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Hawks won't be pushed around after offseason moves

by Brian Hedger
The swollen black eye that Patrick Kane sported in the final press conference of last season spoke volumes for the Chicago Blackhawks.

Despite losing a lot of talent in a slew of offseason moves after winning the 2010 Stanley Cup, what the Hawks missed the most was grit and veteran leadership. After a short summer, they got off to a slow start in defense of the Cup and seemed to be on the wrong side of puck battles, hard hits and scraps in front of the net.


ones to watch
In short, the Hawks felt like they got pushed around a little and didn't like it. To remedy that, Blackhawks Vice President and General Manager Stan Bowman set out this summer to make Chicago more abrasive, hoping the addition of some sandpaper would open the ice for the core of skilled stars still in place.

Just before free agency started, Bowman acquired veteran blueliner Steve Montador in a trade with Buffalo and worked out a new contract with him. Bowman then inked forwards Jamal Mayers, Andrew Brunette, Daniel Carcillo and Brett McLean, plus veteran defenseman Sean O'Donnell -- each to one-year contracts -- on the first day of free agency.

"I'm eager to see how the new players fit into the mix and really to see our team get off to a better start," Bowman said. "Last year we were playing catch-up for a lot of the year after a slower start than we wanted. The guys that were here last year are hungry to get back on the ice. They're certainly ready to go and prove this is going to be a good season for us. We're going to be more difficult to play against and that's going to hopefully help some of our more offensive players."

The result already is being seen early in training camp, as Mayers and Carcillo are working on a line together -- with Carcillo already stirring things up.

The Hawks feel good about the situation in goal as well, with Corey Crawford the unquestioned starter following a strong rookie season.

Chicago lost a lot of puck-moving ability by trading Brian Campbell to the Florida Panthers, but the Hawks still feel good about their defense corps -- which should run eight deep on the roster.

All told, the Hawks feel refreshed, re-stocked and ready to make another serious charge at a deep playoff run.

The forward position is really the only spot open for prospects.

The most likely to make the jump to the NHL are Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger, both of whom played in the seven-game first-round loss to the Vancouver Canucks last season. Otherwise, it's just a matter of Hawks coach Joel Quenneville figuring out line combinations.


IN: Andrew Brunette, LW (free agent, Wild); Daniel Carcillo, LW (free agent, Flyers); Ray Emery, G (tryout, Ducks); Sami Lepisto, D (free agent, Blue Jackets); Jamal Mayers, RW (free agent, Sharks); Brett McLean, C (free agent, SC Bern, Switzerland); Steve Montador, D (trade, Sabres); Sean O'Donnell, D (free agent, Flyers); Rostislav Olesz, LW (trade, Panthers)

OUT: Troy Brouwer, LW (trade, Capitals); Brian Campbell, D (trade, Panthers); Chris Campoli, D (free agent); ); Jassen Cullimore, D (free agent, Iserlohn, Germany); Jake Dowell, C (free agent, Stars); Jordan Hendry, D (free agent, Wild); Ryan Johnson, C (free agent, Red Wings);Tomas Kopecky, C (trade, Panthers); Fernando Pisani, RW (free agent); Marty Turco, G (free agent).
Chicago remains loaded with talent at the top, with captain Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Kane and Patrick Sharp leading the way -- but the Hawks also added to it by signing the 38-year old Brunette, who makes up for his skating deficiencies with a big body and great hands.

Another new face is that of Rostislav Olesz, a former first-round pick of the Florida Panthers whom the Hawks received in the Campbell trade. Olesz hasn't lived up to being the seventh pick of the 2004 draft, but he’s still 25 and has looked strong early in camp while playing on a line with Brunette and Toews.

There are some questions as to whether Sharp -- who's out while recovering from an emergency appendectomy -- will be used as the second-line center or play wing on the top line. Either way, Sharp usually finds ways to be effective.

Third-line center Dave Bolland isn't having any hold-over symptoms from a concussion that kept him out of the last few weeks of the regular season and first three playoff games, and his line -- including forwards Bryan Bickell and Michael Frolik -- will be looked upon to provide energy and production.

The fourth line likely will feature Carcillo and Mayers on the wings, with the center yet to be determined. This is the line Bowman and Quenneville hope will erase some of those bumps and bruises the Hawks incurred as the targets of physical play last season.

"There's a lot of options," Quenneville said. "We have a lot of options as far as who's going to be playing with who at the end of it. We're already talking about the depth we have up front and some of the decisions we're going to have to make as we go along here."

While Campbell's huge contract caused salary-cap issues, his puck-moving abilities, offensive skills and speed surely will be missed. Still, the defense corps that Bowman has put on the ice looks solid from top to bottom.

A rested and refreshed Duncan Keith will likely once again play with Brent Seabrook on the top pairing, while Quenneville will have a number of options to skate with Niklas Hjalmarsson on the second pairing -- though it most likely will start being Montador.

The third pairing likely will be chosen on a game-by-game basis from Sami Lepisto, O'Donnell, Nick Leddy and John Scott.

"At the end of the day, we’ve got eight guys on the back end that look like they're NHL-caliber experience or depth-wise," Quenneville said. "There could be some (tough) decisions you've got to make."

Crawford said he isn't worried about any kind of "sophomore jinx" after his outstanding rookie season. Instead, he's focused on the way last season ended -- with a heartbreaking loss in overtime of Game 7 against the Canucks. Despite giving up the series-clinching goal, Crawford stood out with a stellar performance to keep the Hawks in that game.

He had a 2.20 goals-against average in that series, and combined with a 33-18-6 record in 57 regular-season games, the Hawks are high on his potential this season. He was signed to a new three-year contract in the offseason, and entered training camp as the unquestioned starter.

"There's a little bit different feeling," he said. "It's nice to know you have a three-year deal coming into camp, but at the same time I'm so focused to earn that ice time and show the guys, even the new guys, that you're the guy."

Behind him is a battle between 24-year old Alexander Salak and 28-year old Ray Emery. After recovering from a career-threatening hip injury Emery played 16 regular-season and playoff games with the Anaheim Ducks. After the Ducks opted not to re-sign him, Emery was invited to Chicago's camp, and appears to have the inside track on the No. 2 job.
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