Faceoff: How far can the Blackhawks go?

By Korey Peterson and Chris Dertz

It’s hockey season and after winning the Stanley Cup last year, expectations in Chicago are high for the Blackhawks to repeat. After losing a number of important role players though, it can be questioned just how far this team can go.

Korey Peterson: I am getting sick of people doubting the Blackhawks just because they lost eight players that helped win the Stanley Cup. These players all contributed to the Cup run, but they can be replaced. The team has a lot of newcomers that can step in and do exactly what Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and Kris Versteeg did. Not many teams in the league can say that they have four superstars like the Blackhawks do in Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Marian Hossa.

Chris Dertz: I don’t necessarily think that it’s “doubting” a team to say that they’ll finish between fourth and sixth in the West. Everyone knows this team lost a lot – don’t forget the leadership and chemistry factors lost with Versteeg and Brent Sopel – but I feel like a lot of Chicago fans aren’t looking at the situation logically. A Cup-or-bust mentality is not the right one to have with this team. Role players can be replaced, but the ‘Hawks lost key guys, and the newcomers stepping in are going to take some time to gel together. Never underestimate the importance of role players in the NHL.

KP: Viktor Stalberg is as flashy with the puck as was Versteeg. John Scott is bigger and tougher than Byfuglien, and he can also play winger like ‘Buff.’ People forget that the Blackhawks were futile for years and have many former first round draft picks that are NHL ready such as Jack Skille, Jake Dowell and Kyle Beach. The man who was traded for Byfuglien, 19-year-old Jeremy Morin, nearly made the team out of training camp. Not only did the role players that left have to go because of the salary cap, they had to make way for the younger guys too.

CD: I agree with you about Stalberg, but it’s still going to take some time for him to get going. A new team will do that to you. The one elephant in the room we haven’t talked about is Antti Niemi. While I’ve never thought he was what he was cracked up to be, nobody wants to go from a young, Cup-winning goalie to old-man Marty Turco. I think Turco can still play, but I don’t think his body will hold up in the playoffs if he plays the number of games he needs to for the ‘Hawks to compete with the West’s best.

KP: Turco, 35, is one of the best puck-moving goalies ever to take to the crease. Niemi was solid, but his numbers were skewed behind Norris trophy winner Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and shot-blocking extraordinaire Niklas Hjalmarsson. I expect Turco to have at least 10 assists this season if his fragile body doesn’t get injured. He shouldn’t have to do much to stop the puck with that defense in front of him. The only thing I am worried about with the ‘Hawks is toughness. With Ben Eager and Adam Burish gone, I hope Dowell and Scott can give Chicago the edge they need in the fighting department.

CD: They do look like solid candidates to be Kronwall’d. That defense that you’re touting is what I’m not as confident in. Everyone knows that Keith is the cornerstone of this team, and he and Seabrook will be as solid as ever. Hjalmarsson broke out last season, but I’m not so sure he’ll continue to progress at this clip, especially blocking all those shots and being matched up with rookie Nick Leddy. I don’t know if you know this, but hockey pucks are hard, and they’ll take their toll sooner or later.

KP: Leddy is a stud, but his quickness and offensive prowess will factor in immediately. He has a lot to learn and I would rather see Nick Boynton or Jordan Hendry with him. Campbell’s injury will hurt the team early on. Bottom line, the Blackhawks did the best they could with a terrible salary cap situation that former general manger Dale Tallon created. There is no reason that the team can’t repeat as champions with the pieces they have put together.

CD: I’ve got to disagree with you. There’s no getting around the fact that this team will be good, but I just think the Blackhawks lost too much in the middle of their roster, and in front of the net, to compete for a Cup. With teams like San Jose, Vancouver and Colorado all looking like they’ll be primed to make a Cup run in the West, I just think there’s too much competition out there – too many good teams – for the ‘Hawks to have a realistic chance at repeating.