2008-09: 46-24-12 (4th in the West – Eliminated in Conference Final by Red Wings)
TSN.ca Pre-season Power Ranking: 10th
General Manager: Stan Bowman (1st Season)
Head Coach: Joel Quennville (2nd Season)
What They Did in the off-season:
The summer started out quite well for the Blackhawks. Promising young forward David Bolland agreed to a five-year contract extension before the free agency window opened. The team then landed one of the biggest fish in the free agent pond by signing Marian Hossa to a monster 12-year deal. The Blackhawks also added former Selke trophy winner John Madden for some forward depth while allowing Nikolai Khabibulin, Martin Havlat, Sammy Pahlsson and Matt Walker to seek their fortunes elsewhere.
If they had stopped there, it would have been considered a successful summer. But that was far from the case. The NHL and NHL Players' Association launched an investigation into contracts offered to five of the team's restricted free agents (Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, Cam Barker, Colin Fraser, Ben Eager and Aaron Johnson), which led to the NHLPA filing a grievance over the handling of those qualifying offers. While the team eventually came to terms with all five, they were forced to spend more money up front than they had originally hoped. That mistake was a contributing factor to the re-assignment of general manager Dale Tallon to an advisory role. Stan Bowman was then brought in as Tallon's replacement.
News got worse when it was discovered that the newly-signed Hossa was battling a shoulder injury and would be out until December and adding insult to injury was the NHL's announcement that they were investigating Hossa's contract for.
Then as the proverbial icing on the cake, young superstar Patrick Kane was arrested in his hometown of Buffalo after a late night altercation with a cabbie. Kane pled guilty to a misdemeanor and was forced to apologize for his actions.
Biggest Issue facing the team:
When dealing with a young and talented team, the last thing you need are off-ice distractions. And the Hawks seemed to corner that particular market this summer. Instead of building on the team's first conference final appearance in more than a decade, the Hawks were forced into damage control over their numerous off-ice issues. Whether it was the signing of an already-injured superstar, the qualifying offer controversy, the shuffling of Tallon or the Kane story, the club was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
To make matters worse, former player Martin Havlat added some spice via Twitter, ripping team president John McDonough for the treatment of Tallon and his own failed contract negotiations.
It would be difficult for a veteran-laden team to completely block out these issues, but when we are discussing the youngest team in the league, it may be simply too much to overcome. Chicago has far too much talent on its roster to completely free fall down the Western Conference standings, but there could be some residual effect, especially from the players who were loyal to Tallon. Pair that with the loss of No. 1 netminder Nikolai Khabibulin and popular veteran Havlat and it's no wonder that many have predicted a drop in expectations heading into the season. Coach Joel Quennville could be facing one of the toughest tasks of his career this season as he tries to keep his team focused on improving on last year.
Even if the Hawks are not able to repeat last season's success, it should still be a very entertaining year in Chicago.
Player to watch:
There may be no player more scrutinized this season than Patrick Kane.
For the first time in his young career, the face of the franchise was being put through the ringer. It certainly did not help matters that the incident occurred just prior to Team USA's Olympic orientation camp. Instead of discussing the upcoming Winter Games, everyone wanted to talk about Kane and the alleged assault in Buffalo.
But as the saying goes, what doesn't kill you will only make you stronger. Hawks fans and management certainly hope this is the case with Kane. He has the responsibility of being not only the face of the Blackhawks, but also USA Hockey. That is an awful big burden to put on the shoulders of the diminutive 20-year old.
While Kane has as much skill as any player in the league, this will be the biggest challenge he has ever faced. He can be sure he will hear catcalls and insults from rowdy and obnoxious fans in opposing barns. What he must do is channel the energy and aggression he feels towards his detractors and put it into his game. The reality of the situation is that fans tend to have short memories. A few brilliant performances and a respectable showing at the Olympics will allow Kane to return to his rightful place among the game's elite. If he lets it get to him, it will sidetrack what should be a lengthy and successful NHL career.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
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.