Category Archives: Season Preview

Season Preview: Great Expectations

By Brad Vandenberk

As I awoke on the morning of January 6th 2013, it was like Christmas all over again. I learned that the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association had announced an agreement was in place and a condensed season was on the horizon.

The first thing I thought of was when do the Blackhawks play?  I immediately used every possible angle to let the world know that hockey was back!   Will the fans be coming back to watch their favourite teams?

Well, I believe that question was answered when arenas all over North America filled up to watch their favourite teams practice.  That’s right, I said Practice!  Fans will come back and watch the game because hockey is a culture.  I didn’t realize how much the sport of hockey has involved in every aspect of a fan’s life until I began to change my daily routines to get prepared for the upcoming 48 game season.  Adjusting my work schedules to be able to watch each game as well as waiting online to purchase tickets to a few of the road games.

Growing up In Niagara Falls Ontario, I have only made a few trips to Chi Town to see my beloved Blackhawks play at the Untied Center, however when they make the flight to Buffalo, Toronto or Detroit, I always head to the rink. Read more »

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Blackhawks preview: It’s Time to Step Up

By Brad Gardner

After two consecutive first-round playoff exits, the entire Blackhawks organization has a lot at stake heading into the abbreviated 2013 season. For better or worse, the club entered training camp with a roster that was very similar to the 45-win team from a season ago. The only new additions – defensemen Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank – do not figure to see huge roles during the upcoming season. If the Blackhawks are going to put the last two seasons behind them, they will need bigger contributions from the following groups of players with something to prove this season.

Goaltenders

The last time the Blackhawks entered a season with the same goaltending tandem as they utilized the year before was 2007-08, when Nikolai Khabibulin and Patrick Lalime returned to the Chicago crease for a second season together. Both Corey Crawford and Ray Emery will be relied upon to secure wins this season, something that is even more important out of the gate as the skaters get back into game shape and adjust to the breakneck pace of the compacted schedule. Read more »

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Season Preview: Ben Smith

image credit: Zimbio.com

By Brad Gardner

The hyperbole in Chicago surrounding Ben Smith hit a fever pitch late last season and has carried over into big expectations for the 23-year-old winger. Originally a sixth round pick in 2008, he has made a quick climb up Chicago’s prospect ranks and is poised to move into the NHL full-time this season.

Smith had his fans coming out of the NCAA following a four-year career at Boston College in which he contributed to two National Championship teams. A hard-working, defensively-sound forward, he also had strong production at the college level, including a 50-point season as a sophomore when he played mostly on a line with Buffalo’s Nathan Gerbe. He capped off his impressive career at Boston College with a Frozen Four MVP in 2010 at Ford Field with three goals and an assist in helping the Eagles capture their second National Championship in three years. Read more »

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Season Preview: Patrick Kane – Coming of Age

photo credit: Zimbio

By Jon Fromi

Patrick Kane had a season of ups and downs in the 2010-11 campaign.  Add some offseason surgery to reports of Kane committing to raising his game and the 22-year old winger certainly has a lot to prove to the NHL this coming season.

“I think it’s about that time I really take the next step to the elite level,” Kane told reporters soon after reporting for training camp. “It seems like everyone’s kind of been saying that to me this summer, ‘All right, you’ve done well your first four years, now let’s really take that step to the next level and become one of the best players in the league.’”

Is 2007’s first overall draft selection maturing on and off the ice? Read more »

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Season Preview: Nick Leddy – Changing Levels

photo credit: Zimbio / Getty Images

By Brad Gardner

Acquired from Minnesota along with Kim Johnsson in February 2010 in the trade that sent Cam Barker to the Wild, Nick Leddy was thought to still be a few years away from making an impact at the pro level. After making big strides in his game as a freshman at the University of Minnesota in 2009-10 and another strong showing at Chicago’s prospect camp the following summer, Leddy showed that he was much closer than originally thought. Blackhawks’ GM Stan Bowman signed the defenseman to a pro deal after just the one year of college hockey, citing the prospect camp performance as the club’s main reason for bringing him into the fold so soon.

Leddy continued to impress at training camp heading into the 2010-11 season. He stuck with the big club out of camp in large part because Brian Campbell was going to miss time at the start of the year due to injury, but the look at the NHL lasted only six games. In Rockford, Leddy was able to play a bigger role and earn more ice time, particularly on special teams. He scored two goals and eight assists in 22 AHL games as a 19-year-old and was tied for third among IceHogs defensemen in points by the time he left for Team USA’s World Junior camp. Leddy’s minus-7 at the AHL level was as much an indication of the team’s struggles in the first half of the season as it was a sign of his own struggles in the defensive end. Read more »

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Season Preview: Corey Crawford – To be The man

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By Brad Gardner

The Blackhawks’ goaltending position underwent more turnover last season, as another prospect overtook a veteran to earn a bulk of the load down the stretch. Longtime Chicago goalie prospect Corey Crawford finally had his chance with the big club last season and did not falter, appearing in 57 regular season games for the ‘Hawks and starting all seven playoff games against the Canucks.

