New faces for Blackhawks as Cup defense begins

The Chicago Blackhawks have heard all the questions from the

skeptics. They know they seem like a long shot to repeat as Stanley

Cup champion after losing their goaltender, goal-scoring hero and

eight other players from last June’s roster.

The Blackhawks, however, aren’t ready to give it all up that

easily.

Chicago remains one the NHL’s youngest, fastest and

most-talented clubs. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith,

Brent Seabrook and Patrick Sharp – all high-octane 20-somethings –

are back and so is Marian Hossa, one of only four Chicago regulars

who’s over 30.

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

the 21-year-old who scored the Cup-winning overtime goal in Game 6

in Philadelphia. ”But at the same time you still have those core

guys who have been here for a while.

”I think it’s overrated how long it takes to get that chemistry

because playing with guys a couple of times, you should be able to

get it down right away. I don’t think that’s going to be any big

deal.”

Neither does coach Joel Quenneville.

”I thought we found out about some of our guys and the depth of

our organization (in training camp),” said Quenneville, who

received a contract extension through 2013-14 before camp opened.

”I still think we’ve got some work to do on our team game, and our

line combinations as well. But I think everyone’s excited about

playing for keeps starting this week.”

Still, some introductions are in order for fans tuning in now

for the Blackhawks’ regular-season opener at Colorado on Thursday

night.

Chicago’s goaltending has changed completely, with 10-year

veteran Marty Turco taking over the No. 1 spot from Antti Niemi

after signing a one-year, $1.3 million free-agent contract. He’ll

be backed up by Corey Crawford, a second-round draft pick in 2003

whose time to stick in the NHL has come.

After spending his entire pro career with Dallas, Turco said he

chose Chicago – and less money – to help the Blackhawks repeat as

champions.

The 35-year-old Turco is one of the NHL’s most-active

puck-handling goalies. That appealed to general manager Stan

Bowman, who envisions Turco sparking the Blackhawks’ already fast

transition game.

”We’re still getting used to each other,” Turco said. ”My

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

fine-tuning.”

Niemi? He’s now in San Jose, one of Chicago’s salary cap

casualties. Bowman had to part with his Cup-winning goalie to keep

his payroll under the NHL’s $59.4 million ceiling, and said goodbye

to Dustin Byfuglien, the 6-foot-3, 250-pound forward who had a

knack for game-winning goals.

Chicago’s mobile, skilled defense changed little over the

summer. Back are the Norris Trophy-winning Keith, Seabrook, Brian

Campbell and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Campbell will miss the first month

of the season with a right knee sprain and he may be replaced by

19-year-old Nick Leddy, the team’s biggest training camp

surprise.

”He looked good back there,” Quenneville said. ”We liked his

instincts and the way he moved.”

The Blackhawks will be big up front as Quenneville works in some

new skaters and gives Troy Brouwer, Dave Bolland and Tomas Kopecky

added responsibilities.

Brouwer, a 6-foot-3 right wing, expects to help pick up some of

the physical slack created by Byfuglien’s departure. Bolland

emerged as an effective checking center after returning from back

surgery, but Chicago would love to see him scoring goals and making

assists this year.

Among the new forwards to watch is Viktor Stalberg, is a

6-foot-2 left wing who was acquired from Toronto in a trade that

sent Kris Versteeg and his $3 million salary to the Maple

Leafs.

Right wing Jack Skille, Chicago’s first-round draft pick in

2005, also stepped up in the preseason. Fernando Pisani, who at 33

is the oldest skater on the Blackhawks, signed as a free agent from

Edmonton for just $500,000.

The Blackhawks still believe they can become the first team to

win back-to-back championships since Detroit in 1997 and 1998.

”We knew there were going to be some moves,” 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.”