One thing we can be sure of, is that it will be even harder to make predictions this year. The shortened season is somewhat of a wildcard thrown into the mix of an already difficult outcome to predict. But, are there teams that will benefit most from this season, and others who are doomed from the get-go? Most agree that the Blackhawks benefited from the extended off-season, but that does not necessarily translate into a better season.
Take for instance this post from Stu Hackel at Red Light. In the first paragraph, he suggests that a study by Pierre McGuire provides 5 essentials to being successful in a shortened season. They are:
Very Good Goaltending, A Four-Line Attack, A Coach with an Understanding of Work-To-Rest Ratio so that players don't breakdown, Avoiding Prolonged Losing Streaks of Five Games or More, and Creative Coaching.
The article goes on later to mention that the Hawks should be pitied for the fact that the first 10 of 12 games will be on the road. It does not mention that the Hawks also have the most back-to-back games as well.
This doesn't exactly sound great for the Hawks. Of the 5 elements mentioned for a successful season, the Hawks are seemingly hurting in at least 4 of them. First, goaltending will most likely be the biggest concern for the Hawks. Is Crawford capable of being the starter the Hawks need? I am definitely pessimistic about this one, and I found his success to be the fluke, rather than his tough season last year. When you get down to it, he has nothing special to offer as a goaltender, except a hard work ethic, and at times a poise in the net.
A four-line attack might be the area that the Hawks have the greatest edge, but only if used correctly, and we know how much of a toss-up that is going into the season.
I think that Q is aware of a good work-to-rest ratio, but I question his logic involved in it. He will allow the team to rest from time to time, but he is also prone to over exerting certain players unnecessarily. A guy like Toews will be especially prone to injury, and Q better use him more wisely than he has in the past. The news that Hossa will be on the 1st line, also makes him a target for injury. Not only rest, but use of time on the ice is important here, and we have had our complaints about Q here.
Avoiding a prolonged losing streak looks bleak when the season begins on the road for such an extended period of time, and we know that the Hawks have been streaky in the recent past. I am not as persuaded that this will be any different than in a regular season in terms of larger outcomes, but it surely doesn't seem to be a strength for the Hawks.
Oh man, and last but not least is creative coaching. Should I even go further on this subject? Q is an obvious traditionalist, and tradition is rarely creative. My hope is that Q's job is on the line, and that this forces him into new practices, or avoiding his past bad ones, but I assume we shall see more of the same.
Take what we know. The Hawks are going to be comprised of mostly the same team as last year. This bodes well for them. The lines are already a huge point of contention though, with Bolland taking on a new role, which has him leaving one that he was very successful in. It seems as though Stalberg is starting on the 3rd line, with whom is still up for debate, but he has been issued an order to gain power-play minutes. Leddy is apparently getting a start on the 2nd pairing, Montador's career looks to be over which has also saved Hjalmer's spot on the Hawks for a little longer.
Defensive depth is an area of strength for the Hawks, especially if everybody reaches their potential and our high expectations. We could be looking at one of the strongest defensive rosters in the league, or maybe a cluster of chaos.
I am hopeful, but also anticipating a rough start that will see Bowman scrambling for a new goaltender, and the possibility of a quick coaching change.