Duncan Keith

Blackhawks convention attendees announced, including captain Jonathan Toews

Blackhawks convention attendees announced, including captain Jonathan Toews

It was a disappointing season to say the least for the Blackhawks this past year, as nine straight playoff appearances came to an end. But the Hawks and Hawks fans alike are beginning their countdown to a new season. And a big moment will come the last weekend of July.

The Blackhawks Twitter page announced all the attendees for their annual Blackhawks Convention; the list includes captain Jonathan Toews.

The convention is being held at the Hilton Chicago July 27-29, and it will not only include Toews but several current players, alumni, coaches and broadcasters.

The weekend will include numerous autograph and photo sessions, Q&A panels, exhibits, interactive games and much more.

Some current players attending are: Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford, Duncan Keith, Alex DeBrincat, Nick Schmaltz and Artem Anisimov.

The alumni list includes: Bryan Bickell, Adam Burish, Brian Campbell, Ben Eager, Tony Esposito, Bobby Hull, Denis Savard and many others.

The legendary voices of the Blackhawks, TV play-by-play man Pat Foley and radio announcer John Wiedeman will also be in attendance.

The season is still a couple months away for the Blackhawks, whose home opener is Oct. 7 against Toronto. They start the campaign with two games on the road, with Ottawa first in line (Oct. 4), then the St. Louis Blues (Oct. 6).

Setting and predicting five early prop bets for Blackhawks in 2018-19

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USA TODAY

Setting and predicting five early prop bets for Blackhawks in 2018-19

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to overturn the federal ban on sports gambling, here are five early prop bet predictions for the Blackhawks in 2018-19:

1. Brandon Saad's point total: 48.5

In April, we detailed Saad's struggles from this past season and predicted that he'd have a big bounce-back year after recording only 35 points, a career-low in an 82-game season. This came after he put up back-to-back 53-point seasons in Columbus, and 52 previously with the Blackhawks in 2014-15.

You can imagine Chicago's frustration when that point total dipped to 35.

Still, we're setting the bar at 48.5 next year, because that's his average over the last five years — we didn't count his rookie season in 2012-13 when he appeared in just 46 games and had 27 points.

The pick: Over

2. Duncan Keith's goal total: 4.5

What a weird season for Keith, who found the back of the net twice on 187 shots for a 1.1 shooting percentage. In 2016-17, he had six goals on 183 shots for a 3.3 shooting percentage. His career average is seven goals per season on 4.4 percent shooting.

But with Keith turning 35 in July and his goal total declining for three straight seasons, we have to be realistic about our expectations. 

Knowing Keith, he'll probably score two goals in the first two games of the season because hockey's weird. So...

The pick: Over

3. Corey Crawford's win total: 32.5

Crawford was on his way to setting a career high in wins (35) before he got injured — something we predicted he would do before the season — and it would've been interesting to see how many he would've finished with had he stayed healthy. He was at 16 through 27 starts.

All indications are that Crawford will be ready to go by the start of next season, but there's still some uncertainly regarding how much time he'll need to get back up to speed. So we'll be a little cautious with this number and tab it at 32.5 for now but predict he'll have no problem returning to an elite level.

The pick: Over

4. More goals: Alex DeBrincat or Jonathan Toews?

It's very hard to score 28 goals in a season. DeBrincat did that as a rookie. But it's asking a lot for him to top that next season, even though there's no reason to believe he won't take that next step.

Meanwhile, Toews has scored at least 20 goals in each of his first 11 seasons, and is averaging 26.5 per season despite scoring a career-low 20 last year and 21 the year before.

We expect him to get closer to that 26.5 range, and if he does that, he'll make this head-to-head matchup interesting.

The pick: Toews

5. Blackhawks point total: 93.5

The Blackhawks' over/under last season was set at 99.5 by Bovada. They finished with 76, their lowest since compiling 71 in 2006-07.

And there were lots of reasons for that, most notably the injury to Crawford which we mentioned above. According to corsica.hockey, Crawford had a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 8.5 over an 82-game season. That's a 17-point difference, so we put the number at exactly that: 93.5.

While a 17-point jump seems significant at a quick glance, it shouldn't when you look at the bigger picture.

The Colorado Avalanche clinched the final wild card spot in the Western Conference with 95 points, coming off a season in which they recorded 48 points the year before — an astounding 47-point increase.

That's a little extreme, but 93.5 points would still put the Blackhawks outside the playoff picture. And that's what they are as of right now: a bubble team.

The pick: Over

Reasons to be optimistic about a Blackhawks turnaround

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USA TODAY

Reasons to be optimistic about a Blackhawks turnaround

It's mid-November, and the Blackhawks are on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. It's unfamiliar territory for Chicago, which is accustomed to seeing its team as a perrenial Western Conference favorite and Stanley Cup contender.

Since starting the season 3-0-1, the Blackhawks are 6-8-1 in their last 15 games and haven't won more than two in a row yet. It's a little concerning.

But there are reasons to be optimistic about a potential turnaround.

Let's start with the obvious concern: The offense.

If you take away the first two games in which they combined for 15 goals, the Blackhawks would rank 27th in the league in goals per game (2.59). They also went through a stretch where they scored only two goals or fewer in nine of 12 games.

Since then, the Blackhawks have erupted for 15 goals in three games and they're continuing to generate shots at a high rate.

In their last nine contests, the Blackhawks are averaging 38.9 shots per game and rank fifth overall at 34.6. The problem on offense has never been the quantity of shots, it's the quality. They're slowly starting to get both.

And the weird part is? Patrick Kane has four goals in his past 17 games, Duncan Keith has zero goals in 19 games this season, Brandon Saad has one goal in his last 13 and Jonathan Toews has two goals in his last 14, one of which was an empty netter. Those are Chicago's top four horses who are struggling collectively to get on the scoresheet.

Their individual track records suggest they won't stay dry forever.

The Blackhawks' recent offensive hot streak is being spearheaded by role players such as Artem Anisimov (eight goals in his last nine games) and Alex DeBrincat (six goals in seven games this month), the latter of whom has emerged as a darkhorse candidate for the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. While it would be unfair to expect him to continue scoring at a goal-per-game pace, DeBrincat's emergence shows he's starting to get comfortable in the NHL and we're seeing exactly what he can bring to the table.

The biggest reason the Blackhawks are staying afloat while the offense figures itself out is the elite goaltending they're getting from Corey Crawford.

Chicago is giving up 33.8 shots per game, which is fourth-most, yet Crawford is making an early case for the Vezina Trophy, sitting at fifth with a 2.26 goals against average and tied for second with a .930 save percentage, including two shutouts.

If there are any doubts about Crawford coming back down to earth, he had a 92.99 save percentage at even-strength last year and 93.32 in 2015-16. Through 16 appearances this season, he's actually a bit below that at 92.47, according to naturalstattrick.com.

Now, in the previous two seasons, the Blackhawks averaged 31.4 and 30.8 shots against, respectively, but the point remains the same that you can consistently count on Crawford playing at a high level.

Did we mention the Blackhawks have the sixth-best penalty kill percentage (82.9) dating back to Oct. 29, 2016? That's a great combination, especially when you have one of the league's best goaltenders to bail you out at times.

Ultimately, the Blackhawks' success hinges on their star players playing like it. Once they get going, the rest will follow. The question is, when will that happen?