We have made it to the end of this crazy train that is our Blackhawks Player Previews, and no we get set to set to take a look at the roster as a whole. There are a lot of people with a lot of opinions on these Blackhawks, as some feel like they won’t even make the playoffs this season, and others feel like they’re ready to compete for the Stanley Cup again. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle (I think they’ll make the playoffs, and once they’re there just about anything could happen), but in reality there is a strong chance for either of those scenarios to play out.
There’s a lot of “if’s” either way, so it’s basically up to the eye of the beholder which “if’s” seem more likely. They could be a Cup Contender if Corey Crawford remains the best goaltender in the Western Conference. They’ll probably miss the playoffs if Crawford experiences any sort of long term injury. They might be a Cup Contender if Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz can put up 60 points with Patrick Kane. They could miss the playoffs if those two can’t produce quite yet. They could be a Cup Contender if even two of Connor Murphy, Michal Kempny, and Gustav Forsling prove themselves as capable top-4 defensemen. They could miss the playoffs if those players don’t take the next step. All of those scenarios are certainly possible outcomes of the season, but which outcomes seem more likely are up to your perspective and outlook.
Let’s take the Sam Fels Team Preview approach to this roster preview:
Forwards: The Blackhawks probably have one of the better collections of top-end forward talent in the NHL, because it’s kinda hard to find a better potential line around the NHL than Saad-Toews-Kane, even if that likely will not be a good line. Anisimov is still a good middle-six center, and I explained in my Richard Panik preview why his good production last season is was probably not just a fluke. Ryan Hartman is an excellent third line forward who might be able to flash on your second line if necessary. Schmaltz and DeBrincat looked great in camp/the preseason and could have good seasons. The problem is their fourth line is going to be straight dog shit, Patrick Sharp has one good hip and might play significant time on the second line, and any of those top-nine forwards struggling to score could end up completely fucking up the season. I am generally an optimist and do believe this group as a whole could be quite good, but it may not go our way.
Defense: Aaaaaaaaaaaaand here’s the real problem. Duncan Keith is 33 years old and might end up being their only good defenseman. Seabrook could finish the year weighing 300 lbs. Murphy is a huge question mark, and strangely he could end up being the key to the whole thing. If he’s good, the situation isn’t as dire. If he sucks, it’s made all the worse. Forsling has had flashes on both ends of the spectrum in the pre-season, which only proves how much of a question he is right now. Again, if he proves to be good, it’ll make things a lot better. If we get the same kind of play from him as we saw last year, it won’t make things worse necessarily, but the problem will remain. Kempny is damn near excellent, so hopefully that continues but without Q bottling him up. The problem is just there are just so many question marks about this group, and if Keith goes down they will be completely fucked. I guess we need to hope there is a good defenseman available on the trade market that StanBo can fit within the cap relief he’s getting. I’d call that unlikely.
Goalies: Crawford is the best in the west, and has constantly been solid. He’s the most important Blackhawk bar none. If he gets hurt and misses significant time, they’re completely fucked. If he doesn’t he’s probably good enough to make up for the questions on defense and help this team make the playoffs, even in the Central. Forsberg being an average goalie is all the Hawks need, and that’s all I have to say about that.
Overview: Again, a lot of question marks here, but this is probably a playoff team. They’re not on Nasvhille’s level overall, and especially not on the blue line, but the forward group isn’t too far off, and they have a far superior goaltender. But I don’t think anyone in the division caught up to this Blackhawks group that put up 109 points last year. I highly doubt Nashville struggles as bad during the regular season as they did last year, so the I don’t think Chicago will run into them again in the first round of the playoffs. I really think Nashville and Chicago are gonna end up finishing 1-2 in this division in some order, but again, the Blackhawks have a lot of questions and if the answers aren’t in their favors, they might even end up missing the playoffs. I have a lot of hope and optimism for this group, but I can’t blame you if you don’t.
There’s not much more to be said now. Everything kicks off tomorrow. Go Blackhawks.