If you’ve been paying attention to Gone Puck Wild lately, and shame on you if you haven’t, then you know school has begun as Wild fans brush up on their knowledge of the new teams within Minnesota’s division. This week, that new team just so happens to be the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Going through Sunday, we’ll break down Chicago’s major additions and subtractions, strengths and weaknesses, prospect pool, 2013 draft class and team outlook.
Yesterday, we took a look at the new additions to the Blackhawks’ lineup–there weren’t very many, but what can you do to improve a championship caliber team? Today, we take a look at their subtractions, that’s right, we’re going back to old school Elementary math! All joking aside, this year’s salary dump wasn’t nearly as big as the Summer of 2010, when the Stanley Cup champions lost Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien to the then-Atlanta Thrashers/now-Winnipeg Jets, Kris Versteeg to Toronto, Adam Burish to the Stars, John Madden to the Wild, Brian Campbell to the Panthers and stud rookie goalie Antti Niemi to the Sharks. I’m sure I’m missing more, but you get the point. However, there are a few noticeable names missing from the roster this season.
As soon as the bell rang on free agency, backup goaltender Ray Emery was “outie” and back in a Philadelphia Flyers sweater. Thus came the cruel joke that his day with the Cup would be the closest a Flyers goaltender would get to winning it for a long, long time. Granted, it was all Corey Crawford in the playoffs, Emery had an incredible year backing him up in the regular season, notching a 17-1-0 record, a 1.94 goals against average and .922 save percentage in sharing the William Jennings Trophy with Crawford for allowing the fewest goals against in the league. There’s no question he was the best backup in the NHL last season.
The fact that he’s only 30 also makes his departure, and the arrival of the 40-year old Khabibulin, a bitter situation. However, it likely means newly signed Antti Raanta is only a season away from claiming the backup spot in Chicago for his own. The departure of Rockford Ice Hogs goalie Carter Hutton makes it even more likely, and gives Raanta a starting role in North America in the meantime.
Viktor Stalberg is the biggest departure from the Blackhawks’ forward corps. A very speedy Swede, with not so speedy hands, Stalberg managed to scored nine goals and 14 assists for 23 points and a plus-16 rating in 47 games last season. His big 6’3″ 209-pound frame will likely be skating on former Wild center Matt Cullen’s wing on Nashville’s top line this fall. With Chicago’s top-6 filled to the brim with star talent, Stalberg was relegated to the third line, but played quite well in his role. If he can work a little on his stick work and puck handling skills, he could be a steal of a signing by the Predators.
As far as key players go, there you have it. Not major, earth-shattering subtractions, but still significant. Can Khabibulin resurrect his game in Chicago and fill in the hole left by Emery’s departure? That may be the biggest question in all of this. Chicago has been able to get by, not because of impressive goaltending, but exceptional offense and defense, and above-average goaltending. Will that continue next season? Only time will tell.