COACH Joel Quenneville (4th season)
LAST SEASON 44-29-9 (8th in West); lost in first round to Canucks
KEY ADDITIONS LW Andrew Brunette, LW Daniel Carcillo, D Steve Montador
KEY LOSSES RW Troy Brouwer, D Brian Campbell, RW Tomas Kopecky
THE AFTEREFFECTS of winning the Stanley Cup left an unmistakable imprint on the Blackhawks, which revealed itself in an 8-9-2 start last season. The short summer and the target on their backs as defending champs both had something to do with it. But nothing affected the team more than the salary-cap-induced makeover that decimated their depth. Gone were postseason heroes Dustin Byfuglien and Antti Niemi, as well as such valuable role players as winger Kris Versteeg. "We had so many new faces that nobody really knew what their role was," G.M. Stan Bowman says. "And by the time we sorted that all out, we were in December."
It took 82 games for Chicago to clinch the final seed in the West, and though the Blackhawks pushed the Canucks to seven games in the first round, their summer started early.
With a cadre of talented young players locked up, Bowman has focused on filling the supporting cast with more grit, picking up pesky winger Daniel Carcillo, rugged defenseman Steve Montador and veteran blueliner Sean O'Donnell.
An enviable group of forwards, including shifty winger Patrick Kane, center Jonathan Toews and sniper Marian Hossa means the Blackhawks won't have trouble finding the back of the net. (They ranked third in the conference in scoring last season.) But Chicago will also need a bounce-back year from top defenseman Duncan Keith, the 2010 Norris Trophy winner who by his standards had a down season, finishing -1. The veteran additions on the back end should help alleviate some of Keith's workload a year after he averaged an NHL-high 26:53 minutes per game.