Now that the ugliness of the lockout is behind us, I've been spending most of my day (and NHL 13 video game season) contemplating how the 2013-13 (heh) Blackhawks will look and what we can expect from the season.
- I'm concerned about the top six. Yes, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp are as solid a core as you'll find. It's the depth behind them that worries me. Stan Bowman still hasn't deemed a number two center a necessity. Since he doesn't seem to see what the rest of the hockey world sees, it's safe to assume Patrick Kane is your opening night second line center. So let's take a look at the potential top six.
XXX - Toews - Hossa
Sharp - Kane - XXX or Stalberg
I think it's safe to throw Viktor Stalberg in one of the top two groups. He's a natural right winger, so let's put him on that second line with Kane and Sharp.
That leaves a gaping hole on the top line. As far as I can see it, there are only a few options. Daniel Carcillo played on the top line a handful of times before his injury. Putting him with Toews and Hossa obviously adds some protection to the concussion line, which could be needed, but losing his grit on the 4th line could be a mistake, unless Brandon Bollig is on the opening night roster.
Another option is a kid from Rockford. Brandon Saad? Ben Smith? Jimmy Hayes? Maybe. In a typical NHL season, coaches and management would have a full preseason to evaluate which kid is ready to play with the big guns. Skill set wise, Saad is probably the better fit, but he's hardly been setting the world on fire in Rockford (only 6 goals and 8 assists in 28 games). Smith doesn't have the offensive skills that Saad does, but his numbers are much better (14 goals and 11 assists in 35 games).
I really liked what Hayes brought, but he'd disappear for large chunks of time. He's have a big week, then nothing. His Rockford numbers don't look like top line material either (6 goals and 9 assists in 34 games).
Jeremy Morin seems to be the forgotten man here. No one seems to talk about him in future plans, and it seems like the fan base has forgotten he's around. His Rockford numbers have been ok (10 goals and 7 assists in 30 games), but again...not ready for prime time.
If it's up to me, I'm starting Smith (with a very short leash) on the top line on opening day. I'm not sure Saad is ready just yet (despite his success in my NHL 13 season), and I hate losing Carcillo on the 4th line. Smith's grindy-ness will keep him in the good graces of the coaches and keep the line competitive. "Go get pucks and pass them to 19 and 81, son." If Smith doesn't work out, I quickly move to Hayes.
Of course, this entire issue could be resolved if Bowman would sign a free agent center. There's a good one out there who could be had for pretty cheap. Jason Arnott. He brings leadership, scoring, faceoff ability and grit, and could almost assuredly be had for a low salary ($2.5 million or less), one year deal. Arnott moves to #2 center...Kane goes back up with Toews and Sharp...problem solved.
- Remember the Blackhawks putrid powerplay? I do. Remember when their answer to fixing it was firing Mike Haviland (the penalty kill coach), keeping Mike Kitchen (the powerplay coach) and hiring Jamie Kompon from Los Angeles? Yeah...the same Jamie Kompon who was to blame for the Kings' lackluster powerplay. Maybe the Hawks just need a new set of eyes looking at their powerplay approach. Time will tell, but as of today...no new personnel was added to improve this broken, "carry the puck in to the zone, turn it over, rinse, repeat" system.
- Marian Hossa is ready to play. He was cleared somewhere around December 12th. He should be in the opening day lineup without issue.
- Speaking of Marian Hossa, have you heard about this buyout thing in the new CBA? Basically, it allows each NHL team to buy out the contracts of two players once this season in concluded. Again, each team has two, and they must use them by the end of summer 2014 (so this coming offseason or next). Hossa's long term (9 years remain) and high salary ($5.275 annually) make him a candidate the Hawks must consider. It would be an unpopular move for sure, but probably a wise business decision, especially since teams are only on the hook for 2/3 of the bought out players' remaining salary. I'd hate to see him go, but he's clearly on the decline. With a buyout in mind, this is a huge season for Hossa and his Blackhawks future.
- There are a few other kids turning heads in Rockford...especially defenseman Adam Clendening. His 22 points for the Hogs make him the teams 5th leading scorer, behind forwards Martin St. Pierre, Ben Smith, Bradon Pirri and Marcus Kruger. He was the Hawks' second round pick in the 2011 draft. With a veteran defense assembled, it may take an injury or two for Clendening to get the call, but trades could be looming. Keep your eye on this prospect.
- The Hawks signed two free agent defensemen this summer. The first, Sheldon Brookbank, is a journeyman stay at home defenseman who can play a little bit, but isn't the type of player a contender wants in their lineup every night. The second, which came in September with very little fanfare, is Michal Rozsival. Rozsival is a well rounded defenseman who's played key roles during his NHL career. You may not have heard of him, but he's a quality defenseman who could probably be labeled as an average to slightly below average #3 to an elite #5 d-man. #5 is probably where the Hawks have him slotted (behind Keith, Seabrook, Leddy and Oduya). He played very well against the Blackhawks for the Coyotes in last years' playoffs.
- The goaltenders remain the biggest question marks for the team this season. While both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery had stretches of brilliance, they both had stretches of horrible play. Both are back this season. The Hawks want Crawford to take the reigns and end the roller coaster. He'll need to be more consistent for that to happen. Last season, confidence seemed like a major issue for the goalie. His body language, and well, verbal language after losses left room for concern. He's still a young player, and goalies take time to mature. With another year on Emery and his hip, Crawford needs to get the job done. If he can't, he may be looking for a new team after this season.
- Some big names moved NHL teams this offseason as well. Jaromir Jagr? He's a Dallas Star. Rick Nash is a New York Ranger. The Predators were able to hold on to Shea Weber, despite the best efforts of the Flyers. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are Wild...Wilds? They're on Minnesota now. The Red Wings signed pain-in-the-ass Jordin Tootoo. Jiri Hudler left Detroit for Calgary (good luck with that). Teemu Selanne will be back, and Roberto Luongo could be traded any day now. I'm sure I missed a couple, but it's late...and you stopped reading paragraphs ago.
Filed under: ben smith, Blackhawks, blackhawks trade rumors, brent seabrook, Chicago Blackhawks, Chicago Sports, Corey Crawford, Dan Carcillo, daniel carcillo, danny mac show, dave bolland, duncan keith, Gary Bettman, hockey, jason arnott, jay zawaski, jeremy morin, joel quenneville, johnny oduya, jonathan toews, Marcus Kruger, michael frolik, michal rozsival, mike haviland, Mike Kitchen, new york rangers, NHL, nhl lockout, nick leddy, Patrick Kane, patrick sharp, Ray Emery, Sheldon Brookbank, sports, stan bowman, viktor stalberg, wscr