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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.

Matthews headlines additions to Team North America

Auston Matthews of USA celebrates after scoring to take the score to 3-0, during the 2016 IIHF World Junior Ice Hockey Championships quarterfinal match between USA and Czech Republic in Helsinki, Finland, on January 2nd, 2016. (Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva via AP)  FINLAND OUT - NO SALES
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Can youth and talent win out over experience? Team North America, which is compromised exclusively of Canadian and American players born on or after Oct. 2, 1992, will attempt to do just that.

While you can debate the merit of having a young guns team in the World Cup, for many people there is something interesting about seeing the likes of Jack Eichel, Connor McDavid, Nathan MacKinnon, and Johnny Gaudreau team up to face the world’s best players. With today’s additions, the projected No. 1 pick for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, Auston Matthews, will be joining the squad too.

On defense, Shayne Gostisbehere has been added to the mix after his superb rookie campaign with the Philadelphia Flyers. Another standout from the 2016 rookie class, Colton Parayko, will join him on the blueline.

North America’s already interesting collections of forwards added even more intrigue today. In addition to the aforementioned Matthews, Jonathan Drouin is now on the roster. That illustrates just how quickly the perception of Drouin has changed as earlier this year he was demanding a trade out of Tampa Bay and was even at one time suspended in the AHL for refusing to play. However he ended up being a big part of the reason the Lightning made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Final without Steven Stamkos.

The squad also added another first overall pick in Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. While he hasn’t emerged as a superstar in the same vein as some other No. 1 picks, he’s a useful addition to this deep core of forwards.

At the beginning of the year, North America’s goaltending looked like a potential weakness, but this team might even hold up in that department. After all, if Matt Murray is good enough to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, then there’s a chance he’ll be able to hold his own in the World Cup as well. And if not, John Gibson is coming off of a pretty good season himself.

Here’s the full roster for Team North America:

G John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks
G Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
G Matt Murray, Pittsburgh Penguins

D Aaron Ekblad, Florida Panthers
D Shayne Gostisbehere, Philadelphia Flyers *
D Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets
D Ryan Murray, Columbus Blue Jackets
D Colton Parayko, St. Louis Blues *
D Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs
D Jacob Trouba, Winnipeg Jets *

F Sean Couturier, Philadelphia Flyers
F Jonathan Drouin, Tampa Bay *
F Jack Eichel, Buffalo Sabres
F Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary Flames
F Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings
F Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche
F Auston Matthews, Zurich (Swiss) *
F Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
F J.T. Miller, New York Rangers
F Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames
F Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Edmonton Oilers *
F Brandon Saad, Columbus Blue Jackets
F Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets *

* named to roster today

One player that stands out for his exclusion is Max Domi. He’s coming off of a strong rookie campaign where he scored 18 goals and 52 points in 81 contests with the Arizona Coyotes. His talented teammate Anthony Duclair also failed to make the cut. It’s also somewhat surprising to see Calgary’s Dougie Hamilton and Florida’s Jonathan Huberdeau not make the team. You could easily include Alex Galchenyuk in the list of snubs too given that he’s coming off of a 30-goal campaign.

Thornton, Burns among seven added to Canada’s World Cup roster

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 17:  Brent Burns #88 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates with Joe Thornton #19 after scoring a second period goal against Brian Elliott #1 of the St. Louis Blues (not pictured) in Game Two of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 17, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Joe Thornton, Claude Giroux, Matt Duchene, Brad Marchand, Brent Burns, Alex Pietrangelo, and Jake Muzzin have been added to Team Canada’s World Cup roster.

Those seven will join the following 16:

Goalies: Corey Crawford, Carey Price, Braden Holtby

Defense: Drew Doughty, Duncan Keith, Shea Weber, Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Forwards: Jamie Benn, Patrice Bergeron, Jeff Carter, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Tyler Seguin, Steve Stamkos, John Tavares, Jonathan Toews

GM Doug Armstrong admitted that it was tough to leave off right-shot d-men like P.K. Subban and Kris Letang, but Pietrangelo was on the 2014 Olympic squad and Burns’ performance this season in San Jose has been tough to overlook. Muzzin, meanwhile, is a left shot who could potentially pair with Doughty, his teammate in Los Angeles.

Up front, Thornton and Giroux made it after being left off the Sochi team. Marchand wasn’t a strong consideration in 2014, but the 37 goals he scored this season for the Bruins put him squarely on Hockey Canada’s radar.

Corey Perry was perhaps the most notable omission among the forwards.

