Amongst all speculation going into the free agency period, the question blatantly points towards who will replace?
It is the part of the game that was the biggest piece to allowing the fewest shots during the regular season and the sole unacknowledged attribute to the Blackhawks offense.
While initially attributing the Hawks championship to their perseverance and ability to adapt, it always fell on the defense more than any other part of the team.
Niemi and Cristobal Huet played outstanding at times, but lets be real and ask ourselves how often were we in awe throughout the season with the goaltending?
Forwards—well, look at it this way. When the forwards wanted to score, the Hawks won.
While I'm not complaining with the 112 point mark on the season, the losses were frustrating at times.
15 out of the 30 games the Blackhawks lost in regulation or in overtime/shootout surprisingly came when the defense allowed three or less goals.
While the Blackhawks finished with a 45-5-5 record in games scoring more than thee goals, they finished 8-17-3 when scoring two goals or less.
While teams lose during an 82-game season, the blind stat is how many games the defense kept the Hawks in the game.
Out of the 20 games the offense didn't produce, the defense kept the game within grasps at least nine times.
Obviously, comparisons cannot be made when looking at regular season versus post-season, but ideally, the regular season means just as much.
Wins in the regular season work towards a playoff berth and while it is hard to argue the fact that having home-ice was an advantage, it still is nice to have.
Assuming all remains steady so far, the Hawks pairings look like this:
Line one: D.Keith - B. Seabrook
Line two: B.Campbell - ?
Need I mention the third pairing if we can't finish the second?
For a team that was "under the radar" in terms of defensive support, the Hawks have a ways to go.
I would assume that both Hendry and Hjalmarsson get resigned and that would roughly leave two more open spots (one spot on the third pairing and one spot for a reserve).
Could the Hawks bring in an older veteran or possibly leave the final positions open for the taking amongst the talent in the Hawks system?
It wouldn't be a surprise seeing Brian Connelly or Shawn LaLonde being given at least an opportunity.
The biggest question mark could be the front office possibly looking to trade Brian Campbell and opening up some additional space to make room for a couple signings.
As the Hawks inch closer and closer to the free agency deadline, the transaction wire should start lighting up.
The Blackhawks currently have 14 players on their roster and will be looking to make some moves very soon seeing as two of the players are goalies that aren't expected to see the NHL ice next season for the Blackhawks.
One thing is for sure.
If the Blackhawks hope to "repeat", they will need to fill in a roster with what got them the championship in the first place.
Confidence. Adaptability. And most of all...defense.