notes), who could be Campbell's partner this season again, led the Hawks defensemen in power-play points (29) during a breakout season. Niklas Hjalmarsson(notes), Aaron Johnson(notes), the ageless Brent Sopel(notes) and Jordan Hendry(notes) are all in the mix for the other spots. Watch out for Shawn Lalonde(notes) in camp, as he tries to make his case for staying out of the OHL this season.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): The Blackhawks made their choice, and it's Cristobal Huet(notes). His numbers were respectable last season (20-15-4, 2.53 GAA, .909 save percentage), but he lost the starting job to Khabibulin for most of the postseason. Huet's stellar effort in Game 5 against the Wings (44 saves) showed some promise, however.
Bottom line is that the Hawks are going with a keeper who started over 40 games for the
first second time last season, and behind him are unproven commodities in Corey Crawford(notes) and Antti Niemi(notes). They could have signed 10 Hossas (including Marcel!) and it'll still be Huet that makes or breaks the season.