May 21, 2014; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wingBrandon Bollig
(52) during the second period of game two of the Western Conference Final of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings at the United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
#3: Who Will Replace Brandon Bollig?
Any Blackhawks fan that watched any game other than the season opener last year would look at this question and find it absurd. Brandon Bollig scored the Blackhawks’ very first goal of the season on Banner Raising Night last October, and after that, contributed very little towards the club’s success. In the process, he managed to fool GM Bowman, who signed the forward to a three-year contract extension that would pay him $1.25 million a year, by mid-season. Bowman undid this mistake at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, shipping Bollig and his ridiculous salary cap hit off to the Calgary Flames for the 83rd overall pick. To Blackhawks’ fans, it may have seemed like a win-win at the time, and it still may by the end of training camp, but when the gloves hit the ice for the first time this season, those fans will realize that the team lost a lot of their grit when Bollig packed his bags. Bollig and Jamal Mayers have handled the physical side of the Blackhawks’ game for the past several seasons, and in two summers, both have left the team. This leaves Brandon Mashinter, who was picked up in a trade with another infamous Blackhawk, Kyle Beach, last season, as the Blackhawks’ next ‘tough guy’. Alternatively, a young forward like aforementioned Morin is more than alright with throwing their weight around, and packs a scoring punch that Bollig simply didn’t. Factor in chemistry with line-mates and how each player fared over the off-season with their training, and such a question doesn’t seem so absurd anymore. In fact, this will likely be one of the Blackhawks’ biggest hurdles to clear before the season starts.
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#2: How Will Brad Richards Fit In?
The Blackhawks made quite a splash on what was expected to be a quiet opening day of Free Agency, when they signed 2004 Conn Smythe Trophy winner, center Brad Richards. Immediately, one big question was erased; who would be the Blackhawks’ second-line center in 2014-15? Now, Richards is expected to step in and fill those shoes right from training camp. What stands in the way of Richards is the chemistry waiting to develop between the 34-year old and his future linemates, including fellow Conn Smythe winner and Blackhawks’ golden boy, Patrick Kane. Last season, Kane had a variety of teammates on his opposite wing, including Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad, and Patrick Sharp. With Richards and Kane nearly cemented on the second line as training camp begins, finding the perfect left-winger to complete the trio. With only a matter of days to do so, Joel Quenneville will be pressured to create two of the most dangerous lines in hockey, and with a plethora of players capable of playing a top-six role, it will be far from a slam-dunk. With their offense expected to be as dominant, or better, than last year’s, finding Richards’ linemates is a mammoth task to complete with a training camp and six pre-season games, before the regular season is underway. Get it right, and both of the Blackhawks’ top two lines would be first-line worthy nearly anywhere else in the league. Get it wrong, and a sluggish start could hamper the Blackhawks all the way to their seed in the post-season.