We've got Second City Hockey's Satchel Price in the house today, answering the three questions I poised to him about the Stanley Cup champions in advance of tonight's tilt between the Florida Panthers and Chicago Blackhawks.
After winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks had to retool a bit during the offseason to get under the salary cap. How are new players like Artem Anisimov and Artemi Panarin fitting in with the champs?
Enough cannot be said about the impact Panarin has had on this team. The second line Panarin, Anisimov and Patrick Kane has been easily Chicago's most productive through six games. The Hawks' left wing situation beyond him is a total mess, so it's hard to imagine where the team would be if it didn't sign the Russian winger last spring. Next to him, Anisimov has also been very solid and shown the steady two-way game we were told about. The real issues have been with the team's other new players, from Trevor Daley to Viktor Tikhonov. The Hawks play a highly disciplined, defensive-minded system that takes some players a long time to adapt to. If you're not used to constantly moving your feet in the defensive zone -- something Daley has alluded to after over a decade in Dallas -- then it's a major adjustment. That lack of chemistry and Joel Quenneville's ongoing search for the right defensive pairings have led to some trouble moving the puck from zone-to-zone. Changes aren't coming, though, so this group will just have to keep working through the bumps in the road.
With the new additions and the off-ice distractions of the Patrick Kane situation, are Blackhawks fans satisfied with the team's start or is the 3-3 record setting off alarm bells?
For some fans, the handling of the Kane situation alone is a reason to be dissatisfied with the team at the moment. On the ice, however, I think the bigger concern is the injury to Duncan Keith and the impact that'll have on an already shaky defense over the next 4-6 weeks. The Hawks were already having trouble working guys like David Rundblad and Viktor Svedberg into the lineup. Now those players will be used in key roles as Chicago tries to tread water in the Western Conference without one of the game's premier defensemen. The team's first six games offered some minor reasons for concern that could be overcome. The Keith injury feels like the one thing that could up the worry factor a few degrees. Still, he'll be back before Christmas and that leaves the Hawks with a long time to get healthy, find their groove and enter the playoffs with some momentum. It'll require the team to hold up and get some wins in the meantime, though, which is no guarantee.
Chicago was forced to deal RFA, and potential star, Brandon Saad to Columbus. How long until we see prospects like Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin and Corey Tropp as regulars in the Windy City?
Dano is the best young Blackhawks player not in Chicago and he'll be up soon enough. The general belief is that Dano was sent to the AHL in order to work on the nuances of the Blackhawks' defensive system after a mixed preseason. Like with Teuvo Teravainen a year ago, Dano is expected to play a key role in Chicago by the end of the season. Offensively, he already looks to be ready after an impressive 35-game showing with Columbus last season. The Hawks emphasize a two-way game above everything else, though, and Dano won't get his chance until he's there developmentally. Morin and Tropp, on the other hand, are largely AHL fodder who could be called up in case of emergency. Both players cleared waivers, so other teams aren't lining up for them. Morin could never quite get over the bad first impression he left with Quenneville years ago. If there are two young players to watch beyond Dano, they're 21-year-old center Vincent Hinostroza and 20-year-old defenseman Ville Pokka. Hinostroza is currently the Hawks' third-line center. Pokka is the team's top blue line prospect and could get the call in the second half of the season if the team's defense hasn't settled in by then.