Most of the off-season focus in Chicago has centered on the departed, but don’t forget about the arrivals, not to mention the internal growth Blackhawks management is counting on.
Forgetting about the goaltending turmoil and focusing exclusively on the forwards, let’s examine the three most prominent exits and contrast their contributions with what can be expected from the guys on the Windy City scene right now.
Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien were all dealt to clear space under the salary cap; Versteeg landed in Toronto, while Ladd and Byfuglien are now Thrashers.
Between them, the trio scored 54 regular season goals and missed just three games total. We’ll deal with the post-season later.
In their stead come two players who were already with the organization and one new to it.
The fresh face belongs to Swede Viktor Stalberg, who was part of the package coming back from the Leafs for Versteeg. The 24-year-old is 6-foot-3 and extremely fleet of foot, which is why the Leafs were high on him at this time last year following his exit from college. The challenge for Stalberg is getting himself pointed directly at the net and not veering off course, but the makings are there for a competent goal-scorer.
Another young player trying to find his game at the pro level is 23-year-old Jack Skille. Before the great summer salary shed occurred in Chicago, the team was already operating under a cap crunch, forcing Skille and his $1.275-million ticket to be shuffled back and forth from the big league and the American League.
This off-season, the seventh overall pick from 2005 signed a one-year deal worth $600,000 with the logic that a more palatable cap hit for the team will give Skille a better chance to stick and, in turn, will leave him in a better bargaining position as an RFA come next July 1, when, if things work out according to plan, he’ll be coming off a 15- to 20-goal season thanks to some quality ice time.
The other area where the Hawks can count on some growth is easy to overlook because when you’re scanning the roster looking for young players who can leap forward you tend to skip right over Marian Hossa.
The 31-year-old missed the first part of 2009-10 while recovering from shoulder surgery and wound up with 24 goals in 57 games. The season before, in Detroit, he had 40. Hossa entered the year with the excruciating pressure of having just signed a monster contract, while still trying to shake the notion any team he joined was destined to fall short in the final.
Well, the ‘Hossa Hex’ has been put to rest for good and it’s reasonable to expect a more at ease man to regain his status as one of the game’s better two-way players. Especially now that he’s healthy.
Byfuglien’s 11-goal playoff en route to the Cup won’t soon be forgotten in Chicago, nor will Versteeg’s versatile contributions at the most clutch time of year. And Ladd, though not as impactful as the other two last spring thanks in part to injury, now has a couple rings on his resume.
Hossa certainly can improve on last year’s three-goal playoff showing, while Skille and Stalberg should simply be focused on just establishing themselves as full-time NHLers at this point.
That’s an attainable goal for all three, meaning Chicago might not be poised for the slip some anticipate significant roster turnover will automatically bring.
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Tuesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears Wednesdays.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.