Continuing our series of Season Preview Reports (SPR), the following is On Goal Analysis' 2009-10 breakdown of the Chicago Blackhawks, last seasons' Cinderella team.
Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): The Blackhawks were Chasing Stanley (called IN the playoffs) as of 22 November 2008. This marked Chicago’s first playoff appearance since 2001-02, and they exceeded expectations, advancing all the way to the Conference Finals before falling to Detroit in five games. The ‘Hawks finished at 5.2 vs. the PQC, overcoming a slow (1-2-1) start that cost head coach and Blackhawks icon Denis Savard his job. Joel Quenneville replaced Savard, and Chicago promptly went on a 9-2-4 tear to clinch their playoff berth. They cemented their playoff status with a 10-1-1 record in December. A slump in Games 51-70 cost them 2.5 points vs. the PQC, but Chicago re-engaged at just the right time, going 9-3-0 to close out the regular season and build momentum going into the playoffs.
Post Lockout Average versus the PQC: Chicago’s 5.2 finish in 2008-09 blew away their post-Lockout average of 3.73, but it merely continued a trend of improvement: They finished at 3.25 vs. the PQC in 2005-06, 3.55 in 2006-07, and 4.4 in 2007-08. Correspondingly, the Blackhawks reached Tee Time (called OUT of the playoffs by OGA) later in each of those seasons – 15 December 2005, 4 January 2007, and 24 January 2007, respectively. The ‘Hawks struggle mightily in January, going 10-25-5 from 2006-08 (inclusive). 2009 saw Chicago put together their first winning January (7-6-1) since 2001-02 – the last time they made the playoffs.
How does Chicago look heading into the 2009-10 season?
Team Play: ISSUE – It’s all between the pipes, baby. Going into the free agency free-for-all which began July 1st, it seemed the Blackhawks’ plan was to trade goalie Cristobal Huet (who has three years remaining on his contract) and re-sign Nikolai Khabibulin (who was an unrestricted free agent). The ‘Hawks found no takers for Huet, and “The Bulin Wall” signed with Edmonton. Thus, Chicago enters the 2009-10 season depending heavily upon a goalie who was deemed second-best going into last seasons’ playoffs. As I mentioned in a post earlier this summer, the ‘Hawks can only hope Huet is able to rediscover the magic of his thirteen-game run with the Washington Capitals at the end of the 2007-08 season, in which he put up all-star numbers (11-2, 1.63 GAA, .936 sv%). Simply put, Huet must consistently play at a level which gives his teammates confidence. When a team lacks confidence in their goalie, they tend to go into a defensive shell, playing much more conservatively than normal. The current Chicago Blackhawks squad is not built to play a conservative, defense-first, don’t-take-chances type of game. If a lack of confidence in Huet causes the ‘Hawks to attempt to play that style of hockey, the season will be a miserable failure.
Fantasy Value: On 1 July of this year, Chicago replaced leading scorer Martin Havlat with Marian Hossa. Unfortunately, Hossa needed shoulder surgery and will most likely miss the first two months of the season. When he does return, he’ll undoubtedly need a few weeks to establish chemistry with his new linemates (Kane & Toews). Hossa is still a good draft pick if you’re in a league with plenty of bench slots to fill, but don’t expect a 40-goal season from him in 2009-10. Jonathan Toews, on the other hand, should pot 40+ this year. Patrick Kane is capable of the same, provided he can add more consistency to his game.
On the blueline, Brian Campbell is the ‘Hawks PP QB, and puts up points accordingly. If you’re in a salary cap league which awards points for plus/minus, however, Duncan Keith will earn you just as many fantasy points as Soupy, and will cost less.
In really deep leagues, Corey Crawford could be a good pick-up in goal – the Blackhawks play 19 back-to-back games this season, so their backup goalie should have a decent number of starts.
Schedule Analysis: ISSUE – An 8-game, 15-day road trip from 16-30 January, in which the Blackhawks crisscross the continent, playing at CBJ-DET-OTT-CGY-VAN-EDM-SJS-CAR (that’s right; they end their road trip in Carolina). In addition, they don’t have the same start time two games in a row…and six of eight opponents made the playoffs last season. At least they only have one back-to-back on the trip (CBJ-DET).
Tune in Monday for the Colorado Avalanche 2009-10 SPR…
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