After a breakthrough season in 2008-2009, the Chicago Blackhawks won't catch anyone by surprise this season. One of the most promising young teams in the league, the Blackhawks would rate higher if their primary offseason acquisition wasn't going to miss a good chunk of the first two months of the season.
Even though Marian Hossa could miss some time this year, he's still likely to be an impact player for Chicago once he returns. Hossa has surpassed 70 points in five of the last six seasons and has scored 29 or more goals for nine straight campaigns. Effectively, the Blackhawks swapped free agent winger Martin Havlat out of the lineup for Hossa and, in terms of overall production, Hossa is an upgrade.
Without Hossa, though, the Blackhawks are still well-stocked and led by the duo of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
Toews play the more well-rounded game, as evidenced by his double-digit plus rating in each of his first two seasons, though he may not have quite the same offensive upside as Kane. Nevertheless, Toews is a rising star who could challenge for 40 goals as soon as this season.
Kane went through a bout of bad p.r. this summer, but it shouldn't affect his on-ice performance this season. The 20-year-old has put up at least 70 points in each of his first two seasons and, with the Blackhawks presumably improving, Kane should be able to reach that plateau again.
A surprisingly productive rookie season has elevated expectations for Kris Versteeg, a winger who play hard, has a nose for the net and is a responsible two-way performer.
Dave Bolland centred one of the more underrated lines in hockey last season, playing between Havlat and Andrew Ladd. A sound two-way player already, Bolland's confidence appears to be growing offensively and he could just use some power play time to really boost his production.
Though injuries limited Patrick Sharp to 61 games last season, he still put up 26 goals, the third straight season of at least 20 goals for the speedy forward who can play both wing and centre. If he gets consistent quality ice time, Sharp could be a 30-goal scorer.
Ladd has been a gradually-developing winger and, while he's not a tremendous finisher (with 46 goals in 239 career games), Ladd did record 49 points and a plus-26 rating last season. Though Ladd isn't consistently aggressive enough with his big frame, he has the makings of a power forward, so he could be a fine complementary contributor for the Blackhawks.
A wild card among Chicago forwards, Dustin Byfuglien is another power forward type who showed in the postseason what kind of force he can be in front of the opposition's net. Byfuglien has yet to score more than 36 points in a season, so his appeal is likely limited to those in deep leagues, but he warrants watching.
Chicago's defence is an interesting mix. High-priced Brian Campbell is the most accomplished scorer of the bunch, but he struggled at times in his first year with the Blackhawks. Having scored at least 48 points for the past three seasons, though, Campbell seems to be the safest scoring option on the Chicago defence.
Should Campbell falter, he could easily be overtaken by Cam Barker, who surged in his third NHL season to show why he was drafted third overall in 2004. Barker finished the year scoring 29 of his 40 points (in 68 games) on the power play, so he would figure to get a prime spot on Chicago's power play again this year.
While those two are Chicago's best fantasy defencemen. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook represent the best pairing on the team.
Keith is a beautiful skater, has increased his point totals every year and is one of three players (Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom are the others) to be at least plus-30 in each of the last two seasons. If Keith duplicates last year's 44 points and plus-33 rating, that's going to be appealing in a lot of fantasy leagues.
Seabrook is big, strong and plays a well-rounded game, but doesn't get the kind of offensive opportunities that are available to Campbell and Barker, for example, so his point totals may not be high enough to generate a lot of fantasy interest.
The goaltending in Chicago falls to Cristobal Huet which, admittedly, it was supposed to last season too. Huet has started more than 40 games just once in his career, so there is some measure of risk to counting on him to play 55-to-60 games as a starter. Huet does have a track record of putting up good goals against and save percentage numbers, though, and he'll have a strong team in front of him. If Huet falters, Antti Niemi could be an interesting sleeper candidate.