Tags: Andrew Ladd, Brent Seabrook, Brent Sopel, Brian Campbell, Chicago Blackhawks, Dave Bolland, Duncan Keith, Jake Dowell, John Madden, Jonathan Toews, Jordan Hendry, Marian Hossa, Nick Boynton, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Patrick Sharp, Shawn Lalonde, Stan Bowman, Viktor Stalberg
Just when you thought this summer was full of bad news, here's something positive.
Last season, the Blackhawks won games because of three things: Timely scoring, puck possession, and good defense.
After this summer's exodus of players, it's hard to predict if all three of those components will click on all cylinders right away.
The good news is, the part of the roster that the Hawks' winning formula is most dependent on remains almost entirely intact: The defense.
Chicago led the league by allowing only 25.1 shots per game last season, 2 shots lower than the next best team. That number is astounding in the new NHL.
Getting into an offensive flow isn't easy against the Hawks, and that won't change this year as they bring back six defensemen that played in the Stanley Cup Finals. The top two pairings were solidified when Bowman matched the Niklas Hjalmarsson offer sheet and the recent signings of Jordan Hendry and Nick Boynton locked down the 3rd pairing.
In addition, the Hawks have NHL-ready prospect defensemen who can jump into the fold if needed. Shawn Lalonde and Ivan Vishnevskiy will likely start in Rockford now that Boynton is aboard, but that doesn't mean both will stay there. Free agent acquisition John Scott is expected to see minutes as well, giving the Hawks yet another option.
The only piece gone from last year's defense is Brent Sopel, who will be missed mostly on the penalty kill but replaced very easily at even strength. With Sopel being the only defensive departure, the Hawks are actually left with a logjam on defense. Hard to believe, I know.
As it stands, the Hawks have their top four defensemen locked in (Keith, Seabrook, Hjalmarsson, Campbell) and five players that can play on the 3rd pairing (Hendry, Boynton, Vishnevskiy, Lalonde, Scott). That's impressive depth for a team that is supposedly "one and done."
The Hawks could get even better production from their returning defensemen as well. Duncan Keith is as reliable as they come, Brent Seabrook will be playing for a new contract, and Niklas Hjalmarsson will be a year older and wiser.
Many of the team's top defensive-minded forwards return too. Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Dave Bolland are a big piece of the Hawks' team defense, and two of those players (Hossa and Bolland) missed a large portion of last regular season with injuries. If the shots against average was so low playing without those two, imagine if they stay healthy for the whole year.
John Madden and Andrew Ladd will be missed on the checking line, but we haven't seen their replacements yet. Who knows what players like Jake Dowell and Viktor Stalberg will bring playing under Quenneville's system?
There are many unknowns heading into 2010-2011, but there is reason for optimism.
If defense wins championships, there is nothing to worry about.