Crawford’s surge came just one season after Finnish prospect Antti Niemi took the reigns from Cristobal Huet and eventually led the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup. Even dating back to the 2008-09 season, veteran Nikolai Khabibulin was halfway out the door at the start of the season but earned a bulk of starts down the stretch and in the playoffs for the ‘Hawks. It has practically been a revolving door in Chicago’s net and that trend continued heading into the 2010-11 season.

During the summer of 2010, with the salary cap looming large over all of GM Stan Bowman’s maneuvers, the organization opted to walk away from Antti Niemi’s $2.75 million arbitration award months just after the goalie raised the Stanley Cup. With Niemi out of the picture, Bowman turned to former Dallas Stars’ stalwart Marty Turco. Even at 35 years old by the start of the season, Turco was expected to carry the load as Crawford eased into his first full season of NHL duty. Read more »

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Season Preview: Jeremy Morin

photo credit: Hockey Broad

By Jon Fromi

Jeremy Morin is a name that has been at or near the top of the Blackhawks’ prospect list since Chicago obtained his rights 14 months ago. As last season’s training camp came to a close, it appeared that the Auburn, New York native was on a fast track to the NHL.

Almost a year later, Morin is playing what has to be a frustrating waiting game, one that will likely continue for the talented forward until two things occur. A spot on the roster will need to be won. First, Morin will need a clean bill of health in order for that to happen.

Morin, a product of the United States Hockey Developmental Program, was a second-round pick by Atlanta in 2009. Following his selection, Morin torched the Ontario Hockey League for 47 goals and 36 assists in 58 games with the Kitchener Rangers. He was also a point a game player in seven games for the U.S.A.’s gold medal team at the 2010 World Junior Championships. Read more »

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Season Preview: Marcus Kruger

By Jon Fromi

The circumstances surrounding the arrival of center Marcus Kruger late in the 2010-11 season set up the young Swedish import for scrutiny that was unrealistic as well as completely unnecessary.

Chicago GM Stan Bowman admitted that Kruger came into a tough situation last spring in his remarks to the media Friday. The head scratcher is that Bowman created that situation himself.

Kruger, the Blackhawks’ fifth-round draft selection in 2009, made an impression on the club in Chicago’s prospect camp and, according to Bowman, had a shot at making the team last fall.  This prompted Bowman to sign Kruger to an entry-level deal.  Kruger then chose to return to the Swedish Elite League, where he had played 53 games in his first two seasons as a professional.

Whether Kruger didn’t feel ready for the rigors of the NHL or simply wanted to cash some more SEL paychecks, Kruger returned home. Playing in 52 contests, he led sixth-place Djurgardens IF in scoring. Seems like Bowman misjudged that situation as well, but it’s what happened in the spring with which issue can be taken. Read more »

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Season Preview: Viktor Stalberg

photo credit: Zimbio

By Brad Gardner

The most immediate return from the Blackhawks’ summer purge in 2010, Viktor Stalberg skated in 77 games with Chicago during the ensuing season. With the exception of the nine-game debut of Jeremy Morin, Stalberg was the only player acquired last summer to suit up with the ‘Hawks during the 2010-11 season.  Much of the remaining returns came in the form of prospects and draft picks, so it will take years to determine just how effective Stan Bowman’s maneuvering turns out to be for the Blackhawks organization.

For the quick triggers, though, Viktor Stalberg was most certainly not Kris Versteeg last season. Coming from Toronto along with prospects Chris DiDomenico and Philippe Paradis, the big Swede was coming off a solid NHL debut of nine goals in 40 NHL games with the Maple Leafs in just his first pro season out of the University of Vermont.  While thoughts of a blazing fast 20-goal scorer danced through the minds of fans, Stalberg instead struggled to carve out a role on the Blackhawks’ roster and was relegated to the fourth line for much of the season. Read more »

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Season Preview: Michael Frolik – More than a Skille

photo credit: National Post/Getty

By Jon Fromi

The Chicago Blackhawks thought they were picking up a certain type of player when they dealt Jack Skille to the Florida Panthers in exchange for winger Michael Frolik back on February 9th.

The two players were at the heart of a five-player swap back in February that served as a bit of organizational house cleaning for both teams.  GM Stan Bowman thought Frolik could snap out of a scoring funk and provide depth that Skille was not able to provide in Chicago.

At the time, both franchises were sending away players who had failed to live up to expectations. Looking back at the trade, the Blackhawks may have gotten a different player than they bargained for. Read more »

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