The dreadful Chicago baseball season recently ended. The Bears look like a seven or eight win team at best. The Bulls might not have a season. Hockey is back and the Chicago Blackhawks season couldn't have come any sooner.
The Hawks should rebound from what ended up to be a disappointing season following their Stanley Cup win. Last seasons failure could have occurred for many reasons. The Hawks rarely had a full squad all season. Just about every key player missed some significant time with injury. This was especially hard on the Hawks, because they lost a significant amount of depth do to salary cap restraints. The loss of key role players from the Stanley Cup Team like Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Laad, Kris Versteeg, John Madden, amongst others really showed up when depth was needed to step up when stars were out of the lineup.
One other area the Blackhawks struggled at last season was they seemed to be a lot less physical than the previous years squad. That shouldn't be the case this season with several physically minded players signed this offseason. The Hawks brought in scrappers like Dan Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, Steve Montador, and Sean O'Donnell who are veterans not afraid of dropping their gloves and getting under their opponents skin.
The other key to the Hawks offseason was re-signing one of their top players, Patrick Sharp. Sharp may have been the Hawks best player last season and it was huge bringing him back.
The only real loss for the Blackhawks was Brian Campbell. Campbell was ok as a defenseman, but had a horrible contract which the Blackhawks had to get off their books.
The nucleus is still there on the front line for the Hawks. Sharp, Kane, Toews, and Hossa are all back and their health and success wll depend on whether or not the Hawks will be able to return to the promise land. Dave Bolland, Michael Frolik, and Viktor Stalberg will add depth to the front line.
The interesting story coming out of camp was youngster Brandon Saad. The 18 year old opened many eyes in the preseason and in training camp to the point he made the opening day roster. Saad will add depth to an already deep group of forwards.
On defense the main players are back in Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, and Niklas Hjalmarsson. You know what you have in Keith and Seabrook and they are two of the best in the game. Hjalmarsson seemed to take a step back last season and hopefully will rebound in 2011-12. Nick Leddy will most likely be asked to step up to take over the spot vacated by the departure of Brian Campbell.
In goal Corey Crawford is the man once again. Crawford had a great season for the Blackhawks last season and should continue to do the same. Backing up Crawford will be veteran Ray Emery. Emery wasn't great in the preseason, but the veteran has a good track record and when needed should be solid in goal for the Hawks.
The Hawks will be one of the best teams in the NHL this season. Their division is pretty solid, but I think they should win it. The conference is loaded once again with the typical strong teams still hanging around in Vancouver, Detroit, and San Jose. Los Angeles improved in the offseason and have been picked by some experts to win the Cup.
I expect the Hawks to be back closer to their 2009-10 form. There is no reason to think they can't win the Cup again, because they have the talent to do so. Assuming they are able to stay healthy the possibility of playing in June is very realistic. Enjoy the ride.