Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from a busy Thursday:
With Blackhawks single-game tickets having gone on sale Monday — and less than a month away from the first preseason game of the 2017-18 season — it's time to start breaking down what the team's lineup could look like on Opening Day.
Brian Campbell, Scott Darling, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Marcus Kruger, Artemi Panarin and Trevor van Riemsdyk were among Chicago's key departures in an offseason makeover, along with Marian Hossa, who's sitting out the upcoming campaign with a medical condition.
There are plenty of important shoes to fill. So how will the reformed Blackhawks stack up?
Let's give it a crack.
(A quick note: All indications are that the Blackhawks will place Hossa on long-term injured reserve as soon as the regular season starts, so we didn't include him on the 23-man Opening Day roster even though he will be. Instead, we added an extra player we believe will serve as the 23rd man going forward.)
First line: Brandon Saad - Jonathan Toews - Richard Panik
Second line: Patrick Sharp - Artem Anisimov - Patrick Kane
Third line: Ryan Hartman - Nick Schmaltz - Tomas Jurco
Fourth line: Lance Bouma - Tanner Kero - Tommy Wingels
Extras: Jordin Tootoo
— It's practically a lock that Joel Quenneville will open the season with Saad-Toews-Panik at the top, but that doesn't necessarily mean it'll stay that way or finish like that. At the Blackhawks Convention in July, Quenneville toyed with the idea of even putting Sharp on the first unit alongside Saad and Toews after the 35-year-old veteran looked "unbelievable" in the gym during offseason workouts.
— Speaking of Sharp, we're slotting him in at that second-line left wing position to start based off Quenneville's high praise of the winger. And it makes sense, trying to rekindle some magic with Kane off the bat and provide stability on the top-six while spreading out the bottom-six.
— Schmaltz could certainly be a candidate to jump up to the second line with Anisimov and Kane (or perhaps even swap center positions with Anisimov, but we won't get cute early on). The lack of center depth, however, might force him into a third-line center role to start, which isn't the worst idea. He won only 30.9 percent of his faceoffs last season, and the only way to get better is by taking more reps.
— Hartman and Jurco each spent more time on the left wing than right with the Blackhawks last year, but Jurco played more on the right side in Detroit so that's where we pegged him here. He's probably going to get a longer leash to nail down a full-time spot, and be put in a position to succeed in a third-line role.
— To round out the four-line rotation, Kero is surely going to play the role of Kruger by handling the bulk of defensive zone draws with newly-signed versatile forwards Bouma and Wingels serving as his wingmen. Tootoo comes in as the extra.
— It will be tempting to throw highly-touted prospect Alex DeBrincat into the fire right away, but there's no need to rush it and we don't believe the Blackhawks will, either. He's still only 19 years old, and it'd be asking way too much of the 5-foot-7, 170-pound OHL player of the year to log important minutes straight out of juniors.
— That leaves Laurent Dauphin, Alexandre Fortin, John Hayden, Vinnie Hinostroza and David Kampf off the roster for now as well, and it's not a bad thing. There just isn't enough room for everybody, and their developments are better served playing every day in the AHL rather than being fringe players in the NHL and taking turns sitting in the press box.
No. 1 defensive pairing: Duncan Keith - Connor Murphy
No. 2 defensive pairing: Michal Kempny - Brent Seabrook
No. 3 defensive pairing: Gustav Forsling - Jan Rutta
Extras: Jordan Oesterle, Michal Rozsival
— First off, there is no replacing Hjalmarsson. He was a linch-pin on the Blackhawks' blue line for a decade. It will take a collective effort to help alleviate that loss. While Murphy's defensive game needs improvement, he has to be the favorite to play alongside Keith strictly based on balancing out the rotation. It also helps that he's a right-handed shot, complementing the left-handed two-time Norris Trophy winner.
— Kempny and Seabrook had really strong possession numbers together last season, and should formulate the second unit. Kempny struggled to anchor down an every-day spot in his rookie campaign because of his defensive inconsistencies, but Quenneville is likely to give him an extended leash just like he did with the youngsters last year, simply because he has to.
— Forsling showed real promise in training camp a year ago, and it was enough to break last year's Opening Day roster. He stayed on for the first half before being assigned to Rockford, but it was necessary for his development in order to secure a full-time spot this year.
— Oesterle and Rutta — and perhaps even prospect Ville Pokka — are expected to vie for the sixth spot, with Rozsival serving as the seventh defenseman for insurance. We have the 27-year-old Czech defenseman getting the first crack at it, but it could be an ongoing competition for much of the year.
Starting goaltender: Corey Crawford
Backup goaltender: Anton Forsberg
— For the first time in a while, the Blackhawks are heading into the season with some uncertainty surrounding their backup goaltending situation. Crawford is the clear-cut starter, but for two-plus years the Blackhawks felt like they've always had two No. 1s with Darling.
— Forsberg legitimately might be the X-factor for the Blackhawks' season. Darling appeared in 32 games last season, and 29 the year before, essentially starting one-third of the team's games over the last two years. And he thrived in that role. Forsberg has high potential, but can he take that next step and be a consistent goaltender the Blackhawks need him to be? That's the question that nobody can answer until we actually see it.
— If the Forsberg experiment doesn't work out, or they prefer to enhance his development with every-day starts in Rockford, the Blackhawks signed Jean-Francois Berube who could see some playing time. But it's Forsberg's job to lose.
Patrick Kane is among the Hart Trophy candidates for the 2017-18 season, but what are his early odds to reclaim the title?
The 28-year-old Blackhawks star followed up an 106-point campaign in which he became the first American-born player to win the Art Ross and Hart Trophy by finishing tied for second in the NHL with 89 points last season.
But he's facing some tougher odds going into this year.
Bovada revelead Wednesday that Connor McDavid is the front-runner to repeat at 3/2 odds, followed by Sidney Crosby (5/2), Auston Matthews (17/2) and Alex Ovechkin (9/1). Kane ranks fifth at 14/1.
Here's the rest of the list:
- Vladimir Tarasenko: 15/1
- Evgeni Malkin: 16/1
- Carey Price, John Tavares: 20/1
- Jamie Benn, Steven Stamkos: 25/1
- Erik Karlsson, Nikita Kucherov: 33/1
- Jack Eichel, Ryan Getzlaf, Patrik Laine, Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin: 50/1
- Nicklas Backstrom, Brent Burns, Braden Holtby, Phil Kessel, Artemi Panarin, Joe Pavelski: 60/1
A couple solid value picks would be Karlsson at 33/1 and Burns at 60/1, both of whom made strong cases to be in that conversation last year as defensemen.
You'll also notice Panarin as a darkhorse candidate. It will be interesting to see how Kane and Panarin fare without each other in the prime of their careers. Who knows, maybe they'll be sharing the stage together as finalists in Las Vegas next June.