toewsdeerinheadlights

2011-2012 season preview: Chicago Blackhawks

2010-2011 record: 44-29-9, 97 points; 3rd in Central, 8th in West

Playoffs: Lost to Vancouver 4-3 in Western quarterfinals

After struggling at the start of last season and a suffering a tough first-round exit against the rival Canucks, the Blackhawks should be back among the league’s elite. They traded Troy Brouwer at the draft for a first-round pick, then went out and acquired veteran Andrew Brunette to fill a top-six role. Chicago still has great leadership with Jonathan Toews, a top-flight defensive pairing with Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, and the experience of a team than can go deep. If you believe the Blackhawks can rebound from last season’s Stanley Cup hangover, then you have good reason to think they might hoist the prize again in June.

Offense

Even during their post-Stanley Cup season, scoring was never a problem for the Blackhawks. They finished as one of only four teams that averaged over three goals per game — their fourth-ranked power play certainly helped. Something to watch will be the Hawks second-line center role. Patrick Sharp may be making the move back to the position that he started his career, but Patrick Kane will move from the wing and begin season in the middle. Aside from the usual suspects like Toews, Kane, and Sharp, guys like Dave Bolland and Marian Hossa are waiting in the wings to show their stuff as well. Needless to say, they’re stacked up front.

Defense

Over the course of the season, Keith admitted that things weren’t right last season. Obviously, the ‘Hawks want to get back to the Cup finals and likewise Keith will want to return to the Norris Trophy-level that he displayed in 2009-10. The team will also look to replace Brian Campbell’s offensive awareness on the back end. While Campbell was overpaid, he helped on the power play and solidified the ‘Hawks depth on the blueline (fun fact: Campbell’s plus-28 led the ‘Hawks last season). Look for Nick Leddy to fill Campbell’s skates over the course of the season.

Goalies

Corey Crawford took over the starting role midway through last season and never looked back. In 55 starts, Crawford posted a 33-18-6 record with a strong 2.30 goals against average and .917 save percentage — the numbers were good enough to put him in the discussion for the Calder Trophy. It will be important to prove that he can avoid the dreaded sophomore slump for the full season after signing a brand new 3-year deal worth $8 million. Behind Crawford, Ray Emery was brought in and should be an upgrade over Marty Turco’s performance last season.

Coaching

Widely regarded as one of the most respected coaches in the league during his tenure in St. Louis, Joel Quenneville seemed to push all of the right buttons from the moment he arrived in Chicago — eventually leading the ‘Hawks to the Cup in 2010. Last season, he couldn’t find an answer for the Stanley Cup hangover at the beginning of the season (nor could he decide on a starting goaltender). This season, he should have no problem getting the team’s attention from Day 1.

Breakout candidate

Chicago will ask Leddy to step up and play the significant minutes this season with Campbell’s exodus to Florida. Drafted in the first round by Minnesota, Leddy split time between Rockford (AHL) and the Blackhawks last season. The team will look to Leddy to perform on the power play — if he can fulfill the potential that he flashed last season, then ‘Hawks fans will forget about Campbell by Christmas.

Best-case scenario

When people talk about ‘best-case scenario’ in Chicago, they aren’t concerning themselves with the regular season. If everything falls into place this season, there’s no reason to think the ‘Hawks can’t complete to win it all. Crawford will need to prove that last season wasn’t a fluke, Keith will need to demonstrate that he can return to an elite level and the organization will need to fill Brouwer’s left wing position. If those things come to pass, Chicago will be in the conversation to win it all.

Reality

In a tough Central Division, the ‘Hawks have the talent and depth to complete for the divisional crown. They’re a team that has all the pieces and has proven they can perform at the highest level — they’ll just have to prove they’ve found the motivation that was lacking at the beginning of last season. It’s realistic to expect the Blackhawks to fight with the Red Wings to win the Central. The top spot in the division and the second or third seed in the Western Conference are certainly within the realm of possibility.

Report: If the Sabres can sign Vesey, they could be more willing to trade Kane

MONTREAL, QC - FEBRUARY 03:  Evander Kane #9 of the Buffalo Sabres speaks with referee Kevin Pollock #33 during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on February 3, 2016 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Buffalo Sabres defeated the Montreal Canadiens 4-2.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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If the Buffalo Sabres can sign Jimmy Vesey, they may be more willing to trade winger Evander Kane.

