Chicago Blackhawks 2005-2006
TEAM PAYROLL: $28,269,000
GENERAL MANAGER: Dale Tallon: entering 1st season as general manager.
HEAD COACH: . Trent Yawney: entering 1st season as head coach.
FORGOTTEN MOVES: The Blackhawks started in 2004 to add new faces on the team. Prior to the lockout’s beginning, the Hawks signed veteran forwards Curtis Brown and Matt Barnaby, plus defenseman Jassen Cullimore.
TEAM MODE: The Hawks are in a current rebuilding mode. After cleaning up management, newly hired GM Dale Tallon wasted no time firing head coach Sutter and hiring Trent Yawney. He also was not nearly as hesitant to spend money in the off-season on Stanley Cup Winning goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin. Though adding these veterans, the Hawks still have young players in Tyler Arnason, Kyle Calder, Mark Bell, Rene Bourque, but best of all… Tuomo Ruutu. Also adding Cullimore and Aucoin on defense, the team from the Windy City may find itself with another young player in Cam Barker. Though a nice mix of veteran and young players, the Hawks still have some more to go in order to make the playoffs.
TO TAKE CHARGE!: This team will greatly rely on Nikolai Khabibulin, much like Tampa Bay did when acquiring him years ago. Khabibulin finds himself in the same situation as he did in his first day as a Lightning, except this time he is older and has tons more money in his contract. The Hawks are quite weak down the middle, and the defense is nothing more than mediocre at best, excluding the likes of Aucoin and Cullimore. Khabibulin will have to bail the team out a number of times.
ON THE RUSH (OFFENSE): The main center of attention on the offense will become Finn youngster Tuomo Ruutu. This 22 year old could have an explosive season this year after an impressive rookie campaign. He has all the tools needed to step up his game and meet 60 to 70 point margins this year. Yes, I believe he is that good and a solid pick up for fantasy hockey leagues. He will be their go-to-guy, especially on the power-play. In hopes to have a healthy season, Eric Daze still has the ability to be a 2nd tier point getter in the league. If healthy, he can be a major difference to the line-up. Their best center is Tyler Arnason, who gives some concern to management as far as his off-ice issues, but he is almost certain to give the Hawks a 50 to 60 point season. With Tuomo Ruutu expected to have career highs, Arnason’s points may even reach above the 70 point mark. Mark Bell and Kyle Calder should also contribute well offensively with a 20,20 (20 g’s, 20 a’s) season. Bell is starting to find his game more and as he gets closer to his prime years as a power forward, he could find himself on the 1st line.
COVERING THE D-ZONE: Here is where the Hawks could find themselves in trouble. Aside from Aucoin and Cullimore, the defensive core is mediocre. Yes, Todd Simpson and Vandermeer are decent defensively, but can they hold up as a 2nd pair? Babchuk and Barker have a solid chance to win the 2nd defense pairing, but that makes Chicago’s defense too weak. If Aucoin struggles, like many first year UFA’s who sign big contracts do, then the team will be lost in the bottom of the league.
GUARDING THE NET: The Bulin wall turned out to be victorious in Tampa Bay as he went from a porous rebuilding team to a Stanley Cup victory; I guess former GM Rick Dudley got the steal of the deal in Lightning franchise history. But, Khabibulin’s regular season stats were not too impressive, at all, hence losing a number of starts to John Grahame. The situation will go two ways for Khabibulin and the Blackhawks. Either he is at the top of his game in most nights, or he could be the biggest flop in the new CBA’s off-season history. He is one of the better goalies in the league, but at the price that Dale Tallon is willing to pay for him, the Bulin Wall must expect to bail his team out on most nights. I also like Craig Anderson to take the back-up role, even if he has a pretty tough competitor in Michael Leighton. I recall some games where Leighton was actually impressive and won games. It is a toss between these two, but I am rooting for the US born goalie in Craig Anderson
TALKING ABOUT MY GENERATION!: I always like to hear, or read, the name Bourque in the hockey world. It reminds me of one of the best defensemen to ever play in the NHL. However, this is not the Ray Bourque we are hearing about. Rene Bourque is hitting the Chicaho headlines as he is performing very well in training camp and in pre-season. Where did this guy come from? Out of nowhere! Signed as a free agent last year, Bourque won the rookie trophy at the AHL level during the locked out season. He has quickness in his game, but it appears like his hockey sense is standing out the most as he picks the right spots to create scoring chances, and finishing them off. Expect him to start the season with the Hawks, maybe even on the 2nd line, especially if Daze cannot stay healthy. Cam Barker has also raised a lot of eyebrows. He has the size and skills to compete at the NHL level, and most likely will earn a spot on Chicago’s weak defense. Expect him to blossom as a solid two-way defenseman very strong on both ends of the ice.
PROJECTED LINES: It depends where Bourque will fit, but so far this is a good scenario:
EXPECTATIONS: On paper, Khabibulin and Aucoin make the Hawks a decent NHL club, but not always do UFA players earning big bucks meet expectations. With a new general manager and coach, the Blackhawks may take a long while to get on the same page. They are a rebuilding team, they have a bright future, and they have a good bunch of solid young forwards. Martin Lapointe and Matt Barnaby will be able to contribute positively for the team. There is also a possibility that Lapointe may regain his offensive form and be a helpful contributor offensively. Expect the Hawks to have a mediocre and inconsistent season and finish 13th in the Western Conference.
PROJECTED: I believe there is no middle ground for this Original Six team. Things can go smoothly for Chicago where they may actually battle for a playoff seed. However, this team has a bunch of new faces from management to the roster, and I also believe that Khabibulin will be a no-show and see that as the main reason why I see the Hawks finishing 14th in the Western Conference.