Throughout this offseason and especially after the free agency period and frenzy of trades in July and more recently in conversations I've had with readers and other fans via email and private messages, it's been clear in my mind at least what will be the biggest issue for the Blackhawks this coming season.
Generating offense isn't likely to be a worry with Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Kirby Dach at full health, Alex DeBrincat and Dominik Kubalik growing into well-rounded goal scorers, and Tyler Johnson, Brandon Hagel, Adam Gaudette as well as Dylan Strome and Alex Nylander adding secondary scoring.
With the addition of reigning Vezina trophy winner Marc-Andre Fleury plus Kevin Lankinen's inspiring rookie year last season, goaltending is far from being a concern either. Like Corey Crawford, Fleury can carry a team but can also just be a cog if teammates in front of him are banging on all cylinders.
Therein lies the rub, though. Will the team be able to defend effectively and consistently over an entire season and hopefully the playoffs?
Team defense has been the recent Achilles' heel of the Hawks. While there may be a microscope on the blueliners -- particularly Seth Jones -- the centers and wingers also play a substantial role in whether the team defense will thrive and become contender caliber or continue to disintegrate into a sloppy mess.
Additionally, as the debate has played out ad nauseum throughout his tenure behind the bench, head coach Jeremy Colliton and his staff also have responsibility to prepare the players. Yes, those on skates need to execute but those in suits need to implement strategies that the personnel can actually execute.
There are many things that need to stop like letting the other team gain the zone with ease, having multiple players key in on the puck carrier, abandoning the front of the net, getting caught puck watching, failing to cover a teammate who gets pulled out of position, and fleeing the zone before the puck does.
What the Hawks need to do more is shrink the ice and defend in waves by attacking the opposition early and often starting at the far goal line, having layers of suffocating pressure to close off time and space, and having an automatic mindset to protect the house then be prepared to collapse low as necessary.
Even though offense may be neither tops in the league for goals scored nor anemic at the bottom of the barrel and faith in the netminders should be rather high, the Hawks will only go as far as the team defense is able to lock it down and not be a constant source of deflation and frustration.
See you on the boards!