That’s what TSN 1040 (Vancouver) radio host Matt Sekeres has been hearing, and what he’s hearing does make a lot of sense.

Kane, whose off-ice issues are once again making headlines, has two years left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. He plays the same position as Vesey, 23, who’s currently Buffalo property but can sign with any team he chooses on Aug. 15.

Even if the Sabres can’t convince Vesey to join them, Kane could still be traded. GM Tim Murray has already conceded that his patience is wearing thin with the 24-year-old that he acquired from Winnipeg not long ago. Alex Nylander, drafted eighth overall in June, plays the same position as Kane, and Murray has said it’s possible the teenager could make the jump to the NHL next season.

Buffalo, Boston and Toronto have generally been considered the favorites to land Vesey. Chicago and Pittsburgh have also been mentioned.

Related: Cue the Kane-to-Vancouver speculation

Leafs avoid arbitration with Peter Holland

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 11: Peter Holland #24 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates up the ice during NHL action against the Montreal Canadiens at the Air Canada Centre April 11, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Maple Leafs won’t require arbitration with forward Peter Holland. They’ve signed the 25-year-old to a one-year deal worth a reported $1.3 million.

Holland had a hearing scheduled for today. Last week, the Leafs sent a message by putting him on waivers, which he cleared.

Holland had nine goals and 18 assists in 65 games last season. With him signed, the Leafs have only defensemen Frank Corrado and Martin Marincin as restricted free agents. Corrado has an arbitration hearing scheduled for tomorrow; Marincin’s is next Tuesday.

Related: Corrado and Leafs aren’t that far apart

Arbitration looming this week for Mrazek and DeKeyser

TAMPA, FL - APRIL 16: Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning is checked by Danny DeKeyser #65 of the Detroit Red Wings in front of Petr Mrazek #34 in Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on April 16, 2015 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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This is an important week in the Detroit Red Wings’ offseason, with Petr Mrazek‘s arbitration hearing scheduled for Wednesday and Danny DeKeyser‘s for Thursday.

GM Ken Holland would prefer to avoid the hearings, which can sometimes result in hurt feelings.

“I think a negotiated settlement is always better than having an arbitrated settlement,” Holland told MLive.com. “Obviously, both sides run (the risk) of somebody’s not going to be happy.”

That being said, in Mrazek’s case, the two sides still have a ways to go. Remember that the 24-year-old netminder was excellent for most of 2015-16, but in Holland’s words, “the wheels came off a little bit in the middle of February.”

Hence, the divide:

DeKeyser, meanwhile, is more of a proven NHL commodity. He’s had three full seasons in the league. In the 26-year-old defenseman, the Red Wings pretty much know what they’ve got.

“There’s way more comparables, I think, in Dan DeKeyser‘s case so it was easier to figure out what was the market place,” said Holland. “That’s certainly not the case of Petr Mrazek’s situation.”

Holland’s work will not be finished once Mrazek and DeKeyser are signed. He still wants to add another defenseman, and he’s got a surplus of forwards to work with.

Related: Holland makes argument to keep Jimmy Howard

Flyers sign Brayden Schenn to four-year deal

Philadelphia Flyers' Brayden Schenn reacts after scoring during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Calgary Flames on Monday, Feb. 29, 2016 in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)
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The Flyers won’t require today’s scheduled arbitration hearing with Brayden Schenn. They’ve agreed to terms with the 24-year-old forward on a four-year contract with a reported cap hit of $5.125 million.

Schenn had a career-high 26 goals and 33 assists in 2015-16. His 59 points were the third most on the Flyers, behind only Claude Giroux‘s 67 and Wayne Simmonds‘ 60.

The Schenn signing leaves the Flyers with just over $1 million in cap space for 2016-17, but no major free agents remaining. RFA defenseman Brandon Manning still needs a contract, but that’s it, per General Fanager. Manning has an arbitration hearing scheduled for Aug. 2.

Related: Coyotes sign Luke Schenn