Oct 3, 2014; New York, NY, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville during the first period against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
As my father, who’s a lawyer (yeah, I know) once said, “Hope for the best, but make preparations for the worst.” This isn’t a fatalist sentiment, as many would believe at first glance. Rather, its scenario planning at its finest.
With the NHL now well into the Salary Cap Era, our beloved Chicago Blackhawks have been extraordinarily fortunate (like, the 1% fortunate) that their roster has been as relatively unmolested as it has been for the past four years. However, as most fans don’t really appreciate, after this season, when Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane’s Too-Big-To-Fail contracts kick in, certain core Blackhawks players’ tenures in Chicago will have to come to a tear-filled end. In other words, if you thought this off-season’s trade rumors were intense, well as Bachman-Turner Overdrive said when they wrote a song to make fun of their lead-guitarist’s stuttering brother, b-b-baby you ain’t seen n-n-nothing yet!
So long story short, this may be the Blackhawks’ best shot at winning another Stanley Cup before they have to undergo some mandatory roster recalibrating. Hence, we’re all in high hopes the shortcomings that had the Hawks one glass slipper short of being invited back to the big dance that is the Stanley Cup Finals have been ameliorated.
As a Hawks fan, this is where I have to play devil’s advocate. There are certainly pitfalls this season that the Blackhawks could fall into, but fortunately, by and large there are readily available solutions. Don’t get me wrong however, I’m knocking on wood as I hypothesize/scenario-plan each of the following:
When Richards was signed to the Blackhawks this offseason, many fans were quick to hail him as the solution to the Hawks’ Achilles heel that is the second line center. Well here’s the dirty, not-so-little secret: Richards is just as past his prime as Handzus, and the fact that he was demoted to the fourth line while on the New York Rangers, and now apparently on the Blackhawks during the preseason, speaks volumes, in a bad way. There’s a very good chance Richards won’t be at the dot with Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad this season per his billing, so what’s the best-case scenario? While he’s not the ideal solution, Andrew Shaw is the best candidate to helm the Saad-Kane line purely because he’s able to keep up with them, he can act as enforcer when needed, and it’s a proven combination.
So where can Brad Richards have the biggest impact sans the second line? One thing Richards has over Handzus is that he’s a proven leader. At this point in his career, Richards is more a utility forward than flash n’ dash, and his veteran vision could prove to be an invaluable guide to younger Hawks forwards like Ben Smith and Marcus Kruger, who have by and large been left to their own devices on the lower lines (and still have done remarkably well). Think of what they could accomplish with a seasoned leader on their line. Richards certainly has the potential of becoming 2010 Andrew Ladd 2.0 as an experienced lower line anchor.
#3 – Antti Raanta Doesn’t Give Us Much to Rant About
Perhaps one of the biggest blunders of the Blackhawks brass committed last season was giving Corey Crawford a patch-job backup in Nikolai Khabibulin. Luckily however, while he didn’t set the world on fire, Antti Raanta certainly held his own well ahead of schedule for the franchise last year when he had to fill in for the injured Crow. It certainly didn’t go unnoticed, as Raanta has officially won the backup gig. Here’s what I worry about though; Rant did great last year because the expectations for him were low to begin with. Now however, he’s expected to keep the Hawks competitive by giving Crawford ample chances to catch a breather.
Something that may have been forgotten is Raanta is still ahead of his development schedule as a goalie, and this may become glaringly obvious this upcoming season. So what’s the solution in the worst-case scenario? Unfortunately, the Hawks’ only contingency plan here is on the free agency/trading block. The good news is the Hawks have ample prospects in their farm system to potentially trade for a viable back-up goalie. The bad news is the Hawks will have to lose ample prospects in their farms system for a viable back-up goalie. Thus it’s very critical Raanta tows his line this season, like Chris-Osgood-biography-required-reading critical.