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Chicago Blackhawks: Quenneville Facing Toughest Season

By Sean Fitzgerald
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The question was posed to Coach Joel Quenneville at the Chicago Blackhawks pre-training camp press conference: Will this be your toughest season as the Blackhawks coach?

He said the 2010-11 season was the toughest to date. That season also involved a purge of players, following a Stanley Cup win in 2010. The Blackhawks had to let go of Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Troy Brouwer, Kris Versteeg, Colin Fraser, Ben Eager and Antti Niemi. Despite that purge, I believe this upcoming season will be the toughest season to date for the Blackhawks.

Now everyone knows that no team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998. Everyone knows the Stanley Cup playoffs are the hardest playoffs in the major professional sports. Despite those factors, there are still additional obstacles the Blackhawks must face.

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The Patrick Kane off-ice issues aside, the Blackhawks coaching staff is going to have to overcome several hockey-related obstacles:

1. Replacing scoring. The Blackhawks are going to have to replace the scoring of Patrick Sharp (16 goals, 27 assists), Brad Richards (12 goals, 25 assists), Versteeg (14 goals, 20 assists) and Brandon Saad (23 goals, 29 assists). Saad might be the biggest loss. He was a young power forward who could play on the top two lines. The coaching staff is going to have to find production equal to or exceeding that of those players from new entities.

2. Virtual unknowns. The Blackhawks are going to fill three forward positions and one defenseman position with new, young players. Marko Dano has only appeared in 35 NHL games, Artemi Panarin has never appeared in an NHL game, Viktor Tikhonov flamed out of the NHL once and Trevor van Riemsdyk has only appeared in 22 NHL games, including in the 2014-15 playoffs. These four players will be counted on by the Blackhawks coaching staff to fill key roles this season. Dano, Panarin and Tikhonov will be counted on to to replace the scoring of Sharp, Richards, Versteeg and Saad. The Blackhawks coaching staff will have to develop these players and while also consistently winning games

3. Heavy minutes. The returning Blackhawks logged heavy minutes during their Stanley Cup run, especially on defense. The top four defensemen carried the heavy load, with three returning to the Blackhawks. Duncan Keith averaged 31:07 minutes per game in the playoffs, Brent Seabrook averaged 26:07 and Niklas Hjalmarsson averaged 26:02. These minutes combined with a short offseason is going to weigh very heavily on the Blackhawks’ big three this season. The coaching staff is going to have to lighten the load on the trio while mixing in the younger TVR and David Rundblad.

4. Replacing Johnny Oduya. Oduya is not a flashy, eye-popping defenseman, but he was reliable. Oduya was a good fourth defenseman who logged a consistent 20:37 of ice time during his tenure with the Blackhawks. He could be counted on to be the the lineup virtually every night, averaging 76.5 games per season. Now the Blackhawks will try to replace Oduya with Trevor Daley, as well as TVR, Rundblad and Michal Rozsival. Rozsival is one year older and coming off ankle surgery.

5. The pressure of repeating. The Blackhawks will get everyone’s best shot next season and will consistently be tested to stay atop the NHL. These two issues are “the pressure of repeating.” With veteran leadership and a solid coaching staff, the Blackhawks should be able to weather the storm, but they will certainly be under pressure.

These five reasons are why 2015-16 will be the hardest season for Quenneville since he has arrived in Chicago. What are your reasons? Do you agree with the reasons listed? Let us know in the comments section.

Next: Dano And Panarin Shine In Camp

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