2015-16 season expectations: Will the dynasty continue?

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Only one word can describe the Chicago Blackhawks over the past six seasons: Dynasty.

In 2010, Chicago broke a long 49-year drought by beating the Philadelphia Flyers in six games.

In 2013, two late goals by the Blackhawks in the third period of game six sank the Boston Bruins on the road.

In 2015, Chicago took care of an injury-riddled Tampa Bay Lightning to capture the team’s third Stanley Cup win in six years. It is a remarkable feat that has not been seen since the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980’s.

Now, the Blackhawks will look to win its fourth Stanley Cup in seven years, its second consecutive Stanley Cup championship, and continue its dynasty run.

Since the Blackhawks raised the cup on June 15, the complexion of the Blackhawks lineup has changed significantly.

It began with Kimmo Timonen calling it a career after winning his first Stanley Cup in his illustrious 16-year career. The 40-year old native of Finland was acquired by the Blackhawks on February 27 after spending the past seven seasons in Philadelphia.

At the NHL Draft in Sunrise, Florida, Chicago did not have a pick until the second round because its first round pick this year was traded to the Arizona Coyotes in order to acquire center, Antoine Vermette. Also during the draft, the Blackhawks traded goaltender, Antti Raanta to the New York Rangers in exchange for right winger, Ryan Haggerty.

Two days after the NHL Draft, the Blackhawks re-signed one of their blueliners in David Rundblad to a two-year deal worth $1.05 million per year. Rundblad last season with Chicago had three goals and eleven assists in 49 games played.

One player who the Blackhawks were hoping to re-sign this offseason was 22-year old restricted free agent, Brandon Saad. The Blackhawks were pinned up against the salary cap ceiling, and could not come to terms on a new contract. Instead of letting Saad hit the market for teams to offer-sheet the young forward, Chicago traded him to the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The Blackhawks also shipped out defensemen Micahel Paliotta and Alexander Broadhurst. In return, Chicago received forwards Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, and a fourth round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft.

hi-res-3b7a95a914573b7e57e52ce61e0c8f23_crop_northAnisimov had some trouble staying healthy last season in Columbus, as he missed a total of 30 games with a concussion, and later a torn triceps muscle. In 52 games with the Blue Jackets, Anisimov racked up seven goals and 20 assists as the team’s second line center. Anisimov is expected to play the same role in Chicago as the team’s second line center right behind Jonathan Toews. Anisimov was signed to a five-year contract extension with Chicago a day after he was acquired. Anisimov will make an annual salary of $4.55 million a year, which will kick in beginning in the 2016-17 season.

Dano was, quite possibly, one of the better prospects in the Blue Jackets system. The 20-year old center was in-and-out of the lineup for most of the season last year in Columbus, and also missed some time with an undisclosed injury early in the season. In 35 games with the Jackets last season, Dano had eight goals and 13 assists primarily as a third and fourth line forward. Dano will most likely play in Chicago for the majority of the 2015-16 season, but could see some time with the American Hockey League’s Rockford IceHogs. Dano still has two-years left on his rookie contract at the annual league-maximum salary of $925,000

Morin returns to Chicago after he was traded to Columbus this past December. Morin was in-and-out of Chicago’s lineup for the beginning of the season, which led to his trade. Morin was held pointless in his 15 games with the Blackhawks, but with the Blue Jackets he had two goals and four assists in 28 games. Morin will probably serve a similar role in Chicago this season as a fill-in winger who will be in-and-out of the lineup quite often. If Morin were to be sent to the AHL next season, he would have to go through waivers. Morin has one year left on a deal which he signed last offseason worth a salary of $800,000.

Tropp was another one of those forwards who was in-and-out of the lineup for the Blue Jackets last season. Tropp missed a total of 21 games last year, but had a goal and seven assists in 61 games. Tropp is a player who would be eligible for the AHL without being sent through waivers, and that is most likely where he will begin his season. Tropp is in the final year of his two-way deal worth an annual salary of $625,000 at the NHL level.

Tikhonov-640x427The next day, NHL Free Agency began around the NHL, and the Blackhawks were relatively quiet. Chicago did sign free agent forward, Viktor Tikhonov to a one-year deal worth $1.04 million. Tikhonov, who spent the past five years in the Kontinental Hockey League, returns to the NHL since playing with the Coyotes back in the 2008-09 season. Tikhonov had eight goals and 16 assists in 49 games with the KHL champions, SKA St. Petersburg.

