2008-09 Chicago Blackhawks Preview

(Sports Network) - Every time I think of Chicago, I think of the movie "The Blues Brothers", the old one, not the horrible remake with John Goodman and "hefty" Dan Aykroyd.

One of the most famous and oft-quoted lines from that movie is, "We're on a mission from God."

Now I don't want to say that the 'Hawks are on a biblical quest, but this team added some key pieces to a budding, young squad and will be determined to get the Windy City back into the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-02 season.

FORWARDS - Before the start of last season, the Blackhawks got lucky and won the draft lottery to get the No. 1 overall pick in 2007 and they used that pick to select Patrick Kane.

Just 18 years old at the start of last season, the Buffalo, NY native did not disappoint as he totaled 21 goals and 51 assists on the way to becoming the first Chicago player to win the Calder Trophy since Ed Belfour in 1991.

Kane wasn't the only rookie to make an impact with Chicago last season, though, as Jonathan Toews, the third overall pick of the 2006 draft, finished as a runner up to Kane in the Calder Trophy voting. Finishing second overall for goal scoring on the team with 24 markers, the 'Hawks rewarded the 20-year- old in the offseason by naming him the 34th captain in team history, the third-youngest player to get the "C" in NHL history.

Joining the two youngsters in production was Patrick Sharp, who finished with career-highs in goals (36), assists (26) and points (62). The 26-year-old was also a force on special teams as he led the team with nine power-play markers and finished tied for first in the league with seven shorthanded goals. In addition, he led the team with a plus-23 rating to complement his breakout season.

The team, though, needs high-profile right winger Martin Havlat to have a productive season if it wants to build on last year's success. The Czech Republic native, who is entering the final year of a three-year contract, has struggled with shoulder and knee problems over the past two seasons and was only able to appear in 35 games during 2007-08, totaling 10 goals and 17 assists. Should the 27-year-old have a healthy season and contribute his usual production, it will go a long way towards helping this team put together a successful campaign.

In addition, Andrew Ladd, who Chicago acquired in a trade with Carolina last season, seemed to benefit from the change of scenery. In 43 games with Carolina, he totaled 18 points. In 20 games with Chicago, he had 12 points. While he is not a game-breaker by any standard, consistent production from Ladd would be a boon to the squad.

Gone from last year's team is 37-year-old Robert Lang, who the team dealt to Montreal on September 12 for a second-round draft pick in 2010.

The move could open up a full-time roster spot for 21-year-old Jack Skille. A first-round pick from the 2005 draft, the Madison, WI native made his NHL debut last season and appeared in 16 games, scoring three goals and adding two assists. He possesses good speed and a hard, quick shot, and the 'Hawks are hoping that he can use those skills at the professional level to consistently produce.

Another youngster looking to play full-time is 22-year-old David Bolland. A second-round pick in the 2004 draft out of Mimico, Ontario, he appeared in 39 games last season with Chicago and tallied four goals and 13 assists.

The Blackhawks finished last season 10th in scoring (2.85 per game) and can improve on that if the youngsters continue their progress and the veterans produce consistently.

What the Blackhawks need to do is improve on the power play, where the team finished with a 15.9-percent success rate last season, good for 24th in the league. While the forwards can help the team improve in this department, the 'Hawks made a big blueline addition that can help out the PP.

DEFENSE - Chicago nabbed one of the highest profile free agents when it signed veteran defenseman Brian Campbell on the first day of free agency.

The 29-year-old defenseman is in the prime of his career and can play both aspects of the game. Whether he's quarterbacking the power play or skating against the opposition's top scorers, Campbell excels in all aspects of the game and will make an immediate impact on a defensive corps that was already pretty strong.

Campbell had 62 points (8 goals, 54 assists) in 83 combined games with Buffalo and San Jose during the 2007-08 regular season.

Duncan Keith played his third full-time season with Chicago last year and totaled 12 goals and 20 assists along with a plus-30 rating to earn his first All-Star team selection. Expect this 25-year-old to further improve his skills and become a solid defender over the next several years.

Backing up the top two defensemen are a young, but steadily improving group of blueliners in Brent Seabrook, James Wisniewski and Cam Barker.

Chicago finished 20th overall in goals-against average with a 2.82 and its penalty killing squad placed 17th with a 82.1 percent average. The team will need to get both of these stats down to succeed and its big acquisition in net could help that.

GOALTENDING - Campbell wasn't the only big addition to Chicago's defense as the team also signed netminder Cristobal Huet on the first day of free agency.

The 32-year-old Frenchman, who was a seventh-round pick of Chicago in 2001, was 32-14-6 last season between Montreal and Washington.

His addition to the team might spell the end of Nikolai Khabibulin's stint in Chicago. Since signing the former Stanley Cup winner before the start of the 2005 season, the 35-year-old Russian has struggled, going just 65-72-17 on the team. To be fair to him, though, the Blackhawks' teams in his first two seasons with the squad were pretty bad and he did post a winning record (23-20-6 with two shutouts and a 2.63 goals-against average) last season.

Should the team dump the "Bulin Wall", expect to see youngster Corey Crawford nab the backup job. He had a strong campaign with the AHL last season and got a taste of the NHL environment with a short stint. He has the potential to challenge for the starting spot in the future.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - Last season was the first time since the 2001-02 season that the Blackhawks posted a winning record with a mark of 40-34-8, which was good for third place in the Central Division and 10th overall in the Western Conference, just three points out of the final playoff spot.

One thing the team did to add experience on the winning end is hire Scotty Bowman as the club's senior advisor of hockey operations in the offseason. The NHL's all-time winningest coach has been a member of 11 Stanley Cup teams and his son Stan is an assistant general manager with the Blackhawks.

Head coach Denis Savard will be entering his second full season with the club and in his first one-plus seasons has guided the team to a 71-75-17 mark during his tenure.

The team has the tools on the ice and the brains on the bench and in the office to put together a successful season. While the division title, which the team has not won since the 1992-93 season when it was known as the Norris division, is a long shot due to the fact that Detroit has owned the Central recently, second place is easily feasible as is an appearance in the playoffs.

Just don't expect the team to end the NHL's longest championship drought.

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