SB Nation NHL Preview: 2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks

If you didn't know, many teams started up their pre-season games last night.  Technically, this means that the '09-'10 season is now officially underway.  So to get everyone up to speed all the SBN hockey blogs are previewing all 30 NHL teams over the next two weeks.  Yesterday Battle of California and Bird Watchers Anonymous kicked us off.  Up today are the Bruins and none other than our own Chicago Blackhawks - You'll also be able to track everything on From The Rink

Update:  So yeah - I can't read and thought the Hawks were up yesterday for the SBN previews.  By order of James Mirtle, we are going in alphabetical order and as it turns out, Calgary comes before Chicago when you factor in the Canadian spelling of it.  So.. Here's the Calgary preview from yesterday, the Buffalo preview that just started today is here, and here's the Chicago preview... again!

2008-09 Season Recap: 

Under the leadership of Denis Savard and with a full year from both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Hawks were starting to get people talking.  They had missed the playoffs by only a few points the year before but now most predictions had the Hawks as a lock.  The front office had finally made some noise by signing not one but two prized free agents in Brian Campbell and Cristobal Huet

Things didn't take too long to start heading south though.  The signing of Huet meant the Hawks were clearly going to try to get rid of Nikolai Khabibulin's huge contract.  Only they couldn't find anyone to take on the huge cap hit... not even in Russia.  Then the Hawks lost the first three games of the year.  Despite winning the fourth - the front office made the decision to fire Denis Savard.  Most people agreed that Savvy wasn't the greatest coach and in the long run it was the right decision but the timing rubbed people the wrong way.  In a lot of ways, it was what the literary world would refer to as "foreshadowing" if this were a novel.  Brought on to replace Savard, Joel Quenneville would lose his first game as head coach but go 45-22-11 for the season.

Plenty of other things went right during the year though.  The power play improved with Campbell and Barker leading the way out of the Hawks zone.  There was the stretch from Dec. 7th on that saw the Hawks win 9 games in a row.  Quenneville realizing that someone like Campbell isn't best pair with a human-pylon like Matt Walker and allowing Niklas Hjalmarsson to show what he can do.  Kris Versteeg becoming a fan favorite and the third Hawks in 2 years to be nominated for the Calder.  A return not only to the playoffs but all the way back to the Western Conference Finals.  The Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.  And a renewal of the rivalry with the Red Wings after they ruined both of those last two events...

Who's In:

Marian Hossa (UFA-DET), Tomas Kopecky (UFA-DET), John Madden (UFA-NJD), Marc Cullen (UFA-VAN), Richard Petiot (I have no idea)

Who's Out:

Martin Havlat (UFA-MIN), Matt Walker (UFA-TBL), James Wisniewski (Trade-ANA), Craig Adams (Waivers-PIT), Sammy Pahlsson (UFA-CBJ), Nikolai Khabibulin (UFA-EDM)

Strengths:

The firepower on this team is without a doubt at the top of the league.  The Hawks can roll several lines that can score consistently and even the next fourth line would show last year that they were more than capable of netting the momentum shifting goal when they started to grind.  With Hossa out for at least two months, we'll have to wait to see how the actual lines will shape up but the Hawks have several potential all-star quality players that should be able to light the lamp. The Hawks can and should score in bunches.  The Hawks were shut out only 5 times last year - I wouldn't be surprised to see that number go down.

Playing off the firepower, the Hawks should have a pretty consistent power play this year.  The main reasoning for bringing Campbell to the team was to improve the power play - and for all his other faults, he did help.  At the end of the '07-08 season the Hawks had the 24th best conversion rate, last season that jumped to 12th.  Give him another year with the team (and hopefully with a little less pressure after signing a huge contract) and it could only get better.  Don't sleep on Cam Barker either - if Campbell slumps then Barker could possibly fill in as the PP QB.  Barker ended the season with 29 PPP compared to Campbell's 24.

Weaknesses:

The goalie situation isn't exactly where you'd want it.  Huet couldn't win out a starting job against Khabby last year and has never proven himself to be a standout goalie, having only started +50 games once in his career.  It's a topic of much discussion going into this season.  Can the Hawks win the Cup with Huet?  Our answer is "yeah.. probably".  His numbers have been pretty close to Khabby's great season of last year but the ever important eye-test doesn't always match up.  When Huet's off, it looks really bad.  But he showed he was also capable of some brilliant games.  Right now we're just in a "wait and see" mode to determine if Huet can really be a #1 goalie.  Both options for a backup, Antti Niemi and Corey Crawford haven't shown they're quite ready for the NHL on a full time basis either.  If Huet goes down with an injury things could get interesting.

The signing of Madden helped address a lot of the problems the Hawks down the center but one injury throws everything out of whack.  Both Sharp and Versteeg filled in at the pivot last year and neither are anywhere near as effective playing center as they are on the wing.  Kopecky can fill in too but once again - he's much better on the wing.  The Hawks remained incredibly healthy last year - betting on that to happen again isn't a great plan.

Depth Charts:

Patrick Sharp Jonathan Toews Patrick Kane
Kris Versteeg Dave Bolland Marian Hossa
Andrew Ladd John Madden Dustin Byfuglien
Ben Eager Tomas Kopecky Adam Burish
Troy Brouwer Colin Fraser

 

Duncan Keith Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson Brian Campbell
Cam Barker Aaron Johnson
Brent Sopel Jordan Hendry

 

Cristobal Huet
Corey Crawford
Antti Niemi

 

2009-10 Season Predictions:

So now the fun part - put it all out on the line and say where the Hawks will finish in the Central.  Well lets never say were not ballsy here.  The Hawks will win the central ending the Red Wings grip on this division and come in second overall in the West. There are a lot of factors that have to go right in order for this to happen (no major injuries, Hossa returns fully from injury, etc..) but that's always the case with every potentially quality team.  Players can't go down with major injuries, stars need to live up to expectations and sometimes you just need to get lucky.  If those things happen, or even come close, there's no reason to think the Hawks will have to settle for second place again.  The Hawks should be angry after that series against the Wings to end their season.. but it was closer than 4-1 looks.  Only in Game 4 did the Hawks look completely out of place.  With another year to get better and maybe a chip on their shoulder this team should be dangerous. 

So now join in and say where you think the Hawks will finish in the West - feel free to jump in with any other comments or ideas. 

POLL!

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