The tail end of the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup celebration was halted by the criminal investigation surrounding perhaps their biggest star.
Several big names are gone but Patrick Kane and the unwanted spotlight around him remain as the focus turns back to hockey for Wednesday night’s season opener against the visiting New York Rangers.
Kane will take the ice still under investigation on suspicion of sexual assault from an incident that allegedly occurred in early August at his Hamburg, New York, home. No charges have been filed.
Following the Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony, he will skate alongside several new faces that inherit the title of defending champions. After a third title in six years, Chicago relieved its salary cap restraints by unloading key contributors Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp and Brad Richards, among others.
But Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Marian Hossa, Brent Seabrook, Andrew Shaw, Niklas Hjalmarsson and goaltender Corey Crawford hold down the core. And, of course, Kane – for now.
"I think there’s plenty of talent," Hossa told the team’s official website. "We lost so many key members of our team from the last year, but on the plus side, we’ve got lots of great young players coming in to give us lots of enthusiasm and energy, which could be our motor."
Chicago, which finished third in the Central Division before its playoff run, hopes for contributions from youngster Teuvo Teravainen and newcomers Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov to an attack that ranked 17th with 220 goals last year.
Teravainen contributed four goals and six assists in the postseason, and the 21-year-old will take the place of Saad on Chicago’s top line alongside Toews and Hossa. Panarin and Anisimov will join Kane on the second line, while the third group features Shaw, Kyle Baun and Bryan Bickell – who was waived last week but went unclaimed and returns for his ninth season with Chicago.
Andrew Desjardins, Marcus Kruger and Ryan Garbutt make up the fourth line, while Marko Dano was a surprise cut in camp but is an option to be recalled.
Coach Joel Quenneville tends to have a short leash when a line isn’t working, and early-season tinkering is on the table.
"I don’t think the word is impatient, it’s opportunity," Quenneville said.
While the Blackhawks hoisted the Stanley Cup in June, the Rangers were one game away from playing for it for the second straight year. The Presidents’ Trophy winners lost 2-0 to Tampa Bay in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has been with the Rangers his entire 10-year career, the last four of which include two first-place finishes, a Presidents’ Trophy, three trips to the East finals and one Stanley Cup appearance.
"I think it used to be that we always hoped to be a contender, but now we all expect to be up there," Lundqvist told the team’s official website. "You feel the expectations walking in here. That’s a good thing."
While Chicago’s roster transformed, the Rangers look mostly the same – outside of the retirement of Martin St. Louis and a trade that sent Carl Hagelin to Anaheim. But New York picked up Emerson Etem to replace Hagelin and acquired former Blackhawks Viktor Stalberg and Antti Raanta, the latter of whom will replace Cam Talbot as Lundqvist’s backup.
The Rangers, who have won three of the last four meetings against Chicago, ranked third in the NHL in goals (248) and goals against (187) last year, giving them a plus-61 differential that easily led the league.
Six of the seven Rangers who produced at least 45 points return. Rick Nash leads the way after tallying 42 goals, just five fewer than he did in his first two seasons in a New York uniform.
He’s gone 11 straight games at the United Center without scoring a goal, the last two with the Rangers.