2010-2011 NHL season preview: Chicago Blackhawks

GYI0060694354-toews-brucebennett-getty.jpgLast season: (52-22-8, 112 points, 1st in Central Division, 2nd in Western Conference) The Blackhawks had themselves a good season. Winning the Central Division was good but winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1961 — ending the longest-active drought in the NHL — was a whole lot better. After getting the playoffs off to a rocky start against the Predators, the Hawks only got better and beat everyone up along the way to winning it all. They essentially put all their eggs in one basket last season to win it and they did. Kudos.

Head coach: Joel Quenneville enters his third season as coach having freshly gotten the monkey off his back. After tough seasons leading the Blues and Avalanche as their head man, and having issues with the Red Wings wherever he went, Quenneville put it all together last season and stopped toying with his goaltending long enough to get Chicago over the hump. This season, his task is a lot more difficult. While there’s still a ton of talent in Chicago, doing the delicate dance needed to repeat will be tougher with what amounts to a brand new roster.

Key departures: G Antti Niemi, F Kris Versteeg, F Adam Burish, F Andrew Ladd, F Ben Eager, D Brent Sopel, F/D Dustin Byfuglien, F John Madden, G Cristobal Huet. You might’ve heard about Chicago having to get rid of a few guys over the summer because of salary-cap problems. This a bit of a big deal.

Key arrivals: F Viktor Stalberg, F Ryan Potulny, F Fernando Pisani, G Marty Turco, D John Scott, F Jeremy Morin, F Kyle Beach, D Nick Leddy. Trade pieces and rookies dot this list of new arrivals. Turco is the man of the hour here. Everyone else will (likely) have their role on the team, but Turco is the guy that has to hold it together. Speaking of which…

Under pressure: Yeah, it’s Turco. The Blackhawks cleared out Huet to Switzerland and walked away from Niemi to bring in Turco. You can argue about how important Niemi was to Chicago’s Stanley Cup run all you want, but when they needed him he was their guy. Turco is coming off of a few rough seasons in Dallas where drama seemed to always surround him even though he was never challenged for his job. Now he comes to Chicago a little older, maybe a little wiser, and for the ‘Hawks sake, a bit more grown up. Corey Crawford isn’t challenging him for the starting role and the success of the ‘Hawks this season is all on Turco.

GYI0061874899-turco-dilipvashwanat-getty.jpgProtecting the house: With Turco and  Crawford as the goaltending duo, things take a decided turn. Last season, Niemi and Huet essentially split time in net 55-45 in favor of Niemi, an ideal kind of split when you’re not sure who your starter will be. Now it’s definitively Turco’s job, while he can be a stellar goalie, he’ll need to be more consistent with Chicago to keep the team winning and the fans at bay.

Defensively, the Blackhawks are virtually the same as they were last season and that’s key. Duncan Keith, Brian Campbell (out a month with a knee injury), Niklas Hjalmarsson and Brent Seabrook make up a dynamic first four set of defensemen. They signed Scott in free agency, Nick Boynton took the league minimum to come back and Jordan Hendry will try to make his way into the lineup. Leddy stayed long into camp and now looks to break into the ‘Hawks lineup as well. Leddy was Minnesota’s first-round pick in 2009, who they obtained in a trade for Cam Barker. Question is, do the ‘Hawks want to be patient enough with Leddy to let him learn on the job.

Top line we’d like to see: Load up that first line with all the talent, baby. Marian Hossa-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane. Yeah, we know Patrick Sharp is good too, and we dig Dave Bolland’s game now, especially shorthanded. When you’re the champs though, show everyone else you’re not there to screw around and come out blazing with all the big guns and let it fly.

Oh captain, my captain: Toews is the captain and can you really argue with what he’s done as the head man of the Blackhawks? His deadly serious demeanor and ability on the ice helped carry Canada to a gold medal and the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup. People might still be unfamiliar with him (somehow) but he’s the best player in the league that not-as-many people talk about at least when compared to Crosby and Ovechkin. If only we could get him to be as goofy and awkwardly affable as Patrick Kane is, we’d have yet another potential media darling. That said, what he does for the Blackhawks is as good as any of the great captains have done in the past and he’s still just a kid.

GYI0061873576-scott-dilipvashwanat-getty.jpgStreet fighting man: While the team lost the pugnacity of Burish to free agency, they pick up a behemoth in Scott, who was one of the Wild’s team leaders in fights including this vicious knockout of Canucks youngster Alexandre Bolduc. Blackhawks fans are so eager to see Scott fight, they’ve already given him the nickname of ‘Murdersaurus.’

Best-case scenario: For the ‘Hawks, if their top two lines do their job and the defense does their thing once again limiting opposing shots and playing beastly, making Turco’s job that much easier in goal, the Blackhawks again will be a very dangerous team. They’ve arguably got some of the best players in the league as it is in Toews, Kane, Keith, Hossa, and Seabrook. Having that many great players is a luxury and they’ll need them to be great all season and into the playoffs to have a shot at repeating. Luckily for them, most of the teams in the Western Conference also have questions so it opens things up a bit when it comes to the playoffs. The ‘Hawks can get back to the Stanley Cup finals, but they need to not have their depth players come up small and they need their top players to be at their best. Making all of the roster turnover not hurt their play will be the biggest challenge.

