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Blackhawks Tue Aug 20 2013
With only 23 days left until the Blackhawks open training camp at the Compton Family Ice Arena on the campus of Notre Dame (Click Here for schedule info), it's time to look ahead at what important factors and obstacles the Blackhawks more than likely will face in order to repeat as champs.
Seven seems to be a popular number these days, most notably with Brent Seabrook welcoming in his first child, Carter Seven Seabrook (born Friday, August 16, at 8 lbs., 11 oz.). So why not go with seven items of note to get your blood pumping once again, in preparation for what looks to be another exciting season.
1. Blackhawks the Sole Original Six Team in the West
With the Red Wings making the shift to the Eastern Conference, the Blackhawks are now the only Original Six team lurking in the wild, wild West. Yes, it sucks losing a long-time foe like Detroit, but only having to play these guys twice a year in the regular season, as opposed to six times, is a much-needed breath of fresh air. Not to mention a slightly easier path to the Conference Finals.
2. New Talent From the Draft & Rockford
With Dave Bolland off to Toronto, Michael Frolík to Winnipeg, Ray Emery to Philly and Carcillo to LA, the Blackhawks look to fill those roles with some youth over in Rockford. Brandon Pirri at center could help fill the gap for Bolland -- not to mention some other youngsters potentially getting a call-up, like Jimmy Hayes, Jeremy Morin and Kyle Beach.
3. Will Bryan Bickell Make Good on His New Contract?
Bickell scored what eventually was the game-tying goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. Afterward, he was awarded a contract extension of four years for $16 million. Not bad for 48 games and tallying 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) during the regular season. However, it was the playoffs where Bickell earned his keep. Many were worried it was fool's money for a guy who only shined down the stretch, but Bickell's size (6 foot, 4 inches; 233 pounds) and age (only 27 years old) was appealing. The Blackhawks would be hard-pressed to find someone else of his size who found a groove when it counted.
4. How Much Will the Games in Sochi Tire the Players Involved?
The Winter Olympics are around the corner, and they occur in Sochi, just off the Black Sea, settled above Georgia in Krasnodar Krai, Russia -- some 5,700 miles away. That's a lot of distance for the likes of (probably) Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Corey Crawford, to name a few, who look to represent their respective countries. If there isn't a protest of any kind, due to the controversy of Russia's fear of gay people, then it makes for only five games in February for the Blackhawks.
5. Nikolai Khabibulin Backing Up Crow
Heeeeeee's Baaaaaaaack. Khabie makes his way back to Chicago in an effort to back up Crawford between the pipes. The only thing keeping Nikolai from self-destructing, like he did while in Edmonton, is making sure he uses good judgment and uses the center of his nervous system between his ears. Khabie won 90 games in four seasons with the Blackhawks (2005-'06 to 2008-'09), with an 8-6 record in the 2008-'09 playoffs. There's no doubt he only gets in to spell Crow, or, God forbid, any kind of injury.
6. The Lowly Power Play
It's no secret the Blackhawks power play was flat out... well, flat. Ranked 19th in the NHL last season (though it felt like it was worse than that) at only a 16.7 percent scoring percentage (13th in the playoffs with an 11.4 percentage), the team took its lumps and lost out on many opportunities that came its way. The team fired Mike Haviland before last season and had Jamie Kompon take over the helm. Not much really changed. It seemed the Blackhawks were too concerned with making it work than actually trying to make it work. A firm plan and closer shots might do the trick.
7. The Hangover
After the 2009-'10 Cup-winning season, the Blackhawks partied it up like there was no tomorrow. That's not to say they didn't enjoy a cocktail or two after this season's success, but things seemed a little... different. The season clearly had a business-first attitude to it (see Patrick Kane's development), but so did the (short) summer-long happy hour. Also, Duncan Keith was said to have worked out the entire summer in 2010, and it tired him through the 2010-'11 season. Repeating a championship is one of, if not the hardest thing to do in any sport. The Blackhawks were the first team to win two Stanley Cup championships during the salary-cap era. Trying to become the first to win it all a third time, not to mention the first to repeat, is going to take something special. However, if the team can maintain the same focus it had all of last season, a little luck, and stay injury-free to capitalize during the 17 seconds when it's needed the most, it certainly isn't impossible.
Whether or not any of these questions (or points) can be answered before the banner is raised and the puck is dropped at home against the Capitals on Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 7pm, remains anyone's guess. Just as no one could have predicted a 24-game non-losing streak to start last season or, ultimately, this team winning its fifth Cup in franchise history, it all remains to be seen in what should unfold to be another dramatic run at Lord Stanley.