Chicago Blackhawks Outlook
Significant Subtractions: Bryan Berard, Jocelyn Thibault
Significant Additions: Nikolai Khabibulin, Martin Lapointe, Mathieu Barnaby, Jim Dowd, Adrian Aucoin, Jassen Cullimore, Jaroslav Spacek, Todd Simpson.
Goaltending: He cost a bundle (4 years, $27 million) but the Blackhawks managed to significantly upgrade their goaltending with cup champion Nikolai Khabibulin. Khabibulin is one of those guys who when he is on his game is one of the best around but who at times can look mediocre as well. On a couple occasions during the 2003-04 season he all but lost the starting job to John Grahame but come playoff time he was the go to guy. Michael Leighton and Craig Anderson will battle for backup duties but Leighton will likely to win that job.
Defence: The Blackhawks also focused on improving their defence this past offseason with Adrian Aucoin being their key signing. Aucoin is a good all-round defenseman who can log big minutes and will be a good guy to anchor their defense. They also added Jaroslav Spacek, who should do a good job replacing Bryan Berard, and Jassen Cullimore, an underrated defenseman who is coming off a Stanley Cup win with Tampa. After those three defensemen things look a little more uncertain. They signed tough guy Todd Simpson and also have Jim Vandermeer who is nothing more than a depth guy. The Blackhawks are really going to depend on one or two of their top defence prospects (Cam Barker, Brent Seabrook and Anton Babchuck) to step up and contribute big time this year. All have the talent and ability, but the question is whether they are ready yet. Time will tell.
Forwards: Up front the Blackhawks only did some tinkering by adding some useful role players in tough guy Mathieu Barnaby and 2-way forward Martin Lapointe. Both those guys will add some much needed veteran leadership to an otherwise youthful set of forwards consisting of Tyler Arnason, Mark Bell, Kyle Calder, and Tuomo Ruutu. They will also benefit big time if they could get Eric Daze to remain healthy for a full season. There isnï¿½t a lot of depth up front and unlike defense, there arenï¿½t a lot of top prospects ready to step in. Things could get dicey should injuries happen.
Outlook: The Blackhawks look to be an improved team this year but some people might be expecting a lot from them considering the big signings they made in August. They are still a very young team and will still suffer some inconsistency issues because of that. And if they suffer any significant injuries it could be a long season for hockey fans in Chicago. The 2005-06 season will likely be a transition year in which in which some young Blackhawk players will get some valuable experience and that should set them up well in 2006-07 and beyond. The Blackhawks have a good chance to get out of the cellar in the Central division and could threaten a playoff spot but expecting much more than that is a stretch I think.