In addition to signing Tikhonov, Chicago re-signed free agent forward Andrew Desjardins to a two-year contract worth $1.6 million dollars. Desjardins was acquired by the Blackhawks in a trade with the San Jose Sharks at the trade deadline for forward, Ben Smith. In 13 games with the Blackhawks in the regular season, Desjardins had two assists. In the playoffs, Desjardins finished with a goal and three assists in 21 games played.

Trevor van Riemsdyk was signed to a two-year contract extension on July 7th. van Riemsdyk was injured for a majority of the 2014-15 season with a fractured patella. van Riemsdyk’s contract extension kicks in for the 2015-16 season.

With the Blackhawks against the salary cap ceiling, the team had to make another move to give themselves some space for re-signing a player like Marcus Kruger. As a result, the Blackhawks traded veteran left winger Patrick Sharp to the Dallas Stars. Sharp was one of eight players to have been part of all three Stanley Cup Championship teams in the Blackhawks dynasty. In addition to Sharp going to Dallas, Chicago added in prospect defenseman, Stephen Johns.

In return, Chicago received defenseman, Trevor Daley, and left winger, Ryan Garbutt from the Stars.

Daley_WisniewskiDaley, 31, had a career-year last season in offensive statistics with 38 points (16 goals and 22 assists), however he struggled on the defensive side of the ice. Daley finished the year with the worst corsi-rating on the Stars with a minus-177 rating, and was especially bad when the Stars were ahead in games. Daley also had some troubles staying out of injury trouble, as he missed some time over the season with a knee injury and another undisclosed injury last year. There is no doubt that Daley will benefit the Blackhawks on the offensive side of the defense, but he needs to improve his possessions stats and defensive game. If he can make those improvements, even at age 32, Daley would be a huge addition to the Chicago roster.

As for Garbutt, he struggled in the 2014-15 season, and he could not stay out of trouble with the Department of Player Safety. Garbutt was suspended twice last season for a kneeing incident on Edmonton Oilers forward, Taylor Hall, and a slew-footing incident on Winnipeg Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. In terms of production, Garbutt finished last season with eight goals and 17 assists primarily playing as a third line winger. If Garbutt can stay out of trouble, he can bring some grit to the bottom two lines in Chicago.

In addition to the Stars acquiring Sharp, they also signed former Blackhawks defenseman, Johnny Oduya to a two-year contract.

Other unrestricted free agents that left the Blackhawks during the offseason were center Brad Richards (Detroit Red Wings) and forward Antoine Vermette (Arizona).

With the moves the Blackhawks have made this offseason, here is what the opening night roster may look like against the Rangers:

Forwards:

Versteeg – Toews – Kane*

Teravainen – Anisimov – Hossa

Panarin – Shaw – Dano

Bickell – Kruger – Garbutt

Tikhonov, Desjardins

Defense:

Keith – Seabrook

Hjalmarsson – Daley

van Riemsdyk – Rundblad

Pokka

Goalies:

Crawford – Darling

Chicago may have a predicament at hand with the on-going situation with right winger Patrick Kane. Kane has been under investigation for an incident that happened this offseason in Buffalo. Kane has yet to be charged with any crimes, however if and when he is charged, the Blackhawks could be without him for some time.

Kane had just re-signed to a new eight-year deal which will pay him an annual salary of $10.5 million with Chicago last year July. Recent reports have indicated that the Blackhawks have received trade calls regarding Kane, but whether or not Chicago will trade him remains a mystery. Kane does have a no-movement clause as part of his new contract.

Until Kane is charged or suspended for his actions, Kane will play for the Blackhawks. He will be ready for training camp and the preseason, and be in the lineup come opening night on October 7th.

14451385One player who is poised to have a breakout year with the Blackhawks in 2015-16 is 20-year old forward, Tuevo Teravainen. In his rookie season, Teravainen finished with only four goals and five assists in 34 games played. For the majority of the season, Teravainen was playing a bottom-six forward role, but this season that may change with the recent roster moves. The former 18th overall pick in the 2012 NHL Draft will transition into a top-six forward this year, and could put up some significant numbers if he’s matched up with the right guys. Teravainen could start the season on the second line with guys like Marian Hossa and Anisimov, but could later move to play on the top line with Toews and Kane. If Kane is suspended, maybe Teravainen will get a shot on the first line at right wing if Hossa does not take the role. It would be fair to say that Teravainen could put up at least 20 goals and possibly add 30 assists to his season point totals if he plays on the top two lines.

