The NHL preseason has officially ended and the Blackhawks prepare for a journey leading to another Stanley Cup. Time for some 10 “bold” predictions for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011-2012 to open up the season!
1. PATRICK KANE FINISHES WITH 95 POINTS.
In the 2009-2010 season, Patrick Kane set a career-high in all three scoring categories with 30 goals, 58 assists, and 88 points in 82 regular-season games. Last year, he only put up 73 points in an underachieving season for the entire team and suffered a high ankle sprain against Calgary in early December. His injury kept him out of the lineup for 9 games but slightly rushed his comeback because of the struggle the Blackhawks were going through at the time. Kane arguably wasn’t the same player since then. The 23-year old forward will be entering his fifth season in the NHL re-energized and bulkier than he’s ever been. Kane has noticeably packed on some muscle this offseason to improve on his strength and quickness, but most importantly: to take his game “to the next level.” It’s time to silence the critics.
2. COREY CRAWFORD WILL LEAD THE NHL IN GAA; WINS 37 GAMES.
Corey Crawford earned 33 victories in just 57 games with Chicago last year and he didn’t even “officially” take over the starting position until December. The Blackhawks were a worn out team last year after back-to-back deep postseason/Stanley Cup runs and a month long Winter Olympics that 6 players participated in. This season, the stars are re-charged and motivated after falling a goal short of knocking out the Canucks in the first round and now Crawford has a defense in front of him that is, in my opinion, as deep as it was in 2010 when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup.
3. JONATHAN TOEWS (FINALLY) WINS THE SELKE AWARD.
When Jonathan Toews was introduced at the fourth annual Blackhawks Convention in July, he received a standing ovation and stood there in shock. Why? “I was expecting to be booed for not having the Stanley Cup with me this time around.” After an early playoff exit to the rival Canucks in Game 7 of the first round last year, Toews is heading into the season hungrier than he’s ever been. He was a finalist for the Selke Award last year, but came up just short losing to Ryan Kesler. Toews is out to prove that he belongs in the discussion as one of the best, if not the best, defensive forwards in the league, if he hasn’t already.
4. NIKLAS HJALMARSSON SETS A CAREER HIGH IN POINTS.
After the players cleaned out their lockers at the United Center when the Blackhawks were eliminated from the postseason, Niklas Hjalmarsson spoke to the media and expressed his disappointment with his offensive performance in the entire season (3 goals, 7 assists in 80 games). He plans to contribute more offensively this upcoming season and should especially with the losses of two puck-moving defenseman Brian Campbell and Chris Campoli. I’ll take his word for it.
5. DAVE BOLLAND WILL PLAY IN AT LEAST 75 REGULAR-SEASON GAMES.
Dave Bolland has been battling upper-body injuries for years now and has only played in a full season just once in his entire career. You can never really predict an injury, but with the way he finished the playoffs in 2011 and long offseason he had to train and prepare for this year, I’m predicting at least a 75-game season for the rat!
6. BLACKHAWKS PENALTY KILL WILL JUMP BACK INTO THE TOP 10.
With the additions of Jamal Mayers, Steve Montador, and Sean O’Donnell, the penalty kill depth for the Blackhawks is already significantly deeper than it was in 2011. Dave Bolland, one of their elite penalty killers, missed quite a few games last year with an injury which made the team rely heavily on their stars to carry the load, especially Toews, Hossa, and even Sharp who were already double-shifting late in games as it is.
7. DUNCAN KEITH WILL LEAD BLACKHAWKS DEFENSEMAN IN +/-
This may not seem so “bold” to everyone, but considering 6 other defensemen finished with a higher +/- rating in the 2011 campaign makes it pretty bold. If there is any player on Chicago’s roster that desperately needed a full offseason to regroup, it’s Duncan Keith. He has not missed a single NHL game since December of 2008 and has averaged more than 25 minutes a game for 4 straight seasons now, including a career-high in minutes played last season. Keith also played top line minutes in the 2010 Winter Olympics where he helped bring Team Canada a gold medal. There is no doubt that all of this has taken a toll on him physically. I fully expect Duncan Keith to return to his Norris Trophy form and lead the charge again.
8. DAN CARCILLO WILL RECORD LESS THAN 130 PENALTY MINUTES.
The Blackhawks aren’t the type of team to let players skate around the ice like a chicken with its head cut off. If they do, they’ll being doing it in Joel Quenneville’s dog house. Coach Q will make sure Carcillo stays disciplined and fully understands/accepts his role in replacing a Ben Eager-type player or Adam Burish that were there in 2010 which wasn’t there (toughness) last season.
9. PATRICK KANE WILL DROP THE GLOVES FOR THE 1ST TIME IN HIS CAREER.
Why not? Calling it now…
10. CHICAGO WINS THE CENTRAL DIVISION; FINISH AS A #2 SEED IN THE WEST.
Recharged, restocked, healthy, and motivated. After backing into the playoffs last season on top of an early playoff exit to the hated Vancouver Canucks in the first round that went the full 7 games, Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks enter the season hungrier than ever ready to get back to the promise land. Newcomers Andrew Brunette, Jamal Mayers, Dan Carcillo, Steve Montador, Sami Lepisto, Sean O’Donnell look to add some fire power that wasn’t really there last season, youngsters like Ben Smith, Nick Leddy, and even 18-year old Brandon Saad ready to take on higher roles, and Corey Crawford is expected to contend for the Vezina Trophy following a monster rookie season. Time to put it all together.