It was quite a season for the Chicago Blackhawks, and the summer hasn't been too bad either.
After winning the Presidents' Trophy and the Stanley Cup, the NHL's version of "winning the double" as a soccer fan might say, the Blackhawks have had a considerably less stressful offseason in the wake of a championship than the previous time in 2010.
2013-14 FANTASY PREVIEW: HAWKS
Under-valued: Jonathan Toews --
Is it possible to be Jonathan Toews and somehow be under-valued? Yes. Thanks to the forward's underwhelming playoff performance (three goals, 11 assists in 23 games), fantasy owners might be a little hesitant to draft Toews. Don't be. He will put up gaudy numbers in all categories but PIMs.
Over-valued: Bryan Bickell -
- Bickell's case is basically the opposite of Toews. After a decent regular season (nine goals, 14 assists in 48 games), the forward thrived in the playoffs (nine goals, eight assists in 23 games). Unfortunately, the regular season stats are a better gauge of what to expect.
Sleeper: Brandon Pirri --
The forward continues to put up big numbers in the American Hockey League (131 points in his past 142 games), but when will he develop into a regular for the Blackhawks? This should be the year, and if he lines up as a second-line center playing with any of the stars in Chicago, he could be a Rookie of the Year candidate.
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General manager Stan Bowman traded role-playing forwards Dave Bolland and Michal Frolik to make enough room below the salary cap to retain playoff revelation Bryan Bickell. Free agent Viktor Stalberg, who expressed unhappiness with his role during the postseason, was unlikely to return and signed with the Nashville Predators.
Backup goaltender Ray Emery, who had a wonderful regular season as the No. 1b netminder but saw as much action between the pipes as Bowman did in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, signed with the Philadelphia Flyers and was replaced with former Blackhawks goalie Nikolai Khabibulin.
Otherwise, Bowman added more depth in goal by singing Antti Raanta after a great year in Finland and on defense by inking Theo Peckham to a two-way contract.
There are a couple of openings to fill up front, but there are several prospects expected to battle for those jobs. Another reason this has been a good offseason for Chicago is several of the top teams chasing the Blackhawks in the Western Conference -- the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks, in particular -- did not make any significant additions to their rosters.
Chicago will face a strong challenge from the St. Louis Blues in the new-look Central Division, but the Blackhawks will enter the season as one of the favorites to win the conference and the Stanley Cup for a third time in five seasons.
Here is the projected 2013-14 lineup for the Blackhawks:
Bryan Bickell - Jonathan Toews - Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp - Brandon Pirri - Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad - Andrew Shaw - Jeremy Morin
Michal Handzus - Marcus Kruger - Ben Smith
Duncan Keith - Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson - Johnny Oduya
Nick Leddy - Michal Rozsival
Sheldon Brookbank - Theo Peckham
NOTES: The Blackhawks have been looking for a long-term solution at center behind Toews for years; maybe Pirri can be that guy. There are options in the short term (Handzus, Sharp, maybe Saad) if he isn't.
There are a couple of spots in the bottom six open, with Smith, Morin and Jimmy Hayes among the young players who will be in contention for them. The defense returns intact, and it seems reasonable to think the pairings will look just as they did when the season ended.
Crawford will likely see a higher percentage of starts with Emery gone, and his star turn in the postseason has him firmly on the radar of the evaluators for the Canadian entry in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
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