30 in 30: Stability makes Blackhawks favorite again
Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville predictably doesn't want to discuss or even utter the word "dynasty," not when it comes to his team, which is the closest thing the NHL has to a present-day dynasty with two Stanley Cup championships in the past four seasons.
"In today's game it's tough to even think like that with the significant changes to your roster," Quenneville told NHL.com.
Except the changes the Blackhawks have made since they won the Cup in Boston on June 24 aren't that significant, at least when compared to what they went through in the months after winning the Cup in Philadelphia on June 9, 2010.
Chicago experienced a roster overhaul necessitated by the NHL salary cap in 2010, losing eight players who suited up for Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers before the next season started. This summer, general manager Stan Bowman chose to trade Dave Bolland and Michael Frolik and not re-sign Viktor Stalberg or Ray Emery, but those are the only subtractions from the lineup Quenneville used in Game 6 against the Boston Bruins.
Emery, the backup goaltender, didn't play in the game. Bolland scored the winning goal.
With Bryan Bickell, Michal Rozsival, Michal Handzus, Marcus Kruger and Nick Leddy all retained with new contracts, the Blackhawks' roster for this coming season isn't all that different from last season, when not only did they win the Cup but had a historic start, going an NHL-record 24 straight games without a regulation loss to start the season.
With the salary cap designed to be the great equalizer, "dynasty" may be a dangerous word in the NHL today. The Blackhawks, though, could be on their way to becoming a legitimate one. They just don't want to recognize it publicly.
"The will to win it again will definitely be in place because we know the character these guys have and what they bring … but the opportunity to prove that [a dynasty] is not what we're trying to prove," Quenneville said. "We're just trying to win and be successful. It comes with it. It's been a nice start to these guys' careers and they should be proud of what they have achieved, but I don't think anyone is satisfied."
Nor is anyone in Chicago guaranteeing the Blackhawks will win the Cup again next season even though they are the August favorite to come out of the Western Conference. Like every team, the Blackhawks have some issues to iron out.
The Bolland trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs created an opening at center, and because Quenneville would prefer to use Handzus in a smaller role than he had in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, the Blackhawks are going to hold open tryouts for the No. 2 center position. Brandon Pirri and Brandon Saad are the leading candidates.
Pirri has spent the past three seasons in the American Hockey League, leading the league in scoring last season with 75 points in 76 games. Saad was a left wing for the Blackhawks last season, but Quenneville said he played center in his development years and the coach wants to give him a look there in camp.
BLACKHAWKS' OFFSEASON OUTLOOK
Additions: G Nikolai Khabibulin, D Theo Peckham
Subtractions: C Dave Bolland, RW Michael Frolik, RW Viktor Stalberg, G Ray Emery, LW Daniel Carcillo, D Steve Montador, LW Rostislav Olesz
UFAs: RW Jamal Mayers
Promotion candidates: C Brandon Pirri, RW Ben Smith, LW Jeremy Morin, RW Jimmy Hayes, D Adam Clendenning, C Drew LeBlanc
"[Saad] with the puck is a good thing," Quenneville said. "He's big, protects it well, and defensively he's been fine on the wall. Down low you've got a little bit more responsibility in our system for what you have to do, but I think he's capable of grabbing it. We'll see."
Quenneville also mentioned Kruger, Andrew Shaw and Drew Leblanc as candidates. Quenneville called Handzus the safe option should nothing else work out, and Sharp could move back to center if need be, but the team prefers him playing on the left side.
"I'm not concerned because we've got about six or seven different options and you know something is going to work," Quenneville said. "That's how I see it."
Bowman gave Bickell a four-year, $16 million contract based off of his breakout performance in the postseason, when he finished second on the team with 17 points and tied for second with nine goals, establishing a significant role on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
That's where the Blackhawks want Bickell to be this season, but he has to play up to the level of his contract.
"He has all the ingredients you want in a power forward," Quenneville said of Bickell (6-foot-4, 233 pounds). "He's big, strong, can shoot, can hit, can play tough, has a nice set of hands. The consistency is what kept him away from playing up there regularly. That's the challenge.
"I think he's capable of doing it, but the everyday stuff and the challenges that come with that consistency is what we're going to be pushing him for and he's going to be striving for as well. It should be a good progression for him in the development of his career."
By trading Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets, Bowman gambled by dealing away one of Chicago's top penalty-killing forwards. Frolik and Kruger were on in every big situation on the PK, but now the Blackhawks need someone to step into that role.
Quenneville would prefer it be someone who doesn't play a prominent 5-on-5 or power-play role, so he's eyeing 25-year-old right wing Ben Smith, who first has to make the team in training camp. Smith was the surprise last-minute replacement for injured Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Smith has played in 20 regular-season games and eight playoff games.
"Hopefully that guy who gets the opportunity, which is good, quality ice time, can fit well with Kruger," Quenneville said.
There are other unknown issues, such as how will Corey Crawford get along with new backup goalie Nikolai Khabibulin and their yet-to-be-named goalie coach (Stephane Waite left for the Montreal Canadiens), but the point remains that Chicago has a legitimate chance to repeat, an opportunity to become a modern-day dynasty.
Maybe then Quenneville will at least say the word.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl