When the puck drops on the 2015-16 NHL season, there will be one major difference for the Blackhawks.
A banner will join the others in the United Center rafters on Opening Night.
But after the ceremony and applause, a hockey season begins. What will the Blackhawks look like on Oct. 7 when the New York Rangers come calling? And how will the lineup compare with last year’s opener? Let’s take a look.
2014-15 Opening Night
Patrick Sharp – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad – Andrew Shaw – Patrick Kane
Ben Smith – Brad Richards – Bryan Bickell
Jeremy Morin – Marcus Kruger – Dan Carcillo
Scratch: Kris Versteeg
Duncan Keith – Brent Seabrook
Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson
David Rundblad – Trevor van Riemsdyk
Scratches: Michal Rozsival, Kyle Cumiskey
In last season’s opener, at Dallas, the Hawks won 3-2 in a shootout. Chicago’s goals came from Duncan Keith and Patrick Sharp; Sharp also had an assist on Keith’s goal. The Stars goals came from Trevor Daley (on the power play) and Cody Eakin; Ryan Garbutt had the primary assist on Eakin’s goal. Patrick Kane was the only player to convert in the shootout, earning the Hawks the second point in the standings.
In his regular season NHL debut, Trevor van Riemsdyk skated 11:43 and was credited with one blocked shot and one missed shot.
Looking for the bottom of the roster? David Rundblad skated 6:25 on the blue line, while Jeremy Morin (11 shifts, 5:32) and Daniel Carcillo (eight shifts, 4:43) saw limited action.
For Dallas, Daley skated 24:36 and was credited with three blocked shots, two hits and one takeaway with his first goal of the season. Included in Daley’s ice time is 5:42 on the power play and 3:28 on penalty kill duty. The only Stars defenseman to skate more minutes than Daley that night was Alex Goligoski.
Garbutt skated 16:21, including 2:12 short-handed. In addition to his assist, Garbutt was credited with three shots on net, three shots that missed the mark and two hits.
As the roster stands today, what will the Hawks roster look like on Opening Night 2015?
TBD – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
TBD – Artem Anisimov – Patrick Kane
TBD – Andrew Shaw – TBD
Andrew Desjardins – TBD – TBD
That’s six TBD slots out of 12 available forward spots, which may be off-setting immediately. But this doesn’t mean the Hawks don’t have bodies to put in those roles.
hope assume that one/both of Bryan Bickell and Kris Versteeg is gone to make cap space, but neither has been traded… yet. Because there are questions/doubts about them being here in October, they aren’t reflected in our roster projection.
Is Teuvo Teravainen a center or wing? Where does he it in? He’ll be on the roster, but where?
You don’t see Jeremy Morin’s name because, well, #FreeMorin is back, alive and well. Corey Tropp has a number assigned to him but not a roster spot because there are better options here already; he might be in Rockford, or elsewhere, when the regular season begins.
The fourth line center spot – or third for that matter – may be filled by Marcus Kruger. But he – and Joakim Nordstrom for that matter – still need to sign a contract, so we haven’t committed a spot to either of them in the theoretical lineup.
New additions Garbutt, Artemi Panarin and Marko Dano would figure to be in the lineup somewhere, but the the million dollar question is where? Will Viktor Tikhonov be in the mix somewhere as well? Those are four more names to consider.
We can also assume that Garbutt and Desjardins will be in the mix to replace what was once Ben Smith’s spot on penalty killing duty. Brandon Saad had assumed some of his responsibilities late last year, but he’s obviously not here any longer either. Desjardins did a nice job after he was acquired, and Garbutt was a key penalty killer for Dallas last season.
And what about the youngsters? Will Mark McNeill, Phillip Danault, Kyle Baun or Ryan Hartman make the roster?
While one major concern Hawks fans have is faceoffs with Anisimov theoretically replacing Antoine Vermette and/or Brad Richards, it’s worth noting that Blackhawks not-named Toews or Kruger weren’t very good at the dot to start last season. Shaw took the second-highest number of faceoffs in October last year (only 113 in 10 games), and he won just 47.8 percent of them. Richards won only 46 percent of his faceoffs and was limited to 87 draws in 10 games. In fact, only three Hawks were over 50 percent at the dot in October: Toews, Kruger and Smith.
Duncan Keith – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Trevor Daley – Brent Seabrook
Trevor van Riemsdyk – David Rundblad
Comparing this to last year’s opener, the only change is Daley in Johnny Oduya’s slot. And honest expectations are that Rundblad is set to skate the least minutes moving forward.
But is there a seventh defenseman inside the organization? Is Erik Gustafsson a guy who can make the jump straight to the NHL? Do the Hawks consider the size of Viktor Svedberg? Or do they clear enough cap space that they can afford another veteran free agent – or bring one back in a trade to dump Bickell/Versteeg?
While the seventh defenseman is a question, van Riemsdyk will get plenty of attention. The Hawks have unloaded a number of their top blue line prospects (Klas Dahlbeck, Adam Clendening, Mike Paliotta and Stephen Johns) in the last eight months, but TvR has earned enough of coach Joel Quenneville’s confidence that, in spite of injuries cutting his season short on numerous occasions, he got on the ice during the Stanley Cup Final. Is he ready to play a primary role? Can he stay healthy? Because if he can’t physically hold up, whomever ends up being that seventh defenseman becomes even more important.
Crawford has two rings and the crease to open another season. The change behind him – Raanta to Darling – is significant because we saw that Darling can step up when needed as he was a key part of the Hawks getting out of the first round of the playoffs this spring.
So how does the Hawks’ defense of their third championship in six seasons look when the dust settles next summer? Will the losses via trade and free agency be the deal breakers many think they could be? Or will the additions offset them and, perhaps, actually make this year’s team as good – or even better? We’ll see in October, when a lot more of our questions have answers, and it’s time to play hockey for real once again.