We now stand on the precipice of the defense of the Stanley Cup - the offseason sure does fly by when you play into June the season prior. The hangover’s barely worn off. But the start of training camp a few weeks ago signaled the start of what’s sure to be an interesting and entertaining season in the NHL.
This year’s Blackhawks training camp was one of the most watched in the league. With the loss of basically two entire forward lines and both goaltenders due to the capocalypse, there were a lot of playing spots up for grabs. I suspect we probably won’t have a good idea of who’s filling in the departed’s shoes until the All Star break, so expect the Hawks’ iPass account to be ringing up the tolls with the number of guys doing the I-90 shuffle. In any case, here’s a brief breakdown of training camp and the preseason.
Kyle Beach - Beach was probably the most hyped prospect this offseason. With the loss of Dustin Byfuglien, many thought Beach would fill that role, albeit with a scoring touch Buff never had. Unfortunately, the tone was set when Beach foolishly pummeled Mathis Olimb to a months long shoulder injury during the prospects camp in July. Kyle has the talent to succeed in the NHL - he just lacks maturity and common sense. Hopefully he gets his ass kicked in the AHL a few times and will be ready for another look in the new year.
Igor Makarov - With 3G & 3A in training camp and a much talked about showing at the Toronto Rookie Tournament, all eyes were on Igor (EYE-gor) in the preseason to see how he’d perform at the NHL level. The Answer: not all that great. Makarov looked a little lost & never seemed to click with any of his teammates on the lines he was placed. He played two seasons in the KHL, so I think some time in scenic Rockford should better acclimate him to the North American game.
Jeremy Morin - I was just about to include Morin in my list of preseason standouts, when word came down that he’d been given an iPass and sent to Rockford. He still had a great preseason - 1G & 3A in the fake games and 2G & 2A in camp. He reminds me of another Jeremy that also wore #27 - quick, shifty and has a nose for the net. Honestly his age (he’s a baby at 19) and lack of pro experience is what got him sent down to the Hogs. I would expect him up for a cup of coffee sooner than later though.
Fernando Pisani - Fernando (“Don’t call my name, don’t call my name”) really impressed me. I honestly only knew of him due to his UC commercials and the inevitable shit jokes that followed. As someone in my family suffers from UC, I didn’t find those jokes amusing. In any case, Pisani had 1G & 3A in 5 preseason games and proved to be very valuable on the PK. The question, of course, is his health. If we can get 60 quality games from Pisani, I will be pleased.
Tomas Kopecky - Perhaps it’s the fact he’s been paired up with Toews & Hossa in the preseason. Or maybe he realizes with the turnover on the team, this is an opportunity for him to shine this season. Whatever the case, TomoKop had 2G & 2A in five preseason games, and in the two games I witnessed, could have easily potted a couple additional goals if he would have hit the target. It wouldn’t surprise me if Kopecky tops 30 points easily this season.
Nick Leddy - Let’s be honest. If Soupy doesn’t get hurt last Friday, in all likelihood Leddy would have been sent off to juniors. But shit happens, and now Nick has the opportunity of a lifetime. I didn’t notice him too much in the two games I saw in person, and I guess that’s not a bad thing. The coaching staff must be high on him, as they easily could have brought up Connelly or Vishnevskiy instead. We’ll see if Leddy can stick around for more than nine games or if he’ll be shipped off before then. Fun Fact: I sat next to Leddy’s family at the prospect camp in July. His nephew was wearing a Leddy Gophers jersey.
Onto the fun stuff now. With cuts having been made and Cullimore and Potulny put on waivers, here is how the lines matched up today in practice:
Tomas Kopecky - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Fernando Pisani - Patrick Sharp - Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell - Dave Bolland - Troy Brouwer
Viktor Stalberg - Jake Dowell - Jack Skille
As I said before, the Toews & the Slovaks line seemed to perform well in preseason. The line’s success will live and die by how well Kopecky can handle top line minutes. Pisani moving up to the second line is a bit of a surprise, but his defensive skills should open up Kane and Sharpie to take more aggressive shots. The Triple B line looks to punish opponents. It looks like the the fourth line is more made up of guys who didn’t really fit elsewhere, so we’ll have to wait and see how they do. Skille has his chance to disprove he was a waste of a first round pick, Stalberg could make us forget Vertseeg (heh), and Dowell, is well, a guy. Of course we all know that Coach Q will change these lines early and often. I predict by 8:43 of the second vs. Colorado. If he does, may I request the Brouwer - Toews - Kane line? That was my favorite line last year. I’m a little surprised they don’t have an extra forward with the team right now, but that may change by Thursday.
As for the defense:
Keith - Seabrook
Hjalmarsson - Leddy
Hendry - Scott
Nothing needs to be said about Dunc/Seabs as they are one of, if not the best pairings in the league. Hendry - Scott should be a bit of an adventure, but what third D pairing isn’t? I would suspect Boynton will be an interchangeable part of that third pair (once he’s done with his suspension for being a bag of dicks) depending on the level of physicality the team may need. Or if someone needs Scott to reach over the glass and purchase a beer from a vendor during the game as he wouldn’t need to stand on the bench to do so. The question mark is going to be Leddy & Toftbo. Niklas probably could be in a top D pairing on many other teams at the moment. But will he be impeded by trying to cover for Leddy? Time well tell, but one must remember Hjalmarsson, Keith & Seabrook weren’t too much older than Nick when they all got their starts. Besides, Campbell will be back soon enough to avoid a complete defensive disaster of a season.
And the goaltending:
I can’t recall a Stanley Cup Champion losing *both* of the goaltenders the following season, but it is what it is. Turco brings a veteran presence in addition to the best puck handling skillz of any goaltender in the NHL. Unfortunately he tends to be too aggressive with the puck at times as we saw Sunday when he let in two due to gaffes with the puck. Hopefully he remembers he is not in Dallas and that he actually has a defense in front of him this year - let them make the bulk of the plays. As for Crawford, he finally has his shot to get 20-30 starts in the NHL. For all intensive purposes, this is his tryout for the #1 job next year. I’ve never been too high on him, but then again I shrugged when Niemi was named the backup last year. I’m keeping an open mind and hopefully he will impress.
I think due to Soupy’s injury and the fact that half the team is new, the first six weeks or so of the season may be a bit rough. I’m hoping that they will stay at .500 for the months of October and November, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they dipped a bit below. Perhaps that will mean I can get tickets to games not too much above face (not holding my breath). I do think though that the Hawks will pick it up around the holidays and finish at a good clip the rest of the way. My prediction? The Hawks will finish with 104 points. You’ll have to wait for my entire NHL predictions tomorrow!