By Mark Maxwell
Coach Quenneville is back on the ice with his team, preparing to begin another season only 98 days removed from hoisting the Stanley Cup in Boston.
Quenneville has much higher expectations for the 2013-14 Blackhawks than he did for the 2010-11 team. During the offseason after winning his first Stanley Cup, the roster saw significant turnover when they lost starting goaltender Antti Niemi, center Dustin Byfuglien, left winger Andrew Ladd and right winger Kris Versteeg. The 2010-11 Blackhawks struggled to replace the combined 54 goals, 62 assists and seven Niemi shutouts. That season ended in a heartbreaking Game 7 loss to Vancouver in overtime.
Quenneville expects this season to be much different. The team re-signed Corey Crawford and he has serviceable reinforcements in Nikolai Khabibulin and the other Antti, Antti Raanta. (Fun fact: Niemi and Raanta share more than Finnish citizenship, they also both wear the number 31 on their sweaters.) The Blackhawks also managed to retain Bryan Bickell who many thought to be Byfuglien's counterpart. Bickell's large body made a significant impact in front of the opposing goalie throughout the playoffs. He netted eight goals and dished out nine assists on his way to leading all Blackhawks forwards in the plus/minus category at +11. Only defenseman Johnny Oduya scored a higher plus/minus rating in the playoffs, coming in at +12.
Quenneville does look to improve his club in one important area: the power play. The Hawks anemic power play was much maligned throughout the '12-13 campaign. If they can improve their power play, many believe they will be among the early favorites to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals once again.