AT LONG LAST: Training Camp Opens Next Week, With Unanswered Questions

Goddamn, this has been one long-assed summer. Unlike years in the past, where the Chicago Blackhawks either missed the playoffs or were sent on their way before getting into the Lightning Round, this year left everyone feeling unfulfilled.

To find the last time a season started with high expectations and ended this ignobly you have to reach back to the 1992-93 season, when the Hawks led the Campbell Conference with 106 points and got their asses swept by the Blues in the first round. At least this time around, the Hawks had a rough ride all season, the result of getting the Stanley Cup on credit. Having to make room for the new contracts of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and later Niklas Hjalmarsson left GM Stan Bowman with no choice but to jettison players who had played significant roles in winning the Cup.

This year, there's no Cup decorating the tickets or the media guide. The playoff highlight reel is brief. The summer was long. Unlike the teams in the 90s (the '91 team flamed out in spectacular fashion too), at least Hawks fans can take solace in the fact that winning the Stanley Cup now lives in the realm of reality - not only do we know what it feels like, but the core players on this team know as well.

Now training camp begins next week, with the now-sold-out Training Camp Festival on September 17 being the warm-up for fans before hockey returns to the United Center on September 23 with a preseason tilt against a bunch of dudes you never heard of in Caps uniforms The Washington Capitals.

So with training camp ready to kick off, there are actually some unanswered questions...

1) How will the new Blackhawks gel with the returning players? To be fair, this is question #1 for virtually every team in the league. Unlike last season, when the Hawks had to perform patchwork with bargain-basement options (catching lightning in a bottle with Bryan Bickell, not so much with Nick Boynton), this year the Hawks were pretty much able to put together a shopping list. They went for 3 elements: Veteran, tough, hungry. Of all the Hawks' pickups, only Sean O'Donnell has a Stanley Cup ring, which he picked up as a member of the '06 Ducks. You've got a bunch of guys who want it bad. Plus, they're all on one-year contracts, with the exception of Steve Montador. Which leads us to...

2) How much will the Blackhawks miss Brian Campbell? All the meatballs who pissed and moaned about Campbell's contract can now placate themselves with the knowledge that the Hawks were able to move the $7 million Cap hit for the singular talents of Rotislav Olesz. The Hawks are hoping Nick Leddy can handle the responsibility of carrying the mail when Duncan Keith is rinsing his mouth between shifts. If nothing else, the fact that the Hawks are filling the #3 defenseman spot for almost $6 million less than they were paying for Campbell is nice. Now let's see how he does at replacing those 27 points.

3) How is Kane's wrist? He says it comes out of the cast on the 15th. If you think the Hawks are going to cut him loose in any of the preseason games, you're out of your mind. He looks to be in the best shape of his career, and managed to stay off Deadspin for the summer, so it's all looking good. Bickell's wrist is another area of concern, but just as yesterday's 7th inning stretch at Wrigley Field was sung by "Patrick Kane and members of the Chicago Blackhawks", so it is with Bickell. He's listed as "other" among Hawks forwards.

4) How healthy are the Hawks? Kane's recuperating. We'll find out about Bickell next week. Olesz is already on Injured Reserve, so I wouldn't expect to see anyone wearing 85 any time soon, unless Petr Klima gets a tryout. Everyone else seems ready to go. There are certainly some things to worry about - Brent Seabrook has now missed games in each of the last two seasons with concussions, and Dave Bolland missed a large chunk of games late in season because of one. Jonathan Toews has had his eggs scrambled as well. This bears watching.

5) Who's due to have a big year? Is there such a thing as an invisible superstar? What about a guy who has not come close to his season average in goals in either of the past two years, largely as a result of not coming close to his season average in games played? Number 81 in your program, ladies and gentlemen. Remember those 11 points in the first 7 games last year? Yeah, that was awesome. But the Hawks need the sustained excellence they're paying for.

In here also, you have to throw Duncan Keith's name out. He went from Norris Trophy winner (who was also in the Conn Smythe discussion) to third-best defenseman on the Hawks, after Campbell and Seabrook. Can he rebound?

Finally, Michael Frolik and Dave Bolland looked like they played together all season once they were linemates in the playoffs. Can Bolland stay healthy, and get the puck to Frolik in spots where he is shooting from angles that aren't ridiculous?

6) Who's due for a letdown? There's a rule in sports - beware of veteran players in contract years. Last year Seabrook approached RFA status, besting his career-high in total points by 16, finishing with 48. Can he top 40 points again, or will he drop back down into the 30-35 range, which is where he's always fallen before last season?

Also, Bickell started the season with 12G 14A before the All-Star break, but sputtered to 5G 6A following the break. A big part of this came from him not unleashing his wrister from the high slot and continually flicking it on net from above the faceoff circle. Which Bickell shows up this season? And does that Bickell stick around?

7) Which rookies make the team? Ben Smith and Marcus Krüger are the two who got onto the ice during the playoff push, and even in the playoffs. While Smith flourished, getting the coveted Left Wing spot alongside Toews and Kane, Krüger got pushed all over the ice once the Canucks got a look at him. Was the fact the Hawks didn't call up Kyle Beach to be a playoff Black Ace a wake-up call, or was it them pretty much throwing in the towel on him? How close are Jimmy Hayes and Dylan Olsen?

8) Who is the backup goalie? Who cares? Our Mathletes have diagrammed QStache's process for deciding the starting goalie each night:




Obviously, some of these questions won't be answered until April. But these are the questions to be asked. At least it'll be nice to talk about actual hockey again, and not have the world stop so Alex Ovechkin can announce he's switching from CCM to Bauer, or everyone to hold their breath to see what Sidney Crosby says in his press conference tomorrow. Although, if he announces he's now a zombie, and stalks off the stage yelling "BRAAAAAAAIIIIINNNNSSS!!!!", it will be the Greatest Press Conference Ever.

 

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  • 9/6/2011 5:33 PM Jerry Kayne wrote:
    From my personal observations, unless he gets a brain transplant, Beach will never make the Blackhawks or any NHL team.
    Reply to this
  • 9/6/2011 6:28 PM ChicagoNativeSon wrote:
    Can we choose option #3: Playoff Bickell?
    Reply to this
  • 9/6/2011 7:01 PM ski wrote:
    I love your flowcharts...never have i broke out laughing looking at a flow chart till the will hossa be suspended one haha...will klinky ever get a shot as well?
    Reply to this
  • 9/6/2011 11:44 PM Fro Dog wrote:
    The Bears aren't really getting me excited so I am more pumped for hockey to start. I do have a concern or two on the Blackhawks:

    Is anyone else concerned that there isn't a legitimate fourth line center? I would have been more than fine if Ryan Johnson was re-signed. If they weren't going to do that, then the meatball in me would have wanted John Madden back. I just either of the two would help a great deal because they could help kill a penalty and win faceoffs.

    Last is my favorite subject: goalies. I love the Crawford signing but the backup is up in the air. From what I have read and heard, Salak is suppose to be good someday. So would it be him or Emery? Emery is getting a tryout but I am not sure he has anything left. Whomever it may be, they will be better than Turco.
    Reply to this
    1. 9/6/2011 11:45 PM Fro Dog wrote:
      just think*
      Reply to this

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