The Chicago Blackhawks are used to long springs and short summers of late, with their usual runs through the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But not in 2015-16, when they were knocked out in the Western Conference First Round by the St. Louis Blues in seven games.
The playoff exit was the Blackhawks' earliest since 2011-12, a span in which Chicago won the Stanley Cup twice and lost in the Western Conference Final. But not last season. The good news is that should leave the Blackhawks better rested and hungry again entering this season.
The Blackhawks were a little light on defense after losing Johnny Oduya to the Dallas Stars in free agency last summer (something that bit them in the end) but has managed to shore up that weakness with a familiar face. The question now is whether the Blackhawks have enough depth up front to get back to where they want to go after they've been forced to make a couple of difficult moves in the name of salary cap compliance.
Here is what the Blackhawks look like today:
KEY ARRIVALS: Brian Campbell, D: A member of the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning Blackhawks, playing with them from 2008-2011, Campbell returns as one of the better free agent defensemen available this summer. Plus, the 37-year-old reportedly signed a team-friendly one-year, $2.25 million contract. He makes his offseason home in Chicago. … Michal Kempny, D: The second key arrival is another defenseman the Blackhawks hope will fill their holes on the blue line. But Kempny wasn't a July 1 acquisition; general manager Stan Bowman nabbed him in May, signing the 25-year-old out of the Kontinental Hockey League. He will play for the Czech Republic in the 2016 World Cup of Hockey in Toronto. … Jordin Tootoo, F: The right wing will help provide depth among the forward group. The 33-year-old had four goals and five assists in 66 games for the New Jersey Devils last season.
KEY DEPARTURES: Andrew Ladd, F: Ladd, who was acquired in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets prior to the NHL Trade Deadline last season, signed a seven-year contract with the New York Islanders. A member of the Blackhawks' 2010 Cup-winning team, he had eight goals and 12 points in 19 regular-season games with Chicago, and a goal and an assist in the playoff series against St. Louis. … Teuvo Teravainen, F: Teravainen, 21, had 13 goals and 22 assists in 78 regular-season games in 2015-16 after a breakout 2015 postseason (four goals, six assists in 18 games). He was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes along with Bryan Bickell in a salary cap move. His loss has left the Blackhawks scrambling a bit. … Andrew Shaw, F: Though Shaw's tenure with the Blackhawks ended on a poor note, suspended for Game 5 against the Blues for a homophobic slur, he was a productive and gritty player in Chicago who had 14 goals and 20 assists last season. He was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for two second-round picks in the 2016 NHL Draft. … Dale Weise, F: After being acquired in a trade with the Canadiens before the trade deadline, Weise had one assist in 15 regular-season games and a goal in four playoff games, but he was the kind of depth player the Blackhawks don't seem to have many of at this point. He signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Flyers.
ON THE CUSP: Nick Schmaltz, C: The Blackhawks' first-round draft pick (No. 20) in 2014 should get a look in training camp. The 20-year-old signed a three-year entry level contract in June, leaving the University of North Dakota, reportedly because of the potential for a spot that opened after Teravainen was traded. Schmaltz had 46 points (11 goals, 35 assists) last season for North Dakota. … Tyler Motte, F: Motte agreed to a three-year contract in April and could be pushing for a spot this season after scoring 56 points (32 goals, 24 assists) as a junior at the University of Michigan. He was a fourth-round draft pick (No. 121) in 2013. … Ryan Hartman, F: Hartman is another candidate to get a promotion. The first-round draft pick (No. 30) in 2013 has played eight games in the NHL over the past two seasons and had 35 points (15 goals, 20 assists) in 61 games in the American Hockey League last season.
WHAT THEY STILL NEED: More offensive depth, up top and on the fourth line. The Blackhawks boast some very talented players -- such as, say, Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane -- but they do not run very deep, something that was blamed for their early exit from the playoffs. With little salary cap space, Chicago wasn't able to re-sign players such as Ladd and Shaw, and having traded Teravainen, now needs to fill in its gaps with low-cost players. That's where some of its prospects (like Schmaltz and Motte) could come in handy. The Blackhawks head into training camp with only two sure-fire productive lines in a league in which at least three are required.
PETE JENSEN'S FANTASY FOCUS: Kane won the NHL scoring title last season, and Artemi Panarin won the Calder Trophy. Is this the match made in heaven it appears to be, or could the dreaded sophomore slump throw things off course for Panarin? The fact Panarin, 24, was a more mature first-year player and among the League leaders in even-strength (53, tied for eighth among forwards) and power-play points (24, tied for 11th) certainly helps his fantasy cause, but taking him in the third round is still much more ideal than reaching for him in the second.
Richard Panik - Jonathan Toews - Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane
Andrew Desjardins - Dennis Rasmussen - Vincent Hinostroza
Brandon Mashinter - Marcus Kruger - Jordin Tootoo
Duncan Keith - Niklas Hjalmarsson
Brian Campbell - Brent Seabrook
Michal Kempny - Trevor van Riemsdyk