Zawaski: 5 Storylines To Follow As Blackhawks Open Season

By Jay Zawaski–

(CBS) Long playoff runs, Stanley Cup celebrations and other drama can make a hockey offseason quite short. This was certainly the case for the Blackhawks, who had about 18 months worth of drama wrapped up in four-month stretch.

Suddenly, the season is upon us. The Blackhawks raise their 2015 championship banner and drop the puck Wednesday night against the Rangers. Is Chicago due for a step back after losing Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad and Johnny Oduya, among others,  or is it an adequately reloaded the roster? Here are five storylines to watch as the season begins.

Replacing offense of Saad, Sharp

With players like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa, the Hawks will never really lack for offense. However, with Brandon Saad (52 points) and Patrick Sharp (43 points) gone after the team faced an offseason salary cap crunch, Chicago is going to have to find new sources of secondary scoring.

The immediate candidates are Teuvo Teravainen and Russian rookie Artemi Panarin. After the riding the Quennville-coaster, the 21-year-old Teravainen looks to have settled in to a permanent roster spot. His strong performance in last year’s Stanley Cup run solidified Quenneville’s confidence in him, and Teravainen will begin the season on the top line with Toews and Hossa. As the third scoring option on that line, it’s safe to assume that he will find more time and space than he has in the past.

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If this trio sticks, Teravainen’s numbers will skyrocket. In 34 regular-season games last year, he registered only nine points. In the playoffs, however, Teravainen recorded 10 points in 18 games. Those numbers could triple, even quadruple, with regular ice time and power-play time.

Panarin is perhaps the most intriguing part of the Blackhawks as the season opens. He finished fourth in overall scoring in Russia’s KHL last season. He missed all but one preseason game this year, but when he played last week against the Stars, he put on a show. Panarin glided his way through defenders and added two assists. He looked as ready as any rookie I’ve seen in a while.

Right now, Quenneville has Panarin on the second line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. The Hawks expect big contributions from him right off the bat, and he should produce immediately.

Anismov is another option to help fill the scoring void. A veteran of seven NHL seasons with the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets, Anisimov slides right in to the second-line center spot left by the departure of Brad Richards. He’s big, though not overly physical, and can contribute in every area of the game. He brings solid two-way play and, like Teravainen, should see exponential growth in his numbers based on his linemates.

5th-6th-7th defensemen

The lack of blue-line depth is hardly a new problem for the Blackhawks. Last year, they somehow won a Stanley Cup using David Rundblad, Kimmo Timonen, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Kyle Cumiskey.

This year, at least for now, the situation looks similar. Van Riemsdyk and Rundblad are expected to start the home opener. Behind them are rookies Ville Pokka and Viktor Svedberg. One of these two will fill the seventh defenseman spot, likely Svedberg. On Tuesday, the Hawks demoted the Svedberg and called up Pokka, but it’s assumed this was a temporary salary cap move. When coach Joel Quenneville spoke with Spiegel and Goff on Tuesday, he made it sound as if Svedberg was expected to contribute. He will be back sooner than later.

With so little cap space, it’s unclear how exactly the Hawks can upgrade this position going forward. If van Riesmdyk can take a step or two forward in his development, they may not have to worry about it.

I know what you’re thinking: Didn’t the Hawks just sign Michal Rozsival? Yes, they did. He will begin the season on long-term injured reserve. Some speculate that he will never leave LTIR and just retire. Regardless, I wouldn’t count on Rozsival to contribute until later in the season, if at all.

Goalie workload

With the emergence of Scott Darling, the Hawks may look to lean on their backup more than they have in the past. Quenneville was hesitant to put a number on it, but somewhere in the neighborhood of 55-60 games for starter Corey Crawford might be the goal. If Darling plays more and excels, could the Hawks look to move Crawford and his $6 million salary in the offseason? Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger will be looking for new contracts. At the same time, the new deals for Brent Seabrook and Anisimov will kick in. The Darling/Crawford situation will be interesting to watch, for sure.

Quenneville’s patience

We’ve already seen Quenneville demote a young skilled player who many predicted would be part of things from day one. Marko Dano, acquired alongside Anisimov in the Saad trade, looked to be a safe bet to make the roster when camp began. He scored 21 points in 35 games with Columbus last year and was near the top of the league in points per 60 minutes last season. He also began training camp on the top line with Toews and Hossa and looked great. Then, once the preseason games started, Dano’s game started to slide. He wasn’t bad, per se, but he was a non-factor.

We’ve learned that Quenneville isn’t in the business of developing talent on the NHL roster. I only hope that Dano’s first impression won’t affect his long-term role with the Hawks.

Kane drama management

It seems as if news is starting to slow down on the Patrick Kane rape investigation front. There hasn’t been much news at all since district attorney Frank Sedita held his press conference a few weeks ago. But as we found out, these situations can change quickly. Off-ice drama is coming at some point this season. How the organization, Quenneville and Kane’s teammates handle the drama will be essential.

Jay Zawaski is the executive producer of the Spiegel and Goff Show on 670 The Score and the Blackhawks columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.

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