NHL

Blackhawks add toughness in offseason

NESN NESN, Douglas Flynn
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The Blackhawks are just a year removed from winning the Stanley Cup, but much has changed in Chicago.

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Last summer witnessed the dismantling of much of that championship roster for salary cap reasons, and the turnover continued this offseason with a slew of new moves. The Blackhawks focused on building back some of the depth lost last summer, adding character and grit through free agency. Now they have to see if that will be enough to play deep into the spring once again.

2010-11 record: 44-29-9, 97 points (3rd Central Division; 8th Western Conference; lost to Vancouver in first round, 4-3)

Key additions: F Andrew Brunette (free agent); D Sean O'Donnell (free agent); D Steve Montador (free agent); F Daniel Carcillo (free agent); F Jamal Mayers (free agent); D Sami Lepisto (free agent); F Rostislav Olesz (trade with Florida); G Ray Emery (camp invite).

Key losses: F Troy Brouwer (trade with Washington); D Brian Campbell (trade with Florida); F Tomas Kopecky (trade with Florida); F Jake Dowell (signed with Dallas); D Chris Campoli (free agent, Blackhawks walked away from arbitration award); G Marty Turco (free agent); F Fernando Pisani (free agent); F Ryan Johnson (free agent); D Jordan Hendry (free agent)

Burning question: Will the renewed emphasis on grit and toughness pay off for the Blackhawks?

Blackhawks at a glance

 
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Perhaps attempting to follow a bit of Boston's blueprint for Stanley Cup success, the common theme for Chicago's additions this summer was an attempt to bulk up and improve the team's overall toughness. That was an ingredient sorely lacking last year as the salary cap purge stripped Chicago of most of its grit outside of hulking enforcer John Scott, who saw little ice time.

The Blackhawks addressed that shortcoming this offseason by signing tough guys capable of playing a regular shift in Daniel Carcillo, Jamal Mayers, O'Donnell and Montador. The Bruins succeeded in part because of the toughness stacked throughout their lineup, which wore down opponents and also contributed to the chemistry and camaraderie that was so much a part of Boston's identity.

The Blackhawks don't need to look to Boston for proof of the need to balance skill and toughness, though. Their own championship squad in 2010 featured valuable role players who added much-needed size and grit with the likes of Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Adam Burish.

2011-12 outlook: The Blackhawks have improved their depth and toughness, but their chances of making a run at another Cup will be determined by the play of their core of stars. Jonathan Toews (32-44-76 last season), Patrick Kane (27-46-73 in 73 games), Patrick Sharp (34-37-71) and Marian Hossa (25-32-57) give Chicago some serious firepower up front, while Brent Seabrook (9-39-48) and Duncan Keith (7-38-45, minus-1) headline a solid defense corps. Keith regressed from his Norris-winning form of 2009-10 (14-55-69, plus-21), but remains one of the best blueliners in the league.

Chicago also appears set in goal after Corey Crawford enjoyed a stellar rookie campaign with a 33-18-6 record, 2.30 GAA and .917 save percentage. With better depth to support them after their offseason moves, that nucleus should be strong enough to have the Blackhawks back among the West's elite and poised for a deep playoff run.

Did you know? Just 14 months removed from their 2010 Stanley Cup championship, just eight of the Blackhawks players who had their names engraved on the Cup for that title remain with Chicago.

Tagged: Blackhawks, Sharks, Jamal Mayers

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