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One Minute Remaining: Speculation And Anticipation

by Harvey Wittenberg / Chicago Blackhawks
Second-guessing probably ranks as the #1 activity among sports fans, and the Blackhawks faithful are no exception. In the wake of Marian Hossa’s shoulder surgery, some Blackhawks fans have been clamoring for the players the team lost in free agency.

Yes, it would have been great if there was some way to keep Nikolai Khabibulin, Martin Havlat, Sammy Pahlsson or Matt Walker for another season. The fact is that it just wasn't possible with the NHL’s salary cap.

While Marian Hossa’s rotator cuff surgery appears to be a setback for early this season, it will provide an opportunity for one of the young Hawks forwards to step up. It isn’t difficult to remember the last Blackhawks forward to take such a step: Kris Versteeg, whose tremendous 2008-09 season earned him a Calder Trophy nomination. Players such as Jack Skille, Kyle Beach, Akim Aliu and Shawn Lalonde could also make an impact if they land on the Hawks’ roster this October.

The addition of an outstanding two-way forward in Tomas Kopecky and Selke Trophy winner John Madden makes the Hawks’ free agent signings very promising. As for Hossa, think of him as the best midseason acquisition the Blackhawks could possibly make.

With a solid season behind them, the youngest team in the NHL is expected to soar higher in 2009-10. Detroit head coach Mike Babcock said, "If [Chicago] can keep their team together with today's salary situation, they will be tough to beat." Of course, he said that before the Hawks signed away Hossa and Kopecky.

There are always surprises, but head coach Joel Quenneville's biggest task heading into this season will be re-igniting the spark that carried the team to their best playoff run since 1995.

If the stars align, who knows -- the 2009-10 season could include the Blackhawks’ best playoff run since 1961.
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