One of the most tossed around phrases in all of sports is “defense wins championships.” It seems pretty simple, right? If your team can prevent your opponent from scoring more points, then you should be a pretty successful team. This season, out of all the issues the Blackhawks will encounter, defense will be their number one concern.
To say the defense is thin is a little bit of an understatement. Yes, they do have Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook coming back but outside of those two guys, the Blackhawks don’t have much depth. The loss of Niklas Hjalmarsson and Marian Hossa is huge. Outside of Keith and Seabrook, Hjalmarsson was the Blackhawks best defenseman. The direction General Manager Stan Bowman went in the return of the Hjalmarsson trade shows that the Hawks are trying to do one thing on defense— to get younger.
Connor Murphy was the key return in the Niklas Hjalmarsson trade. Not only is he under team control, but he is also 24-years-old. With the other defensive prospects the Hawks have, Bowman is hinting that getting younger on the back end is a priority, not only because of the talent aspect, but because of the salary aspect, as well. The majority of the Hawks’ money is going to Toews, Kane, Keith, Seabrook, Hossa, and Saad. This allows Bowman to keep those players, while developing these younger defensemen. Most importantly, they are still on low salary contracts.
How much of a concern should the Hawks’ defense be? Personally, on a scale of 1 to 10, I’d say an eight, mainly because so many questions remain unanswered. Questions such as who is going to fill the Hjalmarsson void? How much ice time can Duncan Keith handle this season? Will Joel Queneville be able to trust those younger defensemen coming out of camp? Can Seabrook bounce back from last season? Can Michal Roszival return healthy and play decently? Do we see any improvement in Michael Kempny?
Don’t get me wrong, the Hawks have a lot of young defensemen who can really take advantage of an opportunity, but if last year’s post season was any indication, it’s that the Hawks are going to have to be better.
My prediction: the Blackhawks WILL make the playoffs, BUT not win the Central Division or the Stanley Cup this season.