Monday, Oct. 4, 2010
By Chris Boden
So it looks like there will be just one 19-year-old helping the Blackhawks begin defense of their Stanley Cup Thursday night in Denver after Jeremy Morin was sent back to Rockford of the AHL for a little more seasoning. Nick Leddy may have been there along with him if not for Brian Campbell's sprained knee, but that injury created more of a need to fill what Campbell usually brings to the blue line.
Both Leddy and Morin showed their capability of playing at the highest level the last two weeks. It's now the former Golden Gopher's task to prove he has staying power going against a full NHL lineup, gameplanning against the Hawks' style in hostile environments, and under the great expectations when the champs are in their very own building.
Morin's game seemed to plateau a bit during the second week of games, but it was still pretty solid. If, in fact, a roster spot came down to him against Viktor Stalberg, the latter seemed to gradually pick up his game toward the end of camp. Provided Morin, Kyle Beach and a couple of others on the cusp take care of business in Rockford, they're a phone call away, something the 3rd- and 4th-line guys here will be well aware of.
How quickly and effectively the new faces mesh into their roles will be the ongoing storyline to watch the next six months. There are sure to be bumps in the road, and I think most Hawks fans are smart enough not to expect the kind of franchise-record regular season numbers their team put up last season. While this team wants to - and believes it can - win every night, the bigger picture will be about how effective that depth will be by the time April rolls around. By then, Morin could very well be a part of that mix.
Alright, so now it's time to get those preseason predictions on the record that we can all look back on in April and laugh at:
The Hawks will at least finish in the top four in the West for home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
I see Detroit gunning for it all this year, and edging the Hawks out in the Central. To do that, their deep but aging roster must stay healthier than last season (it has to, right?), and sophomore goalie Jimmy Howard can't slump. The others in the top four will again be San Jose and Vancouver. The Sharks still haven't replaced Rob Blake (though they tried with Niklas Hjalmarsson) and have their share of post-season ghosts. Speaking of which, the Canucks have playoff skeletons in their closet, too, courtesy of the Hawks. We'll give them the regular season conference title based on the moves they made to improve their defense and depth. We'll even crown them Stanley Cup favorite in the West based on their roster. They then have to convince us that crown isn't too heavy, and Roberto Luongo has no excuses for any playoff flameouts now that he's not wearing the "C" and now that Dustin Byfuglien won't be standing in front of him for an entire series. I'm not sure if he - and they - can, once the Real Season begins. All bets are off, and if the Hawks are healthy and found answers for all four lines, I don't believe any team would want to face the defending champs.
For my other four playoff teams in the West - once the annual mad scramble for seeding and spots settles April 10 - I'll go with the Kings, Blues, Predators, and....hmmm...OK...Avalanche. I won't bother with a specific order, but that should be enough to put on record. It was between Colorado and Phoenix. Ilya Bryzgalov or free agent-to-be Craig Anderson? What leaned me in the Lanche's direction was their young core (where have we heard that?) that was key to their surprising success last year, taking the next step. I like St. Louis' young talent that took a dip last year (ya listenin', Colorado?) to rebound and start to grow into their potential while Jaroslav Halak guards the net. And I'm thinking Barry Trotz coaches around the continued lack of offensive firepower in Nashville to get his team in behind Pekka Rinne and that pesky Preds "system." Yes, four teams from the Central in the West's top eight.
So there it is. Now, never go back and look at this again.
Remember: "Stanley's Summer Vacation" Saturday night at 6 on CSN for some yet-to-be-seen footage from our coverage of Jonathan Toews's and Patrick Kane's days with the Cup this summer. Then, an hour-long "Chevy Blackhawks Pregame Live," beginning at 6:30 from the United Center concouse, ahead of the banner-raising ceremony and the home opener against Detroit