NHL season preview 2014-15: Three big questions facing the Chicago Blackhawks
Every team enters the season with some question marks, and the Blackhawks are no different. Let's take a look at three of the biggest surrounding the team right now.
SB Nation rolls out its big NHL 2014-15 season preview on Monday, and we're super excited to share that with you all when it goes up. As part of that, we've posed some of the key questions surrounding the Blackhawks entering the season. and now it's time to start digging for answers.
1. Someone’s getting traded by opening day, but who?
So many questions entering the season, but only one demands particular urgency. The Blackhawks, at the moment, sit roughly $2.2 million over the salary cap, according to CapGeek. That means, one way or another, GM Stan Bowman needs to free up salary and get the team below that threshold before the beginning of the season.
At this point, pretty much everyone around the team agrees that trading a defenseman is the obvious solution. The harder part is determining just which guy will go, and how much the team can get in return. The big names and young guns aren't going anywhere, but three pending free agents -- Nick Leddy, Johnny Oduya and Michal Rozsival -- stand out.
Oduya makes the most of the trio, at $3.375 million, but also seems least likely to be dealt. He's a Joel Quenneville favorite and feels destined to continue filling his role on the second line beside Niklas Hjalmarsson. Leddy makes $2.7 million, and would likely command the strongest return given his upside and youth. One rumor has the Hawks trying to package Leddy with Kris Versteeg, who's trying to rebound from a miserable end to last season. That would be a significant loss in talent, but one that the team is arguably built to survive while getting nearly $3 million under the cap.
And then there's Rozsival, who makes $2.2 million and could get the team right to the threshold. I'm not sure why a team would want to give up value for the right to pay a decent sixth defenseman $2.2 million, but you can be rest assured that's something Bowman is hoping for right now. Otherwise, as much as it pains me to say it, shipping off the talented Leddy might be the likely course of action.
2. Did the Hawks do enough to keep up during the offseason?
Nearly every top team in the Western Conference, outside of Chicago and L.A., took a significant leap forward over the summer. Those two didn't make major changes because they didn't need to, but after meeting in the West Finals for one of the best series I've ever witnessed, the field has caught up some this year.
In Anaheim, they added Ryan Kesler and Clayton Stoner. Dallas bolstered an already impressive group of forwards by landing Jason Spezza. St. Louis now has Paul Stastny. Minnesota added Thomas Vanek. Colorado may take a step back, but Jarome Iginla, Brad Stuart and Danny Briere will do their best to prevent that.
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, replaced Michal Handzus with Brad Richards on a bargain deal. That's about it. The biggest move of the offseason, frankly, could be the trade that comes days before the first puck is dropped. Otherwise, GM Stan Bowman was surprisingly conservative while the rest of the conference made significant additions.
Chicago remains in a position to contend, and even after the variety of moves across the conference, it's hard to slot anyone ahead of the Hawks and Kings yet. But the gap appears to be closing between those two and the rest of the West, and come the spring we might be wondering why we were so confident in effectively standing pat for a summer.
Did the Hawks do enough to keep up? In a word, yes. But I don't think that's saying much.
3. What will ultimately happen with Teuvo Teräväinen?
The biggest question surrounding the team throughout training camp at the University of Notre Dame persists with just 10 days before the regular season. Teuvo Teravainen, precocious Finnish phenom and the Hawks' next best shot at a star player, has been competing for a roster spot this fall after spending last year in his native country.
Based on raw talent, Teravainen would appear to be one of the most talented players in the organization, something he reminded fans of Sunday night with his first-ever goal in a Hawks uniform on Sunday night -- sliding into slot, he fired one clean past the Oilers' goalie, off the metal and in. It was textbook, and it was beautiful to watch, even on a grainy online stream from Saskatoon, Canada.
With so much riding on Teravainen, many folks want to see him in the lineup from Day 1. He's too talented, and there's too much upside, in letting him waste reps in Rockford. That's the idea, anyways.
However, the early indications signal the Blackhawks will indeed send Teravainen to the AHL for the beginning of the season. Part of this may stem from his recent absence due to a minor upper body injury. Those were important reps that Teuvo missed, and the team may want to be 100 percent confident in him physically before letting him loose in real games. But he's also just 20 years old, and the team has other solid options. This would be different if the Blackhawks were desperately searching for help at center.
So for now, it appears we'll be seeing Toews-Richards-Shaw-Kruger up the middle for the Blackhawks, with Teravainen waiting in the wings. He should be up fairly soon this season -- I think we're all hoping to see him before the calendar turns in a few months -- and once he gets here, it should be fun.