It was a long offseason for the Chicago Blackhawks. It felt even longer to most of us as the Hawks were relatively inactive in terms of improving their team from last year's 76-point squad.
Instead, Stan Bowman has decided to double and triple down on his horses and go into the season having younger (and unproven) players vie for spots on the opening day roster.
While yesterday was technically the first day of training camp as the Hawks showed up for physicals, today is the first time they all step on the ice as a team.
There are several reasons to be skeptical about how the Blackhawks are going to do this year. However, the optimist in me will point out below what the Hawks can do to prove everyone wrong and launch themselves back into the playoff picture.
Here are 5 training camp storylines that are essential to the Hawks success out of the gate:
1) Holy Moly, That's Our Goalie – It has been reported that Corey Crawford is expected to be on the ice today. While it's unfair to expect him to come in and look like the Stanley Cup-winning goalie we all know he can be, it is promising that he's getting on the ice with his teammates.
What the Hawks need is for Crawford to be constantly improving in the background while the Hawks prepare for the season. At least they know they can rely on Cam Ward if Crawford isn't ready to begin the season on October 4th.
What the Hawks can't have this be, is a distraction. The players and coaches shouldn't have any expectations of when they will be getting their #1 goalie back. They should focus on all other aspects of the game and know that they have a solid duo in Ward/Forsberg.
2) Underdog Mentality – Just like the Golden Knights last year, the Blackhawks would benefit from having an underdog mentality to their game.
With the number of teams throughout the West that improved (Hello, San Joe!), the Hawks really are being talked about as a bottom team in the conference by most talking heads.
Bodog has the over/under for points for the Chicago Blackhawks at 84.5.
The Hawks need to get p*ssed off about that and start proven the naysayers wrong. It worked for the misfits in Vegas and with the proven leadership in the Hawks dressing room, there's no reason why they can't band together to form a winning formula mentally from that.
3) Improved Defence with Quicker Chemistry Overall – Last year, the Hawks exploded out the gates with a 10-1 win over Pittsburgh.
They ended with a mediocre 5-5-2 in October and saw a slight improvement with 7-4-2 in November.
As we know the Hawks season was very up-and-down and ending mostly in the down department.
The Hawks struggled with consistency and, to my eye, really lacked a lot of chemistry throughout the lineup.
This year, the Hawks desperately need to gel quickly throughout training camp and the pre-season to make up for their potential lack of depth up-and-down the roster.
This begins with the defence. Individually Keith and Seabrook need to show improvements to their games. Connor Murphy should have more confidence heading into this pre-season as he knows what to expect with the system and coaching staff.
Coach Q and staff need to zero in on the most effective pairings and build off of those heading into October.
Will any of those pairings include Henri Jokiharju?
4) Who's the Next Star? – Which forward(s) will step up to be the next Nick Schmaltz (of 2016-17) or Alex Debrincat (of last year)?
The Hawks will be asking a lot of a couple players who are hungry to snag one of the open spots in the lineup.
My eye is on Victor Ejdsell, Dylan Sikura, Matthew Highmore and Dominik Kahun to make an offensive impact.
Likely, the Hawks will need to slot one of them in the top 6 and at least one of them in the bottom 6.
Let the battle begin!
5) What's the Game Plan? – I sure hope that Joel Quenneville, Kevin Dineen and Ulf Samuelsson had a lot of sleepless nights this summer.
Here's hoping they went back to the drawing board to tweak this Blackhawks' system in a way that is more conducive to the skill set of the team on the ice.
Last year, it was evident that not everyone was on the same page and/or wasn't slotted in the proper role to succeed.
Quenneville has witnessed a lot of overall depth go out the door and not return over his time with the Hawks.
I'm not saying there is no high-end skill left. However, I am saying that the "old way" of playing Blackhawks hockey needs to be updated to be competitive in today's NHL.
Let's see if there are any modifications to the system that we can point out in pre-season.
To me, these are the essentials that the Hawks need to figure out and figure out as quick as possible starting today.
It will be interesting to see how the Crawford status plays out today and how the rest of the crew looks after a long summer.
See ya out there!