The last time that the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2009-10 they had to strip away several important parts from their team. The NHL salary cap pushed Chicago into dispatching the likes of Kris Versteeg, Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Brent Sopel, Colin Fraser and Andrew Ladd from that Championship roster.
The net result was that Chicago would have an early exit and lose in the Western Conference quarterfinals to Vancouver to end their 2010-11 season much earlier than anticipated. While those lost pieces were not the key cogs for the 2009-10 Cup run, those players were important and it took the Blackhawks a few years to reload. After their latest Stanley Cup victory, the Hawks still had to unload some players, but not to the extent that they did three summers ago.
It helps that current Chicago general manager Stan Bowman did not hand out bloated contracts the way former Chicago general manager Dale Tallon did with goalie Cristobal Huet – a pact that the team was still paying even when Huet was playing in Switzerland a few years later.
This time around the Blackhawks were not hit as hard by the salary cap, and have been able to sign some of their future players, goalie Corey Crawford, forward Bryan Bickell and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to long-term contracts. The team lost center Dave Bolland, forward Viktor Stalberg, forward Michael Frolik and goalie Ray Emery for this past offseason, but their impact was not as great as the last post-Cup group lost in Chicago, and the Blackhawks still have the core that has given them two Cups in four years including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp.
While Hossa's days might be numbered as a potent offensive force (he turns 35 in January), the club still has several quality years ahead of them with the rest of the core, the lone question mark being if the braintrust will be able to keep all of those players with the salary cap.
Bowman has gone as far as to say that both Kane and Toews will be wearing the Indian Head for the rest of their career. Without Ray Emery to share the load, the Hawks rewarded Crawford with a six-year contract extension. The Blackhawks did bring back an old friend, in former Hawk Nikolai Khabibulin, but at age-40 he is not a threat to take away playing time from Crawford.
While many would think the farm system would be bare that is not the case. Forward Brandon Saad, who only registered 27 points last season, showed that he might be ready to make another step forward and can be a great insurance policy if one of the Hawks top scorers is injured or lost to free agency in the near future.
Along with Saad, while not elite there are solid prospects including forwards Brandon Pirri and Jeremy Morin, Tuevo Teravainen as well as defenseman Adam Clendening. There are also the recent system graduates in Bickell, Marcus Kruger, Andrew Shaw and Nick Leddy.
While the numbers are intact for the Blackhawks to make another run for the Cup, it will still be difficult for Chicago to become the first team to win back-to-back Cups since the 1997-98 Red Wings, although the path through the Western Conference is a bit easier with the Hawks' long-time foe to the north now residing in the East.
The Big Guns
Jonathan Toews (C): Toews averaged about a point-per-game during the lock-out shortened season (23 goals, 25 assists), but most hockey observers believe he could deliver 100 points in a season if he'd only just focus on the offensive zone. But that's not Toews, who reads the game with the very best and takes his own-zone responsibilities seriously. He's an elite center who should be off the board right after Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and feel free to count on 35 goals and 85 points. He's one of the best.
Patrick Kane (RW): Kane really grew up before last season and that newfound maturity delivered him the best point-per-game production of his career. He needs to be one of the first right wingers off the draft board (if not the first). But just remember this is an Olympic year with extraordinary travel demands. Kaner has played a lot of games since the start of 2013 and a workload that includes the Olympics could really cause a second-half slow down. Relatively speaking, of course -- he'll still finish with elite numbers overall. But don't be afraid to consider a deadline trade to leverage his value at its highest point.
Marian Hossa (RW): Hossa continues to contribute well into his mid-30s. After delivering 31 points in 40 regular-season games, he had the third-most playoff points (seven goals, nine assists) for the Cup-winning Hawks. His days of 90 or 100 points are long gone, but he could certainly duplicate his output of the last couple of years where he averaged almost a point a game.
On The Rise
Brandon Saad (C): Saad made the 2013 NHL All-Rookie squad and was a Calder Trophy nominee after he scored 10 goals and added 17 assists in 46 games last season. This output is just the tip of the iceberg, but he needs to develop more consistency to fulfill his potential as a power forward. He'll be a top-nine guy with the Hawks this season and could see time on the second line, too. But beware the sophomore slump. It doesn't happen to everyone, but when it does, it ruins fantasy seasons.
