The Third Man In begins our bloggers' roundtable of Central Division previews with the first part of his assessment of the Chicago Blackhawks. It was supposed to be posted on Monday, but was delayed due to "copious amounts of adult beverage consumption" and a bout of illness. Sadly, this is what Bill Wirtz and Chicago management have driven their dwindling number of loyal fans to - trying to find the lost glory days of Blackhawk hockey in the bottom of a whiskey bottle or the delirium of high fever.
Alas, that's about the only solace left in the Windy City, after years of neglect and mismanagement have rendered the team irrelevant to today's NHL. Back in the mid-90's I remember them battling the Red Wings in the Western Conference finals, but after making it to the second round in 1996 they've wallowed in obscurity for the last ten seasons. So what's going to change this time around?
Admittedly, there does seem to be some hope on the way in the form of youngsters Jonathan Teows and Patrick Kane, the latter being the #1 pick in this year's NHL entry draft. Unfortunately, their last names aren't Crosby & Malkin, so I wouldn't expect an immediate competitive revival in Chicago based on their addition. The veteran supporting cast around those two seems to be brought in from the Island of Misfit Toys. There's the young winger who looks like he should be productive but never quite puts it together, the mercurial sniper whose scoring touch may well have deserted him, and the defenseman who is "not particularly good at anything, but that’ll be good enough to make this team."
In particular, I love this assessment of left wing Rene Bourque:
"Are 121 NHL games enough to determine whether or not a player will ultimately ‘make it’ in the NHL? Absolutely, in this observer’s eyes. Simply stated, Rene Bourque stinks. "
On the positive side, there is certainly the dynamic Marty Havlat to enjoy, and it will be interesting to see in what direction Denis Savard takes the team, after having a full offseason to prepare as head coach. Goaltending isn't likely to be either a strength or a weakness for the Hawks, as Nikolai Khabibulin turned in a remarkably mediocre performance last year playing roughly three quarters of Chicago's games. In total (not counting empty-netters), Hawks goalies gave up 244 goals, compared to an Expected Goals Against figure of 249.98, which translates into roughly one extra victory earned through goaltending over the course of the 2006-7 NHL season. They'll need a lot more than that if the Blackhawks expect to contend for a playoff position.
Check back over at Third Man In later in the week as he continues his detailed rundown of the 2007-8 Chicago Blackhawks. It's a guilty pleasure, to be sure, much like rubber-necking a roadside accident as you drive by, but considering the potential of what a vibrant hockey crowd in Chicago would mean to the NHL on a national level, this is a rare situation of rooting for a division rival to at least get off the mat and start throwing a few decent punches...