Wednesday, May 27, 2009

What's Next: Chicago Blackhawks

There were plenty who thought the Blackhawks had something special last year. I doubt many thought they would get this deep into the playoffs this season, but they had some swagger and no fear, which made this young team to grow as a group, as well as bringing a city that has been dormant to hockey for years back to life. If this is a look at things to come, then you're going to have a solid team in the Central Division and Western Conference for the years ahead.

The one big question heading into the summer and that is what can you do with Nikolai Khabibulin. He was spectacular during the season and into the playoffs, but he left sick during the conference finals and barring a re-signing-- he's gone. Which puts the pressure on Cristobal Huet to perform. While he looked great in Game Five of the Western Final, his inconsistency could be his undoing. While they have the likes of Corey Crawford and Antti Niemi as back-up consideration, the inexperience could be counterproductive to the Hawks goals. Of course, both Crawford and Niemi are RFAs, which means they could bring in an experienced back-up while they get seasoning in Rockford.

Up front, there are plenty of RFAs like Kris Versteeg, Troy Brouwer, and Dave Bolland to name a couple, but seeing as how well they gelled in the season, they will most likely be back. Can't say the same for Martin Havlat, who was decent this season and mostly healthy, but probably will be pushed out for some more youth in the line-up and to free up the money in order to re-sign some RFAs. Also expect some extensions for Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Dustin Byfuglien-- all who are key cogs in the the Hawks future plans.

Defensively, the Hawks have a lot of money tied up in Brian Campbell, who should anchor the defense offensively, but guys like Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith will be the keystones in this wall for the Hawks future. It'll be interesting to see how the Hawks handle Cam Barker's RFA status, especially if they don't have the money to re-sign him. Expect Matt Walker to be back for a small contract like he got this year.

There's a lot to be excited about if you're a Hawks fan or like the success stories like the Hawks have become. This group has done nothing but good for a city that embraced them for years and the hockey town mentality has come back in full effect. This team has the skill set and the leadership in Joel Quenneville to lead them further if they stick to the game-plan. Sad thing is that all it took was long-time owner Bill Wirtz to pass on before this team could really flourish. Bittersweet, indeed.

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