CHICAGO - The microscope is out, and every move is being watched closely. A few loose pucks could make the difference between playing for the Chicago Blackhawks and a trip to the minors.
The loaded Blackhawks return mostly intact after losing to eventual NHL champion Los Angeles in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals on June 1. While injuries or an upcoming salary-cap move could shake up the picture a bit, it looks as if there are very few open spots in the lineup heading into the preseason.
"You look at our roster, most guys are in place," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But there are still some things to be sorted out. As you go along, competition for quality ice time internally will be in place as well. We don't have our lines set in stone game in and game out. I guess we'll call that competition. As far as spots, we'll see how that plays out."
After four days of testing, practice and scrimmages at Notre Dame, the competition for that precious little roster space shifted to the United Center on Monday night for the team's training camp festival. Marcus Kruger had two goals and an assist to lead the White team to a 5-1 victory over the Red squad in the featured scrimmage.
Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith and forward Teuvo Teravainen were among a group of players who rested during the festivities, which attracted a sold-out crowd even with the Chicago Bears playing on Monday Night Football.
"Really impressive," said centre Brad Richards, who signed with Chicago in the off-season. "For a Red and White game ... I haven't been a part of something like that. So it just makes you feel better about choosing to come here."
It was the Blackhawks' first public appearance at their longtime home since they were eliminated by the Kings on Alec Martinez's overtime goal in Game 7. Martinez's shot went off Chicago defenceman Nick Leddy and fluttered over goaltender Corey Crawford, a nightmare for the Blackhawks that ended their bid for a repeat title and lingered into the summer for many of the players.
"You don't want to say it's one situation. We got beat by a good team," Quenneville said. "But I liked how we played that game. There were a lot of positives which made it tougher than saying we threw it away."
Chicago plays its first exhibition game Tuesday night against Detroit, and the preseason schedule could go a long way to answering the biggest question about the team. The Blackhawks are about $2.2 million above the salary cap and will have to make a move before the regular-season opener Oct. 9 at Dallas.
General manager Stan Bowman has said the preseason will give the team a chance to take a look at which position it feels can afford to lose a veteran player. It also could create demand for Chicago's players if there is an injury on another club.
But right now, it looks as if the only competition when it comes to the lineup is one of the wings on the fourth line and the last couple of defencemen. Teravainen, one of the team's top prospects, also could force his way into the mix.
"We say the players make the decisions for us," Quenneville said. "How they're competing is one way to look at it. If they're competing hard, you know they want to be here in the worst way and they want to get better in the position they're at as well. The battle level and how bad they want it is probably the best way to measure guys in those positions."
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap