Puck Daddy’s NHL 2014-15 Emoji Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

Puck Daddy’s NHL 2014-15 Emoji Preview: Chicago Blackhawks

(The 2014-15 NHL season is nearly upon us, and attempting to handicap the winners and losers can sometimes leave us speechless. So we decided to break down all 30 teams with the next best thing to words: Emojis!) 

Last Season In Emojis

Last Season, In Summary 

The Chicago Blackhawks dreams of winning a second straight Stanley Cup came to a heartbreaking end in Game 7 of the Western Conference Final. Alec Martinez’s overtime goal ended their hopes of coming back from a 3-1 series deficit.

En route to the conference final, Chicago finished third in the Central Division with a 46-21-15 (107 pts.) record. After dropping the opening two games to the St. Louis Blues in Round 1, the Blackhawks won nine of their next 10 games before the Kings built up their 3-1 series lead.

Over the summer, general manager Stan Bowman grabbed what he believes is the solution at the no. 2 center position and opened up the checkbook to keep both Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews in the Windy City for at least the next nine seasons.

Is a run back to the Final in the cards?

Last Season’s Definitive Highlight 

Somehow, Washington Capitals GM Brian MacLellan missed Jonathan Toews dancing around Brooks Orpik during Chicago’s Stadium Series game against Pittsburgh.

Off-Season Transactions

There weren’t a lot of new faces coming to Chicago over the summer as Bowman concentrated on extending Kane and Toews (8 years, $84 million each) and signing Brad Richards to fill the no. 2 center position. It’s a one-year, $2 million deal for the former New York Ranger, so there’s a low risk, high reward potential in the move.

Leaving town was enforcer Brandon Bollig, who was dealt to Calgary for a third round pick in June, and prospect Kevin Hayes, who failed to signed his entry-level contract before the deadline and became an free agent. He would eventually ink a two-year deal with the Rangers. Game 5 overtime hero Michal Handzus was not re-signed.

There could be more exits out of town as Bowman tries to configure the team’s salary cap situation before the start of the season.

It was no surprise to see the Blackhawks finish second overall in scoring with 3.18 goals per game. The forward group featured five players with 20-plus goals and nine in double digits. The usual suspects led the way. Patrick Sharp (34 goals, 78 points), Kane (29 goals, 69 points), Toews (28 goals, 68 points) and Marian Hossa (30 goals, 60 points) did their usual job of leading the offense, but down the lineup is where it’ll get interesting.

Richards comes to Chicago after an OK season in New York (20 goals, 51 points). He won’t have the burden of living up to a big contract hanging over his head now, and if he plays between Kane and Brandon Saad he should be alright.

The sophomore jinx didn’t affect the 21-year old Saad as he posted 21 goals and 47 points on the second line with Kane. The chemistry between those two is evident, and it doesn’t just show in the postseason with their twin mullets. If Richards doesn’t work out between them, head coach Joel Quenneville could slide Andrew Shaw (20 goals) up a line like he did during the postseason, where the trio clicked.

Shaw will likely start between Bryan Bickell (59 GP, 15 points) and the hotly-rumored-to-be-traded Kris Versteeg (29 points) on the third line. Ben Smith, Marcus Kruger and Jeremy Morin could have the makings of Quenneville’s fourth line.

Stud prospect Teuvo Teravainen is the wild card. He’s already shown he has the skill to be productive at the NHL level, but will there be room on the Blackhawks’ roster for him?

The Blackhawks’ goals allowed per game average jumped from an NHL-best 2.02 in 2013 to 2.58 last season.

The top pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook resulted in 13 goals, 102 points, one Norris Trophy, and a top-10 finish among all players in Corsi%. There's nothing to indicate that production won't be coming yet again.

Entering the final years of their respective contracts are Nick Leddy (RFA) and Johnny Oduya (UFA). They've been among the names that have reportedly been shopped by Bowman in order to loosen the cap squeeze. Oduya handled tough assignments last season, while Leddy saw his numbers (7 goals, 31 points) boosted by more offensive zone starts

Oduya’s partner, Niklas Hjalmarsson will again be a valuable tool used against opposing top lines. He had career highs in goals (4) and points (26), but his defensive abilities are what put him in an elite category. Oduya’s one-time partner, 36-year old Michal Rozsival, enters the final year of his contract and could fill the final spot on the blue line as the likes of David Rundblad, Stephen Johns and Adam Clendening wait their turn.

Corey Crawford’s six-year, $36 million contract kicks in this season, as the team looks for cap relief somewhere. The 29-year old was 14th in even strength save percentage (.925) among all goaltenders who faced a minimum 1,000 shots last season. There were moments in the playoffs he helped carry the Blackhawks, while at other times he was fault for goals. He’s now the sixth-highest paid goalie in the NHL, per CapGeek, which means the groans on his bad nights will get louder.

Antti Raanta signed a two-year extension over the summer and needs to show improvement on nights Crawford is given a rest, especially with points being as vital as they are in the Central Divsion.

Probable Text Conversation Within Organization

Hawks
Hawks

Special Teams

The power play unit wasn’t as dominant as you’d think, but it still rose in success-rate for a third straight season (19.5-percent). Sharp and Kane each had 10 goals and 25 power play points. It’ll mostly be the same personnel, with the addition of Richards (5 PPG), but there will be a new man running the show in new assistant coach Kevin Dineen, who replaces Jamie Kompon.

After a third-place finish in 2013 (87.2 percent), the Blackhawks’ penalty kill unit dropped to 81.4-percent last season. Between defensive problems and Crawford’s .864 save percentage on the kill, Mike Kitchen will have his work cut out for him to revive the unit.

GM and Coach

While the rest of the West was loading up, Bowman tried, but couldn't find the room to nab Ryan Kesler from Vancouver. Instead, he settled with the cheap signing of Richards. Now he likely has to figure out another move or two to get the team cap compliant by opening night. Luckily for the Blackhawks, this cap nightmare isn’t similar to the one from 2010.

Quenneville, meanwhile, moved into third place all-time in regular season coaching wins and enters 2014-15 with 706 under his belt. The star power is certainly there, but can he properly adjust his lineup as the season moves along to adapt to the success and failures of some of his players? 

And Now, A Blooper 

Jonathan Toews as Wolverine or the departed Michael Frolik as Chester Greenburg?

The Potential Best Thing About This Team

Richards solves the no. 2 center issue, giving the lines a bit more balance and the Blackhawks weave their way through the West to set up another date with the Kings in the conference final.

The Potential Worst Thing About This Team

Richards flames out, Crawford is overworked because Raanta can't provide adequate cover, and the potential trading of an Oduya due to cap concerns weakens a solid defense corps.

Single Emoji Prediction

Prediction: The Central Division may again wind up being the NHL’s most competitive. Even if Colorado and Minnesota take a step back, they’ll still be potential playoff teams. Add in improved squads in Dallas and St. Louis and the Blackhawks will have their work cut out for them in the regular season. Come the postseason, Chicago’s deep lineup could be their advantage to making another long run.