Expectations are nothing new to Chicago Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but even for them next season might be different.
In all likelihood, they will enter the campaign as the top two players from a salary cap perspective thanks to their matching eight-year, $84 million contracts kicking in. That pay raise from their previous five-year, $31.5 million deals combined with a smaller cap increase than expected has squeezed the defending Stanley Cup champions, leading to them parting ways with Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Brandon Saad over the summer.
None of that is to suggest that Kane and Toews aren’t worth top dollar after leading Chicago to three Stanley Cup champions, but they are aware that the expectations thrust upon them will only increase with their salary.
“As soon as the next season starts everyone tends to forget about what happened last year and it’s time to go to work again,” Toews told the Chicago Tribune. “We’ve shown we can do that and we know given the fact we just lost … important teammates and the focus is on us and our contract that there is more pressure than ever.”
Kane has thought about it a bit this summer too and realizes that that he will be expected to “live up to that contract.”
The good news from Chicago’s perspective is that the duo has been able to step up in the past under pressure, so it’s not unreasonable to believe that they will be able to rise to the occasion again. That being said, they’ve never single handily won anything for Chicago nor can they do so going forward. A big part of the Blackhawks’ strength has been their superb supporting cast and with some key members of it now gone, the pressure will be on others to step up and fill the void as much as it will be on Kane and Toews to continue to lead the charge.
The Dallas Stars have been busy this summer. However, one of the players they seem to feel so optimistic about heading into the 2015-16 season comes from within their organization.
Valeri Nichushkin, 20, showed plenty of potential in his rookie season with the Stars two seasons ago, scoring 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games. But last season, he played in only eight games and recorded only a single assist.
A hip injury that required surgery greatly disrupted his sophomore season, keeping him out of the Stars lineup from early in November until the beginning of April, when he was recalled for a late push by Dallas to try and make the playoffs.
“We’ve got high expectations for him. He ended up playing in the last four games of the season and it was great to see the chemistry that him Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky,” said Stars GM Jim Nill, via the Dallas Morning News.
“They played together and it was amazing to watch. We’re excited. We think that they could be something special.”
Earlier this week, the Stars signed Johnny Oduya to a two-year deal worth $7.5 million. Prior to that, they acquired Patrick Sharp from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff is already thinking about how he’ll use Dallas’ latest additions and there’s no shortage of possibilities.
Dallas recently acquired Patrick Sharp from the Blackhawks and then inked unrestricted free agent and former Chicago defenseman Johnny Oduya to a two-year, $7.5 million deal. Combined with the earlier signing of goalie Antti Niemi and the Stars have added plenty of playoff experience.
“It’s really important for us to take that next step. These guys have been winners and know how to win. They should help us get there,” Ruff told the team’s website. “Ownership has really stepped up and said we can make this team better. I’ve got to give Tom [Gaglardi] and his family a lot of credit for making this team better with the last couple of pieces here. It’s been tremendous.”
Ruff could see Sharp being paired up with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the top line, but he’s also considering going with more of a one-two punch with a top line that features Benn and Seguin followed by a second unit that includes Sharp and Jason Spezza.
Whichever route he decides to take, the potential is certainly there for the Stars to have two significantly more balanced lines than they did last season. Spezza meshed well with Benn and Seguin when the trio played together, but whenever Ruff opted to employ that star studded line, it came at the expense of the team’s offensive depth. That trio were the only Dallas players to record more than 40 points last season while just Benn and Seguin surpassed the 20-goal mark. The addition of Sharp could expand both of those lists.
As for Oduya, Ruff would like to see him play alongside Jason Demers, which would keep the John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski pairing from last season intact.
Dallas fell just short of making the playoffs last season, but even before these additions, there were reasons to believe that the Stars could do better in 2015-16. It certainly didn’t hurt that they finished with a 14-5-0 run.
Related: Lehtonen, Niemi see benefit in splitting goalie duties