Tonight the Blackhawks open their season against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins at the United Center. In past seasons we were pretty sure the regular season was useless and the opener was more of a celebration of the previous season’s victories rather than an actual game that mattered. That’s no longer the case.
The regular season is much more important this year. A year filled with a ton of question marks and few sure-things. Gone are the days when we could rely on the standard cast of characters to push the Hawks through the regular season and find a way to win in the playoffs. Those good times were shot violently into the sun after the ass-kicking the Predators handed down last season.
This is a year of new faces, and I don’t know which ones we can rely on. There are only a few players whose performance you can truly take to the bank (assuming health). Patrick Kane will be the focal point of the offense, Corey Crawford will be underrated, and Duncan Keith will be a top ten defenseman as Jay Zawaski and James Neveau stated during their latest version of the Madhouse Chicago Hockey Podcast. You can count on Brandon Saad to be a top scorer, possibly an elite forward. And that’s about it.
I love the captain. I love him more than you. But what kind of production can we expect from him? His defense will always be there, but his offense has fallen off dramatically. If that drop in points can be attributed to a couple if debilitating injuries, can we ever expect him to return to form?
Brent Seabrook will never not be slow, but can he make the adjustment needed to be a top defender again or is he just going to morph into an offensive-minded defenseman (which he might actually be good at)? Kempny, Murphy, Rutta, Forsling…if you tell me you’re confident the Hawks’ defensive depth will be solid after reading that list of names we know very little about I’m going to call you an overconfident asshole.
Who is Patrick Kane’s new Artemi Panarin? I don’t think it’s Ryan Hartman, so is Nick Schmaltz going to be the beneficiary of Kane’s magic? Are we confident that Schmaltz can even win a faceoff for that to be a relevant question? It’s widely believed we’ll see DeBrincat on that line at some point, but can we expect the little guy to generate a ton of offense in the NHL where the game tightens up dramatically?
I expect the Blackhawks to make the playoffs and be positioned for a Cup run. Every year without a Cup is a failure. That being said, we’ve never come into a season with more question marks on the roster than what we’re seeing this year. For the first time in a long time the regular season matters, if for nothing more than to figure out where to spend the newly freed up cap money coming from Marian Hossa’s LTIR designation.
I have no idea what’s going to happen. But goddamn I’m excited.