Well, it's that time. We're three weeks out from the season, and though the memories haven't exactly been washed away (anyone of my FB friends will tell you how I'm doing with that), it's definitely time to at least look ahead. After a summer purge, the Hawks could be he first defending champion to actually sneak up on people. But it's more likely they'll still be targeted by every team, every night. After all, you don't get two straight EA NHL cover boys and not draw some attention to yourself. We asked you to provide the questions this year, and boy did you (and keep them coming). Anyway, I'm going to start with some low-hanging fruit from Hawks61 because I feel the need to start slow. And yes, I'm sure McClure and a host of others will be inserting a sex joke after that line. Away we go!
Can Corey Crawford (aka Fitty) have a rookie season reminiscent of Antti Niemi?
A lot of people tend to forget this, but it was basically a split decision at the beginning of last season on whether Crawford or Niemi would back up Huet. The prevailing thought was that the Hawks chose Niemi simply because he was on a one year deal and Crawford was on a two year, meaning he could accept a demotion and not stomp off the following summer out of frustration. So there was a point in time when the Hawks clearly thought as much of Crawford as they did Niemi, and based on the placing of Niemi on his bike, you could argue that opinion hasn't changed too much.
The Hawks have been waiting for Crawford for a long while now. He's been the starter with the "A" affiliate for four years. His numbers there aren't exactly jaw-dropping, but the Hawks haven't been loaded with defensive prospects either, as most of them were either in junior or with the big club (and based off what I saw of Shawn Lalonde at the Leafs rookie tourney, the Hogs aren't getting a lot of help just yet either). Crawford's SV% has never cracked .910 and his GAA has never sunk below 2.59. But again, I don't know how to read AHL numbers exactly. What I do know is what I've seen, and for the most part, I've liked it. Crawford is the complete opposite of Niemi, who relied on athleticism and reflexes to makes up for some wacky positioning and anticipation. Crawford is positionally sound, and very controlled in net. There have been times when in the NHL he's looked a little slow, and is susceptible to quick puck movement. What I wonder about Crawford is how that style handles only being a spot starter. Athleticism never goes away, timing does. Feel does. And Crawford relies on timing and feel a lot more than Niemi did.
So the basic conclusion is I feel Crawford has a chance to be a very reliable backup, but I don't think he's going to seize the starting job unless disaster strikes. Either way, it's time for him to prove he's an NHL-er or not.
Can Jordan Hendry make the same strides in his game like Hjalmarsson did last season?
No. That was easy. Look, we all like Jordan Hendry around here, but he is what he is. He's got decent wheels, and decent size, but frankly is just a guy. He'll turn 27 in February, as opposed to Hjalmarsson's 21, so he's close to his ceiling. He can get murdered by a passionate forecheck, and brings nothing offensively, save for making Luongo look stupid (but then again, even stone-handed McClure could do that). If Hendry is counted on to be anything than a last-pairing d-man, you'll find me hiding behind the couch.
As a Canadian, am I going to have to listen to the same garbage of how the Vancouver Canucks are the leading contenders to win the West when their goaltender is a fucking rebound machine?
Yes, you are. And I don't know that it's total garbage. While we all had a good chuckle at Dan Hamhuis in the first round last year, the addition of him and Keith Ballard is certainly better than what they had. While the Canucks don't possess what you'd call a stud #1 d-man, they will probably ice three pairs that are #3-#4, and that could be a lot worse. And the Hawks no longer possess the weapon that seemingly drove the entire province into madness (for reasons that really remain inexplicable, I mean, did Chris Pronger look the least bit perturbed?). Unless Kyle Beach turns out to be everything I hope he is. However, until the Canucks prove they're over what really killed them the past two springs -- that being the Children of The Corn and Alex Burrows unable to translate their regular season offense to the post-season -- I won't be convinced. Also, this team's scoring depth isn't as awe inspiring as the Canadian media would have you believe. But the Canucks are going to be very good again, they're going to win that division at a canter, and if you want to go far in the spring you'll probably have to cross paths with them.