Worst-case scenario: Teams load up against their top two lines while the defense doesn’t play as air-tight as they did last season leading to Turco running into old problems that he had in Dallas. Chicago’s third and fourth lines play non-existent hockey and the Blackhawks bow out in the first round of the playoffs. Yes, they’ll be a playoff team so stop talking about them like they won’t be. There’s too much talent here to fall that far. That said, may the hockey gods help this team if injuries become a problem. The Blackhawks have spent their depth to fill out ranks this year and the cupboard is as thin as any in the AHL.

Keeping it real: This team will still be pretty good. They’re not the juggernaut they were last season, but anyone writing off Chicago as dead in the water is either crazy or an obsessed Red Wings fan. This team desperately needs optimum performance from their best players and they need their depth players to not be terrible. They need Turco to have a resurgence in Chicago in order to go deep in the playoffs, but they’ll be a playoff team for sure.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, I’ll give Chicago the champions’ benefit of the doubt and put them down as a 4. They’ll need things to break right for them in the playoffs to get back to the finals and they’ll be a very difficult team to play against no matter what. They’re not the shoe-in Stanley Cup contenders they were last year, but they’re not out of the running either. They can get there, but they’ll need some luck in doing so.

(Toews photo: Bruce Bennett – Getty Images)

(Turco and Scott photos: Dilip Vashwanat – Getty Images)

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    Coyotes’ Rieder undergoes ankle surgery, expected to be out 8-12 weeks

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    Tobias Rieder underwent ankle surgery after suffering an injury at the recently concluded World Hockey Championship, the Arizona Coyotes announced on Saturday.

    Per the Coyotes, the operation was successful and he is expected to make a full recovery. However, the 24-year-old right winger is expected to be out eight to 12 weeks, as he goes through rehab.

    With that timeline, he should be ready for training camp in September.

    For the second straight year, Rieder was injured while playing for Germany in the IIHF tournament. Initially, it was reported that the Coyotes didn’t believe this latest injury was serious.

    This past season, Rieder scored a single-season career best 16 goals in 80 games. He’s about to enter the final year of his two-year contract, which has an annual cap hit of $2.225 million.

    Despite concussion history, Clarke MacArthur says ‘I’m going to play if I can’

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    Ottawa Senators forward Clarke MacArthur has again emphasized his desire to continue his playing career, despite another regular season derailed by a concussion.

    It will, however, depend on what doctors tell him.

    MacArthur missed all but four games in the regular season because of a concussion suffered during training camp. In January, it was reported that this latest concussion would keep him out of the lineup for the remainder of the season — more bad news that followed a 2015-16 campaign in which he played only four games.

    In a surprising development, MacArthur was cleared and returned to the Senators lineup late in the season, just before the playoffs started. During Ottawa’s impressive postseason run, which ended Thursday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final versus Pittsburgh, the 32-year-old forward had three goals and nine points in 19 games.

    On Saturday, he revealed to the Ottawa Citizen that he had been dealing with discomfort in his neck during the playoffs. He was also adamant it was nothing else other than a neck ailment, and that he will get an MRI to see what it could be.

    As for his playing future?

    “I don’t know what the play is,” said MacArthur, per the Ottawa Citizen. “I just want to take a week or two and see how I feel. I still love playing the game. I’ve got to talk to the doctors and take a week or so and see where I go.”

    Despite a history of concussions, MacArthur has in the past stated that he wants to continue playing. He is about to enter the third year of a five-year, $23.25 million contract.

    “If everything works out, then I’m going to play if I can.”

    David Poile finally rewarded with first trip to Stanley Cup Final in 35 years as a GM

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    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) David Poile thought he could squeeze in a quick day off after the exhilarating run by the Nashville Predators to their first Stanley Cup Final.

    Wrong.

    At least 200 texts and emails congratulating him on the Western Conference title greeted him. Then Predators’ only general manager had to deal with logistics, tickets, hotel rooms and talk with league officials to prepare them for the Stanley Cup Final starting Monday night in Pittsburgh.

    It’s Poile’s first Stanley Cup Final after 15 years as general manager of the Washington Capitals and nearly 20 years of building the Predators from scratch as an expansion franchise.

    “After all these years I’m doing something I’ve never done before, and it’s different and it’s a challenge,” Poile said with a big smile. “But I’m ready for it.”

    No general manager has been with his current team longer than Poile, whose father, Bud, won the Stanley Cup playing for Toronto in 1947 and is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Next season, Poile will pass Jack Adams and Glen Sather as the NHL’s longest serving general manager, and only Sather has more games and wins (2,700 and 1,319) than Poile (2,622 and 1,280).

