On Opening Day, all that glitters is gold and life is good. In Denver at 9 PM CT (on CommittedIndians partner VERSUS), the Blackhawks will officially begin the defense of their Stanley Cup Championship.
To begin the season, it’s prediction time. We haven’t wandered down the road very far during the preseason because of the questions on the roster and players movement all over the Central Division (heck, the entire NHL), but the season begins now. So, here we go with our bold predictions for the 2010-11 Chicago Blackhawks season.
- Marian Hossa will score 45 goals and 100 points.
Hossa is an elite scorer, everyone knows that. His career highs are 43 goals and 100 points, set in Atlanta in 2006-07, and he could easily get to and exceed those numbers this year. With all due respect to that very, very good Thrashers team (division champions including Hossa, V. Kozlov and I. Kovalchuk), they had three players eclipse 40 points. Hossa could have a center on any of the Hawks top three lines top 40 points this year, and if he’s with Jonathan Toews the sky is the limit. Having an elite scorer like Patrick Kane splitting the focus of opponents’ defenses helps, too.
- Both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane will break 90 points.
Kane scratched for 88 points to lead the team last year, so this isn’t a stretch. It looks like he’ll start the year on a line with Patrick Sharp at center, and there will probably be a power forward (either Bryan Bickell or, more likely, Troy Brouwer) with them. He’s a top-tier talent who should easily increase his scoring again over last year if he stays healthy.
For Toews, this may feel like a bold statement but it really isn’t far from being very likely. His last two seasons have been 69 and 68 points, respectively, but we’ve seen a more offensive mindset from him in the Olympics and playoffs; he’s clearly able to be a point-per-night guy in the NHL. If he skates with Hossa all season, he could easily improve on his career highs of 34 goals (’08-09) and 43 assists (’09-10).
- Viktor Stalberg will replace Andrew Ladd.
Everyone’s been bashing Stalberg since the preseason started, and he’s earned a lot of the criticism. He wasn’t as flashy as Jeremy Morin, and wasn’t as physical as Jack Skille. His speed didn’t show up until the final two preseasons, and the roster movement didn’t provide a lot of line stability for him. Basically, it wasn’t a very good preseason for Stalberg.
But we need to step back and take a deep breath. My prediction is that Quenneville will use Stalberg in the same role he did Ladd last year, and that Stalberg could become very successful in that role. Consider the size similarities (Stalberg: 6-3, 210; Ladd: 6-3, 205) and that both are 24-years-old, and it seems like a pretty natural fit for Stalberg to come in a physically fill the Ladd-sized hole on the roster. When you frame his size into a context of nine goals in 40 games on a bad Toronto team last year, he should get better next to a center like Dave Bolland this year if he does assume Ladd’s spot on the Hawks’ checking line.
Ladd gave the Hawks 17 goals, 21 assists and 104 hits last year. If he earns 75 games in the NHL this year, Stalberg could do the same.
- Fernando Pisani will replace John Madden.
Really not much of a stretch here. Pisani was brought in because he’s a special teams ace, and he’ll probably be asked to skate 9-12 minutes a night between the third and fourth lines and on the secondary special teams units. Based on what he showed us in the preseason, he could become as much of a fan favorite as well.
- Duncan Keith will repeat as winner of the Norris Trophy.
- Brent Seabrook will get a five-year contract before Christmas.
Do I really need to explain this in detail? Hawks fans know how good Keith can be, and Seabrook is his wingman. Because of the new rules in place after the Ilya Kovalchuk fallout, a five-year deal is about as long as teams are going to offer now. Considering the organizational depth the Blackhawks have coming up on the blue line (Leddy, Shawn Lalonde, Dylan Olsen, Brian Connelly, Stephen Johns, etc), five years makes sense for the franchise as well.
- One of Nick Boynton/Jordan Hendry will not be in Chicago by Thanksgiving.
- Nick Leddy will be a finalist for the Calder Trophy.
With Brian Campbell out for a month, the 19-year-old Leddy has a chance to continue to impress coaches and teammates. Looking back at how Quenneville handled breaking Niklas Hjalmarsson into the league at the end of the 2008-09 season, and how he was able to work his way into not only the Hawks’ top four but a $3.5M per year contract in less than two full season, the veteran skill surrounding Leddy will act like bubble wrap and give the kid every opportunity to succeed.
Reality for the Hawks is that Boynton and John Scott bring the same thing to the ice, and Hendry brings… nothing. Leddy is one of the youngsters that is the future on the Hawks’ blue line, and has already shown flashes of being an elite puck-moving defenseman. None of the other three guys at the bottom of the depth chart is considered a puck-mover; Boyton and Scott are rented meat, and Hendry is a warm body. My guess is Hendry suffers the same fate that Aaron Johnson did last year, and the Hawks move him when Campbell comes back.
- Marty Turco will have more assists than Dustin Byfuglien.
Big Buff had 17 assists on a stacked team as a forward last year; he’s now a defenseman on a mediocre Atlanta squad. Turco’s outlet passing has already led to three quick goals in the preseason. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Turco ended the year over 20 assists.
- A veteran forward will be traded.
The Hawks have too much talent coming to not promote someone at some point, and they have a few deals that are expiring after the 2010-11 season. If I were a gambling man, my money would be on Tomas Kopecky being moved before the deadline to make room for Jeremy Morin.
- The Blackhawks will win the Central Division again.
- The Blackhawks will finish as the #3 seed in the West.
- The Blackhawks will not win the Stanley Cup again.
Yes, I know… the first prediction here is nice and the second is OK. But what’s up with the third?
Detroit is a really good team, and I honestly wouldn’t be shocked if they won the Central this year. But health is a concern for them, as is depth when you’re most significant free agent addition is over 40 (Mike Modano). The Hawks might take time to gel, but they’re young and their organization is deep.
Regarding the Western Conference, the Vancouver Canucks will be this year’s top seed. They’re in a division they’ve owned for the last few years, and they got better this summer with additions on their blue line of Dan Hamhuis and Keith Ballard; there’s a good reason a lot of people are picking them to win it all (I’m not). The second seed could be San Jose or Los Angeles. LA has a good young group of players but haven’t added the depth they would have liked around it; they’ll probably be very active in the trade market. San Jose is San Jose; they’ll be around until mid-April and then disappear.
My final prediction here is not negative. Only two teams have repeated as Stanley Cup champions in the last 20 years, and none since the lockout. Reality is that, in this salary cap-driven world, doing it back-to-back is nearly impossible. I think the Blackhawks will be a top team all year, and could even get back to the Finals, where anything can happen. But expecting a repeat is probably asking too much.
- The Blackhawks will win two more Stanley Cups before Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are free agents again.
This is a direct response to those that started hating me for saying the Hawks won’t repeat. GM Stan Bowman has stacked the organization with talent everywhere, and the team will be around the top of the NHL for the next decade. The Hawks have five more years with Kane and Toews under contract, and bringing along kids like Leddy, Olsen, Lalonde, Morin, Kyle Beach, Marcus Kruger and others will only make the Hawks deeper, younger and, in my opinion, better.