Related: Subban may not make Team Canada

Niederreiter, Gaborik added to Team Europe roster

TORONTO, ON - MARCH 23:  Nino Niederreiter #22 of the Minnesota Wild skates prior to playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on March 23, 2015 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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This might be the ultimate underdog group, but Team Europe isn’t short on talent. Compromised of players outside of the Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, and Sweden, this squad features players from nations that don’t typically excel in international tournaments, but will attempt to upset the hockey powerhouses with their combined talents.

The original 16 players named featured representatives from Denmark, Slovakia, Switzlerland, Germany, Slovenia, Austria and Norway. Today’s additions included Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Luca Sbisa from France and Italy respectively, bringing the number of nations represented to nine.

Two of the biggest names added today, though, were Nino Niederreiter and Marian Gaborik. Niederreiter, 23, hasn’t quite lived up to the hype, but the 23-year-old has established himself as a meaningful part of the Minnesota Wild after he struggled in the early years of his pro career with the New York Islanders. Gaborik is coming off of a rough campaign, but he has three 40-plus goal seasons on his resume.

Team Europe also added a veteran blueliner in Christian Ehrhoff in addition to Sbisa.

In goal they now have Thomas Greiss to work with his Islanders teammate Jaroslav Halak. Greiss has spent most of his NHL career serving as a backup goaltender, but when given the chance he stepped up with the Islanders this season and had an impressive showing against Florida in the first round of the playoffs.

Here is Team Europe’s roster in full:

G Frederik Andersen, Anaheim Ducks (Denmark)
G Jaroslav Halak, New York Islanders (Slovakia)
G Thomas Greiss, New York Islanders (Germany) *

D Zdeno Chara, Boston Bruins (Slovakia)
D Christian Ehrhoff, Chicago Blackhawks (Germany) *
D Roman Josi, Nashville Predators (Switzerland)
D Luca Sbisa, Vancouver Canucks (Italy) *
D Dennis Seidenberg, Boston Bruins (Germany)
D Andrej Sekera, Edmonton Oilers (Slovakia)
D Mark Streit, Philadelphia Flyers (Switzerland)

F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Philadelphia Flyers (France) *
F Mikkel Boedker, Colorado Avalanche (Denmark)
F Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers (Germany)
F Marian Gaborik, Los Angeles Kings (Slovakia) *
F Jannik Hansen, Vancouver Canucks (Denmark)
F Marian Hossa, Chicago Blackhawks (Slovakia)
F Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings (Slovenia)
F Nino Niederreiter, New York Islanders (Switzerland) *
F Frans Nielsen, New York Islanders (Denmark)
F Tobias Rieder, Arizona Coyotes (Germany) *
F Tomas Tatar, Detroit Red Wings (Slovakia)
F Thomas Vanek, Minnesota Wild (Austria)
F Mats Zuccarello, New York Rangers (Norway)

* named to roster today

Kessel left off Team USA for World Cup

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on before a face off in the first period against the New Jersey Devils on March 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Phil Kessel‘s terrific playoff wasn’t enough to win over USA Hockey.

On Friday, the Americans completed their 23-man roster for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, and passed on Kessel in favor of four other forwards: David Backes, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky.

Defensemen Jack Johnson, Erik Johnson and Matt Niskanen also made the team.

Kessel, who has nine goals and 18 points through 19 postseason contests, was one of the most noteworthy snubs. Others included another stellar playoff performer — Tampa Bay’s Tyler Johnson — Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, New Jersey’s Kyle Palmieri and the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo.

It’s worth mentioning that Ryan and Okposo were two of the most notable “snubs” from the American team that finished fourth in Sochi.

On defense, Carolina’s Justin Faulk (who played in Sochi), St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Boston’s Torey Krug and the Islanders’ Nick Leddy were all passed over.

The full 23-man roster:

G Ben Bishop, Tampa Bay Lightning
G Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings
G Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

D Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets
D John Carlson, Washington Capitals
D Erik Johnson, Colorado Avalanche *
D Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets *
D Ryan McDonagh, New York Rangers
D Matt Niskanen, Washington Capitals *
D Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild

F Justin Abdelkader, Detroit Red Wings
F David Backes, St. Louis Blues *
F Ryan Callahan, Tampa Bay Lightning *
F Brandon Dubinsky, Columbus Blue Jackets *
F Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks
F Ryan Kesler, Anaheim Ducks
F T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
F Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens
F Zach Parise, Minnesota Wild
F Joe Pavelski, San Jose Sharks
F Derek Stepan, New York Rangers
F James van Riemsdyk, Toronto Maple Leafs *
F Blake Wheeler, Winnipeg Jets

* named to roster today

It’s probably worth pointing out that two of the seven players named to the roster today — Dubinsky and Jack Johnson — play for Team USA head coach John Tortorella in Columbus.

A third, Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan, was the captain in New York when Tortorella coached the Rangers.