The Chicago Blackhawks are no strangers to off season personnel changes, and certainly, they are well versed at dealing with the struggles that come along with success in the cap era. In their minds, this is all part and parcel to winning championships.
However, even Stan Bowman can’t magically find an answer to the off season strife that was set in motion in Buffalo this summer, no matter what the outcome.
As it stands right now, Patrick Kane may or may not be available for the coming season. If he is available, perhaps his presence will prove to be more of a distraction than the Hawks can manage. If he isn’t, then the time is now for the young talent to step up and fill that void, and boy is there a lot of young talent waiting for their opportunity to do just that.
We have to be prepared for all possible outcomes, because one thing is for certain, this development isn’t going away quickly or quietly…but that’s not what we need to focus on. Simply put, there is nothing that can be done about that. At least not in terms of the team, or the fans.
What Bowman and his team have, is a slew of talented young forwards and a couple of up and coming defense men waiting in the wings to fill whatever holes are left by any veteran departures. And that is a lot more than a lot of teams have, even if Patrick Kane doesn’t play a single game. To be fair, Bowman’s job is not an easy one, and undoubtedly he will always have to make some very unpopular decisions in order to keep the team rolling, and maintain the fan support at the same time. A fact that was clearly illustrated this summer.
On June 30th, the Blackhawks suffered what could be arguably the most painful loss of any off season since 2010. Brandon Saad was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Wait a minute…What?!?!? You have to be kidding!!!! These are all thoughts that I, and many other Blackhawks faithful had in the minutes after the first rumors broke that Saader was on his way out. I was devastated like many of you, and I’d go so far as to say, genuinely pissed off. But then, I started to look at the pieces that came back in return. Particularly, Anisimov and Dano.
Artem Anisimov is a big, two way center with something to prove. Sure he’s had a few injuries, and perhaps he doesn’t command the same kind of attention that Toews does, but he is the kind of solid number two pivot Bowman has been chasing since he took over. An intelligent centerman, that has the vision and hockey sense to effectively move the puck in all three zones, and as a bonus he also happens to see the back of the net with some consistency. What’s better, is that he has the size to offset smaller line mates whether it’s Kane, Panarin or Teravainen.
Then, you have Marko Dano. A versatile forward that can play left, right or center. He is coming off a rookie season that was actually quite impressive, and not entirely unlike that of Saad in his rookie season. If you still can’t see past the loss of Saader, then consider this…Dano’s numbers were about dead even with Saad as a rookie, and he wasn’t playing with line mates like Kane, Sharp, Hossa and Toews. So, imagine what kind of impact they could have on his overall game going forward.
Dano may not have the explosive skating power that Saad has, but he is a very efficient skater and he will no doubt get more powerful as he goes along. In fact, if you have been following Dano this summer, you’ll know that he has been dilligently training with Marian Hossa, and following the regimen that has been successful for the Hawks season after season. A regimen that much of the league has been trying to emulate recently, for all of it’s success and the durability and stamina it has provided particularly for players like Keith and Hjalmarsson.
Watching Dano evolve should be fun for the players, the coaches and most of all the fans. There is a lot of upside with the addition of Marko Dano, and I think there is a good possibility we will see him on a line with his father’s former teammate, Marian Hossa. Something that will undoubtedly help his growth as a player, both on and off the ice.
In addition to those acquisitions, we also picked up Trevor Daley from Dallas in the trade that sent Sharpie and Johns to the Stars. I’m still on the fence about this trade, but Bowman has earned the benefit of the doubt, has he not?
While there are a lot of aspects of Daley’s game that I like, he’s going to have a lot to prove. We know he can score, but as a second pairing defenseman playing for the Hawks and Coach Q, he’s going to have to be a lot more accountable with the puck in his own end. If not, this trade is going to look a lot more lopsided when Q healthy scratches him for games on end.