The players who may be the most intriguing to watch on the Blackhawks roster this year is Artemi Panarin. Panarin was signed by the Blackhawks to a two-year entry-level contract during the playoffs this past year after winning in the KHL with fellow teammate Tikhonov and SKA St. Petersburg. Panarin has a career 76 goals and 107 assists in 263 KHL games, and has never played one shift in the NHL. Panarin is a smaller left winger, 5′ 11″ and 170-pounds, however he is shifty and has a nice shot. Panarin had a career year in the KHL last season with 62 points (26 goals and 36 assists) in 54 games, and averaged a point-per-game in the KHL playoffs last year. Panarin could be a second or third line left winger to start the year, and the Blackhawks hope he will have the same success he had in the KHL in Chicago.

As for Panarin’s teammate, Viktor Tikhonov may not be able to crack the opening night roster unless more moves are made before the start of the season. The Blackhawks have been trying to trade left winger Bryan Bickell all offseason in order to create some cap room to re-sign Marcus Kruger.. No decision has come down on Kane just yet, so it is just a wait-and-see game for Tikhonov. Could he dart back for the KHL if he is not playing with the Blackhawks right away? It could happen, but things may pan out in his favor once the season gets underway.

blackhawks21s-4-webAs for Kruger, he has yet to re-sign with the Blackhawks, but is still hopeful a deal can get done. The 25-year old Swedish center played a prominent role on the bottom two lines, and was also a stellar penalty killer for Chicago last year. Expect a deal to get done in Chicago once training camp gets underway.

The Blackhawks have made its offseason moves, and now it is time to get ready for camp and the beginning of the season. How does the schedule and the season look for the defending champs?

After the opening game against the Rangers on October 7th, Chicago have the next three of four games on the road against Eastern Conference opponents. Chicago will then play the next nine of 13 games at home, beginning with a four-game home-stand.

Chicago’s first matchup with the Lightning will be on October 24th as part of the four-game home-stand.

Chicago goes on its longest road trip beginning on November 18th for a total of six games along the west coast.

In December, Chicago plays nine of its 14 games at home, including a four-game home-stand against Pacific Division teams.

In total, the Blackhawks play a total of four four-game home-stands. Chicago has its third home-stand in January, and its final four-game home-stand in February.

Chicago finishes its season with three of the last five games at the United Center. The final game of the year comes Saturday April 9th when the Blackhawks travel to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets.

Last year, the Blackhawks finished 2014-15 with a 48-28-6 record with 102 points and was third in the Central Division.

ap770327078293With the moves made this offseason, it will be tough for the Blackhawks to repeat from their performance last season. No Sharp, no Saad, maybe even no Kane could spell trouble for Chicago’s hopes at repeating as Stanley Cup Champions. However, it will not stop Chicago from making the playoffs in 2016.

After projecting out the 2015-16 Blackhawks season, Chicago will finish with a 44-27-11 record with 38 regulation / overtime victories and 99 points. Is it enough to be a top three team in the Central Divison? Maybe not, but a wild card spot in the playoffs would be just enough for the Blackhawks to possibly make another magical run in the postseason.

There is no telling how the Blackhawks will finish come the postseason, but head coach Joel Quenneville will do everything possible to put his team in position to win once again. The dynasty in Chicago will look to challenge for the Cup once again, and their goal will be to win another one to continue its dominance in this era of the NHL.

Be sure to keep up to date on the NHL by following Better Live Than Dead Sports on Twitter.


Written by Brayton Wilson

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2015-16 season expectations: Can Lightning strike twice? | BLTD Sports

[…] In the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers, it was a high scoring series with Bishop being able to out-duel Rangers goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist in games five and seven. In the end, Tampa Bay and New York would each score 21 goals in the series. Bishop would be the answer for the Lightning as he recorded two shutouts in the series, including game seven which would send the Lightning to the Stanley Cup Finals to play the Chicago Blackhawks. […]

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