Of all positions, the Blackhawks’ defense has changed the least this off-season. Only the $2.3m/yr penalty-killing machine they call Brent Sopel has gone, and though we’ll miss his willingness to sacrifice his body to block shots, we all knew he was a cap hit that had to go. In his place, presumably, we have the veteran presence of one Nick Boynton, and Jordan Hendry will with little doubt be filling in as a regular 3rd pair defenseman.
After a stellar year that saw him lose seven teeth but win Olympic Gold, Stanley Cup, Norris Trophy, and almost come home with the Conn Smythe as well, Keith seems to have little left to strive for. So it’s actually really good to hear that his mindset is more focused on being more like Lidstrom and Niedermayer, “guys who win every year, not just once.” Sure, he’ll have Drew Doughty nipping at his heels for the Norris, maybe even Chara and Lidstrom returning to form, but the Hawks’ top defenseman is young, healthy, and ready for another 82++ games of awesomeness.
Last Season's Stat Line: 82 GP, 14 G, 55 A, 69 PTS, +21
Bold Prediction: All of his stat lines increase to 15 goals, 60 assists, 75 points, +25 in the regular season, and 9 teeth knocked out in the postseason.
It’s Brent Seabrook’s contract year and as far as popular belief goes, that probably means good things for the team, at least in terms of his production this season. Whether he signs for three or five or thirty years (probably not thirty, don’t worry) is irrelevant-- from Stan Bowman’s comments in the preseason it’s clear that he’s already got his eye on re-signing Seabrook to an extension even before the season is over. And why shouldn’t he? Despite some health concerns arising from a few concussions suffered, Seabrook is probably the Hawks’ top hitter this season, and will continue to anchor the Hawks’ top pair.
Last Season's Stat Line: 78 GP, 4 G, 26 A, 30 PTS, +20
Bold Prediction: Seabrook’s first big hit of the season will be on October 27, 2010, against Drew Doughty, for no apparent reason. Reports that witnesses heard Brent say “THAT’S for stealing my defensive partner during the Olympics!” will remain unconfirmed.
After a career season that saw him tally 8 goals, 54 assists, and 62 points playing for two teams, Brian Campbell signed one of the biggest free agency contracts tendered and would have been Chicago’s whipping boy since, had Huet not come along with him. He was still in All-Star form his first year as a Hawk, if something of a defensive headache, but his numbers took a bit of a dip last year. Part of it may be due to his demotion to the second power play unit (why? WHY?) as well as Quenneville increasing emphasis on his defensive game, but it’s funny because that was the year that fans started to forgive him his salary. If you ever come across yet another blog post about how the Hawks lost 79 goals this summer, look to Brian Campbell and what we can expect to be a bigger role in the Hawks’ special teams to help fill in for that 79-goal hole, even just a little bit. It helps knowing he’s just as determined to succeed as we are hopeful he will.
Last Season's Stat Line: 68 GP, 7 G, 31 A, 38 PTS, +18
Bold Prediction: “Andrew, I am your father.”
No matter what Stan Bowman says, when the Sharks tendered Niklas Hjalmarsson an offer sheet this summer, the future of the Blackhawks came down to Hammer or Niemi, and brass chose the defenseman. It is nothing against Niemi, but the guiding philosophy for the organization is clearly to depend heavily on a strong defensive core (which makes sense, considering how goaltending development can sometimes be erratic, whereas blueliners tend to improve as they get more experience) and thanks to Doug Wilson, now we have 3/4 of that locked up for the next 4 years. Hjalmarsson will likely be leaned upon for the penalty kill-- in the absence of Sopel I’d bet my firstborn Hammer takes the lead in shots blocked this season-- and depending on how the Hawks coaches see it, could be given time on the man advantage as well. But the important thing is that the Hawks have found someone reliable enough to be left in his own zone while Campbell runs around pretending he’s Mike Green 2.0, and honestly, that’s all we could ever ask for.
Last Season's Stat Line: 77 GP, 2 G, 15 A, 17 PTS, +17
Bold Prediction: Mid-season, Hammer will block a shot so excruciatingly painful to watch everyone closes their eyes for a full minute. He’ll continue to play the rest of the game, however, and prove to everyone just how durable Swedish imports can be.
A late season waiver pick-up, Nick Boynton joined the Blackhawks when it became apparent that Kim Johnsson was never going to join us back from the dead. Told by Randy Carlyle that he just wasn’t good enough to play in the NHL anymore, Boynton then went on to take over for Hendry in the Stanley Cup Finals and now his name’s engraved on Lord Stanley. He’s a fairly solid 5th or 6th defenseman, but don’t be surprised if people start romanticizing Brent Sopel’s time with the Hawks before long.
Last Season's Stat Line (with the Hawks): 7 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PT, +4
Bold Prediction: A veteran player looking to provide the Hawks’ locker room with some leadership and stability in the last few years of his career? Hey Patrick Kane, we’ve found you a new limo buddy!
Half the time Hendry was on the bench, but on the times he wasn’t, he didn’t fuck up too badly. It’s all you can ask of your third pair defenseman, and this year we’ll definitely see Hendry in a more regular role-- hopefully not against top forwards. It’s interesting to note, however, that when Quenneville was asked about the PK void that Sopel left behind though, he brought up Boynton, Campbell, and Scott, but not Hendry. Make of that what you will.
Last Season's Stat Line: 43 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 PTS, +8
Bold Prediction: By March, when the Chicago media have exhausted nearly all possible fluff pieces about the Hawks, we’ll discover the hardships he faced playing in the University of Alaska and what the undrafted road was like. (Is it too early to claim royalties for this story idea?)
Expectations have a funny way of changing perception. This summer when the Hawks signed John Scott, nobody could stop laughing his eventual playing time off as a harbinger of doom for the Hawks. Then the preseason started, and suddenly we’re hearing “Oh, he’s not that bad, is he?” and he’s on the fast track to becoming a fan favorite. Which is fair, since everyone basically thought he’d be Lurch on skates out there-- but his skill level will still be that of a 7th defenseman. Nothing more, nothing less, but at least we aren’t paying through the nose for role players any longer.
Last Season's Stat Line (with the Wild): 51 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, -3
Bold Prediction: John Scott will actually lose more fights than he wins, but nobody in Chicago notices. They start chanting his name anyway-- even in games where he’s scratched.