    Read more:

    The Predators built the NHL’s best defense, and it’s going to be around for a while

    NHL GM of the Year finalists: Oilers’ Chiarelli, Sens’ Dorion, Preds’ Poile

    Poile also was general manager of the U.S. Olympic team in 2014. But he never made it to Sochi after being struck by a puck in the right eye at a Predators’ morning skate, breaking his nose and costing him his vision.

    Now, all across hockey, people are rooting for Poile to finally win a championship.

    “The hockey community in general is elated for him,” said Brian Burke, president of hockey operations for the Calgary Flames. “He has performed at such a high level for so long in this league and not been rewarded like this. He’s got lots of people pulling for him to go all the way.”

    New Jersey general manager Ray Shero, who was an assistant GM in Nashville, said his own wife was in tears so happy for Poile and his wife, Elizabeth.

    “I was saying to David, ‘Yeah everybody’s saying it’s so great for David, patient David Poile,”‘ Shero said. “I’m like, ‘David, you’re the most impatient guy know.’ He used to boo the team from our box in Nashville like, ‘David, you’re so impatient.’ He’d boo the team and say, ‘He’s brutal, he’s brutal.”‘

    Poile just missed Washington’ run to the Stanley Cup in 1998 after his contract wasn’t renewed in May 1997. He had gotten the Caps to the Eastern Conference finals only once – 1990. Offered the Toronto GM job, Poile turned down the franchise with 13 titles to put together his own franchise in Nashville like his father had in Philadelphia and Vancouver.

    “I just felt like it was the right thing to do,” Poile said. “I’ve never regretted it. There’s certainly been some ups and downs in this franchise whether it be on the ice or off the ice. But that’s never deterred me to want to go somewhere else or to do something different. Everybody’s treated me very, very well. I’m very comfortable, and it’s a legacy for David Poile.”

    Poile and the Predators had to teach their fans hockey and grow the sport in a region dominated by college football and NASCAR.

    In 2007, the Predators finished third in the NHL with 110 points. Poile’s big trade for Peter Forsberg netted only a first-round loss in the playoffs. Craig Leipold, who now owns the Minnesota Wild, put the Preds up for sale. Blackberry billionaire Jim Balsillie’s purchase might have gone through if not for news he already was taking season-ticket deposits in Hamilton, Ontario.

    Fans rallied to keep their team, and local businessmen stepped up to keep the Predators in Nashville.

    During the turmoil, Poile couldn’t re-sign Forsberg or Paul Kariya and unloaded defenseman Kimmo Timonen and forward Scott Hartnell.

    The man who loves to plan triggered this playoff run with a handful of trades. He swapped defensemen Seth Jones and captain Shea Weber for center Ryan Johansen and All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban, while bringing back veteran forward Vern Fiddler during the season along with trading for Cody McLeod.

    “He’s made some of the biggest trades in the history of the league, which is just so contradictory to his personality,” Burke said. “He’s this cautious guy. I joke with him that I’d hate to watch him get dressed in the morning, trying to decide which tie and which pants. But when it comes time to make these deals, this guy, he’ll shove all the chips in and stand up and yell at you. He’s fearless.”

    Poile took his wife outside the arena before Nashville ousted Anaheim in six games Monday night. He saw thousands of fans bringing lawn chairs just to sit outside the arena and watch on big-screen TVs and marveled.

    “It’s fantastic, the whole thing, the whole experience,” Poile said. “I can’t think of anything that’s ever happened better to me in all my years in hockey.”

    Well, maybe one more thing.

    Nicholle Anderson, wife of Senators goalie Craig Anderson, declares she is cancer-free

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    Their Stanley Cup playoff run is over, but the entire Ottawa Senators organization has received great — and far more important — news away from the ice.

    Nicholle Anderson, wife of Senators goalie Craig Anderson, has declared that she is cancer-free after battling a rare form of throat cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma, since October.

    Anderson shared an update on her own personal blog, including a plan for follow-up tests over the next few years:

    On May 25, 2017, I went to the doctors to hear the results of the pet scan.  He informed the scans were clear, however, they saw activity on C1 and C2 (cervical spine).  He was confident it wasn’t cancer/tumor, and ordered a STAT MRI on Friday to confirm the findings.  The MRI showed it is a side effect to radiation in my soft tissue around the c-spine.

    Now we are sending my scans and reports to Sloane Kettering to get a second opinion.  Nothing better than hearing CANCER FREE two times!  I will be continuously monitored for the next couple of years with followed-up pet scans, ENT visits, and tests.  We pray this beast doesn’t return.

    I truly believe hockey helped me through all of this with the playoff run.  I couldn’t have asked for a better year and memories.  My advice to everyone, everyday we are given, we are blessed. Don’t put off what you can do today!  Live life to the fullest because in a blink of an eye it can and will change.

    Craig Anderson, who took personal leave on more than one occasion this season to be with his wife while she went through treatment, also shared the news on Saturday, two days after the Senators were defeated in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    “It was a huge relief,” Anderson told Postmedia. “It was just weight off the shoulders knowing things are going in the right direction. The message (from Nicholle) was just go out there, play and have fun.”