Five changes & five questions as the Blackhawks start the new season
It seems like just yesterday that the Blackhawks were skating triumphantly on Boston ice, raising Lord Stanley aloft for the second time in four seasons.
Tuesday night, the summer comes full circle as the puck drops on a new season, and the Blackhawks raise their fifth Stanley Cup banner to the rafters at the United Center.
Let's look back at the moves the Blackhawks made this summer, and ahead to the 2013-2014 season.
FIVE CHANGES THE BLACKHAWKS MADE THIS SUMMER
1. Dave Bolland, Daniel Carcillo, and Michael Frolik were traded out of town. These two moves freed up several million in cap space, and gave the Blackhawks the ability to resign some of the new core players, and plan for the future. Bolland has delivered in the playoffs and Frolik was a major part of last season's penalty kill; Rockford players that secured a spot on the NHL roster are expected to fulfill those roles.
2. New goalie coach Steve Weeks came in to replace the departed Stephan Waite, who left for a new position with the Canadiens. Waite had worked with Corey Crawford for several seasons; it is to be determined what impact Weeks might have on Blackhawks goaltending.
3. The departure of free agents Viktor Stalberg and Ray Emery. Stalberg never quite lived up to expectations, Emery wanted to be the top starter. Stalberg might become the offensive kick that the Predators need; Emery might prove himself a starting goalie again for the Flyers.
4. Bringing back Nikolai Khabibulin. While the Blackhawks signed Finnish goaltending sensation Antti Raanta, there was some discussion about Raanta's transition to North American ice. Khabibulin's signing seems more like insurance until Raanta is ready to transition to the NHL; a bit of seasoning in the AHL as Rockford's starter will be good for him. Khabibulin just has to not blow it as Crawford's backup; nobody is expecting him to compete for the starter's position.
5. Rockford players who are making the leap to the NHL: Ben Smith and Jimmy Hayes, as well as training camp breakout surprise Joakim Nordström, will be on the opening night roster.
FIVE QUESTIONS THE BLACKHAWKS WILL NEED TO ANSWER THIS SEASON
1. Can Michal Handzus be the second-line center? Should he be? Or is he just keeping the position warm until the team can figure out how to bring Brandon Pirri up from Rockford?
2. How will the bottom four defensemen shake out? The top four D are undoubtedly Keith/Seabrook and Hjalmarsson/Oduya. Michael Kostka was a summer signing; he beat out Ryan Stanton for an opening night roster spot; then Stanton was picked up by the Canucks when put on waivers to send him to Rockford. Nick Leddy's consistentcy was questioned last spring; he will need to step up his game this year. Will Rozsival or Brookbank see more time in the 3rd pairing? Which defenseman will spend the most time warming the bench this season?
3. Can players like Bryan Bickell and Nick Leddy live up to their renewed contracts? The Blackhawks handed out a lot of fresh ink this summer, signing new or extended contracts with several players on the team, but Bickell and Leddy may have some of the most to prove.
4. Can the team stay healthy? A few minor injuries and setbacks kept players like Marian Hossa out of pre-season games. While the full roster is proclaimed healthy and ready to go for opening night, who might miss time for health reasons this year?
5. Can the Blackhawks be the first team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups since the 1997 & 1998 Red Wings? The team brought back the majority of their players, and filled the holes mostly with players who are already familiar faces on the team. They are led by the winning-est active coach in the NHL, and they know what they need to do to repeat. How will the compressed schedule and Olympics affect the NHL this year? Everything on paper says it's possible, but only the season ahead will tell.
Tonight, the Blackhawks will face a hungry Washington squad as they raise a handful of new banners to the United Center rafters. Despite annual expectations, the Capitals haven't made it past the quarterfinals in any of the past five years. Their ultra-competitive captain, Alex Ovechkin, will be fresh off the plane from Olympic duties in Greece; there is little doubt that he and the rest of the DC team would enjoy spoiling the Blackhawks' banner raising the way that Chicago spoiled LA's last season.
The puck drops at 7pm CDT on NBCSN.