The Chicago Blackhawks weren't a team that went out and made too many moves over the course of the summer, mainly because they weren't in a position that demanded it. Nearly their entire roster from the team that made a run to Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, falling a goal short in overtime, remains intact, with the only really notable move remaining the addition of Brad Richards.
Rather than rely on outside help to get them over the top, and to a potential third title since 2009-10, the Hawks are going to need bounce-back years from a few key players. These players are mostly up front, where the team already boasts plenty of talent, but there is at least one tremendous asset on the blue line as well that needs to come up large if they are to make another serious run, as most of the planet expects them to.
Any talk of a rebound really begins with Versteeg. Despite the continuing campaign on the part of the fans to unload him to the farthest reaches of Alberta or something, Joel Quenneville loves the veteran forward. Add in the fact that a player with such high upside is on the books for just $2.2 million and it's difficult to see them moving him. In order to make that type of move pay off, however, it's going to require a major improvement on the part of Versteeg.
He's coming off of a year that could be described with a number of terrible adjectives, particularly toward the tail end of the year. The playoffs saw his production fall off completely and playing time dwindle to the point where he was logging less than five minutes in a game. What he needs to do to improve his game is obvious: he needs to carry the puck into the zone more than he dumps it, make smarter decisions on when to pass and when to shoot, and quit overhandling the puck. The good news is he looks quicker and healthier as he's now a season removed from knee surgery. That should go a long way toward aiding him in the rebound process.
Who could have seen this one coming? Hockey player overachieves in playoffs, gets big money contract, fails to live up to big money contract. This is basically the story with Bryan Bickell. In his first season after signing that four-year, $4 million-per-year deal, Bickell completed the regular season with just 15 points in 59 games, including 11 goals. Yes, 15 points. Not a typo.
The good news for Bickell is that he did boast pretty good possession numbers. His on-ice Corsi was fifth on the team among forwards, if you take Jeremy Morin's 24 games out of the equation. The Blackhawks retained him hoping he'd be a physically imposing presence, in addition to a 20-goal scorer. He needs to rediscover that playoff form from 2013 that helped to earn him that contract. If not, we could be talking about him ending up in Calgary for the final two years of that contract at year's end.
It's quite difficult to measure Seabrook's struggles in terms of his numbers, whether standard stats, possession, or otherwise. He notched 41 points on the year, which trailed only Duncan Keith among defenseman, and was third on the team with 68 takeaways on the year. Additionally, his on-ice Corsi trailed only Michal Rozsival and Keith among blue liners. This isn't as dire a situation as a player like Versteeg, as Seabrook is still considered one of the most consistent d-men in the league.
The concern with Brent Seabrook is that he seemed a step slower and found himself out of position on several occasions throughout the season, both during the regular season and the playoffs. This was mostly due to his incredible penchant for pinching and finding himself much too deep into the offensive zone. As long as he can mitigate that, perhaps take more shots from the blue line in order to aid in that process, there's no reason that he shouldn't continue to be considered one of the game's very best from the blue line.
It's difficult to throw Crawford on this list, simply because whatever mediocrity he demonstrates in the playoffs is completely and totally overshadowed by his playoff brilliance. Nonetheless, the regular season play of Crawford would go a long way toward helping the Hawks grab another division title, and fend off the likes of St. Louis and, to a much lesser extent, Colorado in such a race.
Crawford is coming off of a season in which he ranked 9th in the league in goals against average (2.26), but also 17th in the league in goals allowed (128) and 21st in save percentage, at just .917. Crawford is fantastic when playoff time rolls around. It's one of the primary justifications of his contract extension that kicks in this year. Even with that in mind, though, he needs to be better during the regular season, plain and simple.
There might be other names that could have been considered on this list, such as an improved season from Andrew Shaw. Regardless, this Blackhawks roster is yet another one that should be in the mix for a Stanley Cup title. Especially when you consider the fact that an exhausted club nearly outworked one of the strongest defensive clubs in the league in getting to overtime in Game 7. They're in great shape, and bounce-back years from the likes of Versteeg and Bickell should prove particularly fruitful in allowing them to continue their NHL dominance.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.