Blackhawks-Avalanche Preview

Not long after celebrating the end of a 49-year title drought,

the Chicago Blackhawks began feeling the weight of the NHL salary

cap.

Whether the Blackhawks can become the first team in 12 seasons

to repeat as Stanley Cup champions might depend on how wisely they

managed their money.

With several key members gone and some newcomers joining its

young core, Chicago opens its Cup defense against the Colorado

Avalanche on Thursday night in Denver.

The Blackhawks ended nearly a half century of futility with

Patrick Kane’s overtime goal in Philadelphia, but began saying

goodbye to nearly half of their playoff roster just two weeks after

parading with the Cup down Michigan Avenue.

As it sought to create cap space, Chicago started by dealing

playoff hero Dustin Byfuglien to Atlanta on June 23. Among the

Blackhawks’ other moves included trading former Calder Trophy

finalist Kris Versteeg to Toronto, refusing to accept goaltender

Antti Niemi’s $2.75 million arbitration award and assigning former

starting netminder Cristobal Huet to the Swiss National League.

“We knew there were going to be some moves,” forward Troy

Brouwer said. “We didn’t know maybe the extent of what it was going

to be. We can’t worry about it any more. What we have to do now is

defend the Stanley Cup.”

With Niemi and Huet gone, former Dallas stalwart Marty Turco was

signed to a one-year contract Aug. 2. The three-time All-Star is

coming off two of his worst seasons – a 55-51-21 record and a

combined 2.78 goals-against average – but could bounce back with a

better supporting cast.

“My game is all right, but in my head there’s just some

fine-tuning,” Turco said.

That support includes 23-year-old defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson,

whose four-year, $14 million offer sheet from San Jose was matched

July 12. He joins a group of highly regarded young players that

includes Kane, Conn Smythe-winning captain Jonathan Toews, reigning

Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and fellow defenseman Brent

Seabrook.

“You look at our team and we lost a lot of guys,” Kane said.

“But at the same time you still have those core guys who have been

here for a while.”

Four-time All-Star Marian Hossa, Dave Bolland and Tomas Kopecky

also return for coach Joel Quenneville, who signed a three-year

contract extension last month. Quenneville could get scoring help

from Viktor Stalberg, former first-round draft pick Jack Skille and

Fernando Pisani in his team’s attempt to become the first repeat

Cup winner since Detroit in 1997 and 1998.

Chicago, however, won’t have defenseman Brian Campbell on the

ice for at least four weeks because of a sprained right knee. The

Blackhawks could look to 19-year-old Nick Leddy, a former

first-round draft pick of Minnesota, to take over Campbell’s

role.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, will likely have Matt Duchene back

from illness for the opener. In 2009-10, the Calder finalist led

all rookies with 55 points and finished tied for first with 24

goals.

Duchene is part of a roster that’s stayed virtually intact after

the franchise’s 12th playoff appearance in its 14 seasons since

moving from Quebec.

The most recent trip came under first-year coach Joe Sacco, and

ended with a first-round defeat in six games to San Jose capped by

three straight losses. Still, Colorado’s postseason appearance may

have been the most unexpected as it came off a Western

Conference-worst 69-point campaign.

The Avalanche had as many as 10 rookies on their roster last

season while finishing eighth in the West with 95 points. Those

first-year players combined for 64 goals and 102 assists.

“I think we should be good (this season). We’re still a young

team and we have a year together under our belts, so I don’t see

why we can’t compete with anyone,” center Ryan O’Reilly told the

team’s website.

Craig Anderson is back in net after starting 71 games during his

first season in Colorado, 44 more than his previous career best.

The former Blackhawk and Park Ridge, Ill., native was 38-25-7 with

a 2.64 goals-against average and seven shutouts.

Paul Stastny also returns after posting a team-leading and

career-best 79 points last season. Chris Stewart led the Avalanche

with 28 goals, including five game-winners.

The Blackhawks were 3-0-1 last season against Colorado with two

wins coming in shootouts.