The Chicago Blackhawks will begin their 2014 training camp at the University of Notre Dame on Friday, and as we approach that milestone, we’re going through the top five storylines that fans should keep an eye on as camp begins.
Today, we begin our countdown with a very simple question: How are the Blackhawks going to line up on special teams this year?
We’ll start out with the group that has more questions to answer, and that’s the penalty killing unit. Last season the Blackhawks started out really slowly in that area, ranking near the bottom of the league in successful kills. Over the course of the season, things improved for the team, but they still ranked 19th in the league in the category.
This season, things are going to be a bit different for the Hawks. Michal Handzus, who finished third on the team in time on ice last season in short-handed situations, is gone, and there isn’t a candidate that’s a surefire bet to replace him on the top line. Joel Quenneville might opt to replace Handzus with a reliable guy like Jonathan Toews or Marian Hossa, but more likely he’s going to put someone with Marcus Kruger that’s younger and more eager to make an impression on the coaching staff.
If that’s the case, then two guys immediately come to mind. The first is Ben Smith, who averaged 1:16 of ice time in short-handed situations last season. The other is Joakim Nordstrom, who in only 16 games with the Hawks averaged 1:04 of short-handed ice time per game. Both players have proven that they are capable of playing solid defense, but how they perform in camp and in the preseason will have a big impact on whether or not they’re tasked with this critical role.
Speaking of critical roles (and awkward segues), the Blackhawks’ power play unit could also see some changes this year. With Brad Richards being added to the mix, the team’s top power play line will likely be switched up, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews being the only two surefire contenders for spots. Richards could slide in nicely with those two, but then the question would be how to structure the rest of the group.
Our best guess would be that the Hawks would like to utilize Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith at the point again, with Toews moving to the front of the net and Richards and Kane being out on the wings. That would leave Andrew Shaw to move down to the second power play line, with Nick Leddy and Brent Seabrook serving as point men. The wing spots are certainly up in the air on that line, but Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad could be an intriguing combination in those roles.
Whatever changes may end up occurring on those lines, the Hawks should still have a very potent group after a season in which they finished in the top-10 in the league in power play goals scored.