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Core veterans, new talent keep Blackhawks optimistic

by Staff Writer / Chicago Blackhawks

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Blackhawks once again will defend their Stanley Cup championship without several of the key players who helped them win it.

It will be the third time they go through this scenario, though the challenge looks even more daunting this season. They've lost a lot of talent and championship experience in their latest effort to negotiate the NHL salary cap. However, recent history alone suggests the Blackhawks have a solid chance to repeat as champions.

Here are four reasons for the Blackhawks to be optimistic:

Been there, done that: The Blackhawks relied heavily on a vast stockpile of postseason success during last season's Cup run. The departures of Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards and others took a sizable chunk out of that stockpile, but there's plenty of championship pedigree left.

The core group of veterans remains packed with players who've won the Cup multiple times, headlined by captain Jonathan Toews, one of three Conn Smythe Trophy winners on the roster (Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith).

Even Chicago's role players have a wealth of Cup-winning experience. Forwards Andrew Shaw, Marcus Kruger and Kris Versteeg have won the Cup twice with Chicago, as has goalie Corey Crawford. Forward Bryan Bickell has been around for all three titles.

New talent on the way: An infusion of new talent may lessen the pain of what's been lost this offseason.

Forward Artem Anisimov came over in the trade that sent Saad to the Columbus Blue Jackets and signed a five-year contract extension. The Blackhawks hope he'll become the ideal second-line center they've sought for years.

Chicago also received skilled forward Marko Dano in that trade; the 20-year-old could compete right away for a spot on the top line. They also have 20-year-old forward Teuvo Teravainen pushing for a full-time role after a breakout performance in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and 23-year-old Russian rookie forward Artemi Panarin comes with a lot of potential.

Another new face will be veteran defenseman Trevor Daley, who was acquired in the trade that sent Sharp to the Dallas Stars. The hope is Daley can replace Oduya. Another defenseman, 24-year-old Trevor van Riemsdyk, has unlocked potential, and there are other young players near the top of the organizational system waiting for their NHL opportunity.

Duncan Keith: He didn't win the Norris Trophy last season, but it would have been interesting to see where Keith would have finished had the voting been conducted after the playoffs.

Keith, 32, was a unanimous choice for the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. He played more minutes than anybody in the postseason (715:37), was nearly a point-per-game player (21 points in 23 games), and each of his three goals put the Blackhawks ahead for good.

He's coming into this season off another short summer, but Keith's endurance and skill level should be unquestioned at this point. He will again play a vital role.

Corey Crawford: Despite a 1.84 goals-against average and .932 save percentage when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2013, Crawford had his doubters. He proved himself all over again while helping the Blackhawks to their third Cup in six seasons, showing a lot of talent, patience, resiliency and poise.

Crawford lost his starting job to Scott Darling two games into the Western Conference First Round after allowing nine goals on the first 47 shots he faced against the Nashville Predators. But Crawford won it back four games later and had a 2.15 GAA and .933 save percentage during the rest of the playoffs.

The 30-year-old has had 30 or more wins in all four 82-game seasons he's played; he won 19 of 30 appearances during the 48-game season in 2012-13.

The Blackhawks also have an impressive backup, Darling, who's 6-foot-6 and agile, won the No. 2 job last season, and proved himself worthy by going 3-1 with a 2.21 GAA and .936 save percentage in five playoff games, including four starts, against the Predators.

Author: Brian Hedger | Correspondent

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