However, I think Daley is up to the task and motivated to prove he can be the type of player that the Blackhawks need him to be. Regardless of Daley’s ability to mold himself into that type of player, to me Johns was still a huge loss. Sharpie hurts, but it wasn’t a surprising move, and most can see that it was necessary. The biggest thing here is that Daley will have to in some respects fill Oduya’s role, and those are some pretty big shoes to fill. Especially considering many people will be thinking, we could have kept Oduya to fill that role, but instead the two have essentially switched places and we don’t have Stephen Johns waiting in the wings anymore.
We’ve also added a pair of Russians (three in fact, with Anisimov). Artemi Panarin, who is a young phenom that has drawn a lot of comparison to Kane and Teravainen. If he’s half the player that he’s expected to be, he should be a lot of fun to watch. And, if Kane is unavailable, Panarin just might be able to fill some of that void. He is a small forward, but he has the same type of slippery skating skills, premonition like vision, and quick hands that both Kane and Teravainen bring to the table.
Considering those types of skills combined are hard to come by in this, or any league, it’s pretty crazy to have several players like that in one place. Unlike Kane, Teravainen and Panarin are still sharpening the tools they have in their arsenal, but you can expect the learning curve to be far less steep with the potential line mates they’ll have around them. Something that Kane did not have in such abundance at the same stage in his career.
You also have Viktor Tikhonov. Another Russian who is looking for redemption in a league that has been home to him since he was a child. His hockey pedigree is astonishing to be certain, but what he brings to the table has little to do with his hockey heritage, and everything to do with his will. He is the type of player that can, and will park himself in the line of fire and make things happen on both ends of the ice. He won’t be a flashy scorer, but his number will be ingrained in the minds of goalies across the league, and the bodies he introduces to the boards.
He is by far the biggest guy we’ve had to plant in front of the net since Big Buff, and that’s a hole that we’ve been attempting to patch since his departure in 2010. Of course, Shaw has done his best to pester the goalies and in fact, his best was good enough to help win two more titles. However, even Shaw would likely welcome the assistance, and it’ll allow Shaw to open the ice up a bit and get his offense rolling a little more.
Tiknonov also brings something else to the table. It isn’t something the fans will see or notice, but to Panarin it will be invaluable. Tikhonov is fluent in both English and Russian. In fact, if you talk to Tikhonov, you’d be surprised to hear not even a trace of a Russian accent, unless he wants you to hear it. Having grown up in San Jose where his Dad was an assistant coach, then moving on to Kentucky and eventually Arizona, the language is second nature to him.
If you ask Tuevo Teravainen, he’d tell you how hard it was to adjust when he didn’t speak the same language as most of the team, or the media. He had Antti Raanta to help him, but Raanta was only a year or two removed from being in the same boat. There is little doubt that Tikhonov will be effective for the Blackhawks, even if his impact seems smaller on the ice, his ability to help Panarin adjust might just be the gamebreaker. It certainly won’t hurt that he’s played with the young forward in Russia, as well.
Finally, this year will mark a new era for the blue line. The youth movement is upon us, and we will see some new faces whether it’s Ville Pokka, Erik Gustafsson or Viktor Svedburg. In addition, we’ll be seeing a lot more of David Rundblad and Trevor Van Reimsdyk as their roles expand into the third pairing with the departures of Oduya and more than likely Rosival, too. Though, it is more than likely the two will be paired with veterans, rather than play together in order to reduce the pressure on the two young blue liners.
Even if the worst were to happen, and Kane is unavailable for some or all of the season(s) ahead, this team has never been more loaded with highly skilled forwards as they have the potential to be right now. There is no way the changes will come without some serious growing pains, but it’s way to early to be writing this team off as another cap casualty. For the veterans, they have a cup to defend. For the new guys, they all want a taste of the success this team has had, and for the young guns they want to prove that they’re ready to make an impact in this league.
It won’t be easy, but nothing worth chasing is ever easy.
In all of the adversity the off season has brought, the team has managed to retool, add some youth and fresh legs, and finally add the veteran depth up the middle that could help this team stay relevant for years to come, even if the unthinkable happens. Time will tell, but until then the new season is upon us, and the cup is still ours to defend.