PRAGUE — The Blackhawks haven't made the playoffs in two straight seasons and haven't won a playoff round in four, but at the beginning of every season, all 31 teams feel like they have a chance.
Here are five reasons to be optimistic about the Blackhawks during the 2019-20 campaign:
1. Starting off on the same page
Training camp last season had a weird feeling to it. After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2007-08, the Blackhawks essentially rolled back the same roster. Wasn't exactly something to get excited about.
Fast forward to early November and things really felt different after Joel Quenneville was relieved of his duties and replaced by 33-year-old Jeremy Colliton. And it took a while for the veterans who had been playing one style for 10 years to adjust.
The mood around this year's training camp was filled with cautious optimism, and it’s because the roster looks very different. But also because the Blackhawks have a real chance to start off the season on the right foot, having had a full training camp under Colliton to get on the same page.
2. The defense and penalty kill should be better
Last season, the Blackhawks gave up the most high-danger chances at 5-on-5, second-most goals and had a historically bad penalty kill. There's nowhere to go but up.
The team defense got better during the final month of the season, but it still had a long way to go. If the Blackhawks can simply go from the basement to middle of the pack in the goals against department and penalty kill percentage, that should be enough to put them in a position where they're competing for a playoff spot because scoring goals won't be a problem this year.
3. The dynamic goaltending duo of Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner
Lehner signing a one-year deal with the Blackhawks on July 1 significantly changed the outlook of this team going into the season. Crawford's injury history is well-documented and it's difficult to do better than Lehner as an insurance policy, given he was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season.
If both of them stay healthy, this has a chance to be one of the most dependable goaltending tandems in the league. The Blackhawks will have a chance to win every night, and, perhaps more importantly, their teammates will believe it too.
4. More balance and depth
GM Stan Bowman did his best to check a lot of different boxes this summer. Let's run them down:
Blue line needs an improvement? Enter defensive-minded defensemen Calvin de Haan and Olli Maatta, both of whom will surely see plenty of penalty kill time.
Lacking some bite? Welcome back, Andrew Shaw. And nice to meet you, Zack Smith.
Searching for scoring depth? Introducing Dominik Kubalik and Alex Nylander.
A defensive faceoff specialist? That would be Ryan Carpenter.
Goaltending depth? It doesn't get much better than Lehner.
On paper, the roster certainly looks deeper. But now the Blackhawks have to put it together.
5. The stars are still at the top of their game
If there's one reason to believe the Blackhawks can return to playoff contention, it's that Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews turned in career offensive seasons at age 30 and there's no reason to expect a drop-off.
Alex DeBrincat is also coming off a 41-goal campaign while Dylan Strome averaged nearly a point per game after being acquired by the Blackhawks. This gives the Blackhawks two legitimate scoring lines, forcing teams to play pick your poison. The question is whether the secondary scoring can do their part.
But as long as 19 and 88 stay at the top of their games, the Blackhawks will be an interesting team to watch all season long and especially down the stretch.
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