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FEATURE: Blackhawks moving on, focused on upcoming season

Blackhawks SVP/GM Stan Bowman says he expects a hungry team to enter training camp with eyes on a return to playoffs

by Chris Wescott /

"You always have to turn the page and move forward."

Chicago Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman and his staff spent time looking back on last season's disappointments, and now the organization is ready to move on.

Training camp is right around the corner and as players converged in Chicago for the 11th Annual Blackhawks Convention last weekend, it was clear they too were ready move on to 2018-19.

"We're all frustrated with the season we had," said Alex DeBrincat. "I think next year, we're all going to remember what happened and really move on from there. It's a new season, a new start and we can really do something special."

The Blackhawks made a few additions this offseason to bolster the bottom part of their roster, while they expect continued growth from their youth, as well as bounce-back seasons from their veteran core of top-end talent.

Thus, the team signed Stanley Cup champion veterans such as forward Chris Kunitz and goaltender Cam Ward, then added physicality on defense with Brandon Manning in free agency.

Video: The New Guys

"We had a few things we wanted to add and we were able to do that with the players we signed already," said Bowman, who also brought back Stanley Cup depth forward Marcus Kruger via trade.

The Blackhawks current players recognize the experience coming in.

"I think all three of the signings in free agency (I'm excited to play with)," said Patrick Kane. "When you look at Cam Ward, he's a proven goaltender who has started a lot of games in this league, won a Cup, won a Conn Smythe Trophy. Chris Kunitz, who I know pretty well from skating with him and training with him in the past, what he's done in his career and winning four Stanley Cups, bringing that leadership quality and experience factor to our locker room will be really helpful to a lot of our core guys. Brandon Manning seems like a player who is just coming into his own right now and just getting better and better. I think all three of them are great additions."

It's clear, however, that these moves aren't meant to take away from youth or players expected to rebound, but rather support them.

"We also have some young players that had some good endings to their seasons in Rockford. They had a nice run there and I think a few players showed they're probably knocking on the door of the NHL," said Bowman. "When you add up those guys and some new faces, I think we're going to see some new looks on our team next year. Hopefully, we can see all the other mainstays come back hungrier than ever, on top of their games and trying to push to be better. I think the combination of all those factors will give us reason for optimism."

For young players like DeBrincat, the focus for 2018-19 is about building off his 28-goal rookie season while pushing for more team success.

"You think about the team game," he said. "As we go along with that, I'll do anything I can to get better. I know moving on, what I did last year was pretty good but it's not good enough. For me to be satisfied, we have to have team success and really do something, get to the playoffs. From there, we can do anything really. That's what I'm looking toward."

Kane is also looking at himself in the mirror, hoping this summer will yield results on the ice come October.

"Just trying to work on things within my game, within your body that's going to help certain things on the ice, whether it's lateral movement, agility or speed, explosiveness, things like that," he said. "The way players train now, it's unbelievable the amount of preparations and work that goes into an offseason now but I think you definitely start to see the results."

Video: Patrick Kane on his offseason, new teammates

Duncan Keith remains focused on staying sharp.

"It's obviously a bitter feeling when you don't make the playoffs but we lost out in the first round two years before that so that was a long offseason there as well," he said. "Every time you have a long offseason, there's always some rust that accumulates. I think it's important to do as much as you can off the ice and on the ice to stay sharp and be ready to go because it has been a long layoff."

The return to the postseason is a priority for the Blackhawks, as it is for every organization left out of the dance in April.

"That's our goal," Bowman said at the Blackhawks' recent Development Camp. "I think your goal is to win the Stanley Cup, but you have to get into the playoffs first. That's what we're focused on. We need a lot of things from our group. As we start out in training camp, we're going to set our goals internally and stay focused on that.

"You have to get out to a good start and then you have to have your players who had good seasons last year trying to build on that. We're looking at young players like DeBrincat and (Nick) Schmaltz. It's not always easy your second year in the League because you get more attention. We've talked to those guys about it and they've been training hard. The top guys are poised to really come out strong. We're going to have some new players in the mix, not a whole new group but enough new players that it's going to give a different look to the team and I think it's going to energize our guys. I know the guys are hungry and motivated to get back to the playoffs."

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