Andrew Shaw (C): Shaw translated a relatively quiet regular season (nine goals and six assists) into a warmer postseason (five goals and four assists in 23 games), and the Hawks would obviously prefer the playoff Shaw to show up in 2013-14. The team would ideally like to roll him on a pesky third line, but he could get an audition on the wing on the second line if Patrick Sharp is forced to move to center. And there's way more value in that than toiling on the PK.
Two To Watch
Bryan Bickell (LW): The Blackhawks are hoping that a hot 2013 playoff performance will propel Bickell to a huge 2013-14 season. He earned a big new contract on the back of a nine-goal performance, including the game-tying goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, during the Hawks' Cup run. He could have signed an even bigger contract had he left Chicago, but wisely realized his best bet was to stay and ride shotgun on a line with Jonathan Toews. Can he take the next step? Time will tell, but that postseason will make him an overdraft for sure. Don't lose your mind and be the one to over pay.
Nick Leddy (D): Leddy is an enigma wrapped up in a riddle. By the end of the playoffs, he barely saw the ice (and we really mean barely). But then the team inked him to a two-year contract extension after the season. What gives? They must like him for the future, so maybe the reduced ice time was just a response to his developmental needs. It's hard to anticipate his production in 2013-14; for now, it's a wait and see.
Patrick Sharp (LW): A healthy Sharp will be a big plus for the Hawks in the 2013-14 season. He suffered through an injury-plagued season in 2012-13 and accumulated just six goals and 14 assists in 28 games. But he turned it on in the postseason and led Chicago with 10 goals. He might have to shift to center ice this season if one of the Hawks' youngsters doesn't step up. His production may go down if he has to take on the extra responsibilities that comes with being a pivot, so watch the Hawks carefully during camp to see what transpires.
Corey Crawford (G): Crawford rewarded the Blackhawks' faith in him with an outstanding postseason run to the Stanley Cup. He and Ray Emery had battled for starts all season, with Crawford eventually getting the majority of starts because of an injury to Emery. But once he took over the net, Crawford never looked back. Overall, he had his best season in three years with a 1.94 goals against average and a .926 save percentage, and then topped that in the playoffs with a .932 save percentage and a 1.84 GAA. Oh yah -- and a Stanley Cup. He plays in a great system and has lots of support on a strong Hawks' squad. And his name has even been mentioned as a possibility for Team Canada's Olympic squad. You've come a long way, Corey Crawford. And he should be one of the better fantasy goalies this season.
Jeremy Morin (LW): This 22-year-old forward has had a few cups of coffee with the Blackhawks over the last few years, but he just couldn't stick. But this might finally be the season he makes the jump to the big club. Last year was his best year in the AHL (30 goals and 29 assists in 67 games) and he appears ready for a new challenge. He'll need time to adjust to the speed of the NHL game, but he could deliver fringe fantasy value in a few seasons.
Teuvo Teräväinen (LW): The Blackhawks' first-round pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft is moving closer to seeing time with the big club. The reports of his play in the Finnish Elite League are very good and while he will most likely be playing in Finland again, he is getting closer to moving across the pond. He's an elite talent for those in dynasty formats willing to wait. Make sure he's on your keeper squad.
Brandon Pirri (C): Pirri led the AHL last season with 75 points in 76 games, but the biggest improvement in his game came in his own zone. And now that the two sides of his game have started to align, Pirri is ready to take a run on the job of second-line center with the Hawks for 2013-14. That's a big leap for a 22-year-old with just seven NHL games under his belt, but it would allow the Hawks to keep Patrick Sharp on his natural wing. File Pirri's name away -- even if he struggles a little bit, he will have elite linemates like Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp. And that means points will come from just stepping on the ice.
Dylan Olsen (D): Olsen could be one of the young and up-and-coming Hawks that could see minutes with the big club. He now has three years under his belt with Rockford of the AHL and might be ready to at least get some time in Chicago. Olsen is a stay-at-home blueliner who is unlikely to provide much fantasy value when he hits the big club.