Chicago Blackhawks training camp gets underway on Friday, and as a basis, we thought we'd Six things to watch out for in the coming weeks:
1. As Duncan Keith?
This is the story of Day One, a lot of questions will be thrown at Keith knee. 33-year-old defender has decided not to play for Canada in the World Cup because he still rehabbing from minor surgery he had last October.
So angry was the knee? It troubled him in the past season? Or was it just a case of Keith is extremely cautious?
Stay tuned ...
2. Who fills the hole?
So many candidates will fight very few openings. Whoever attracts coach Joel Quenneville and his team most will say that they - and then try like crazy to hang on to them.
"You have to make it every day in practice," said Vincent Hinostroza prospects camp in July. "There is so much competition, so many good players. It's just find a way to be consistent every day."
Hinostroza and Tyler Motte factor that has the two favorites to make the team out of camp. Others to watch include forward Nick Schmaltz Ryan Hartman, Mark McNeill, Tanner Kero and Kyle Baun.
They will all try to fill the hole left by Teuvo Teräväinen and Andrew Shaw. If you impress enough to push for playing time, veterans like Dennis Rasmussen, Brandon Mashinter and Jordin Tootoo.
3. Who plays with Toews?
Jonathan Toews scored 28 goals for the third straight season, but managed a career-low 11 of them in 5-on-5 game. A big reason was because Quenneville tried more than a half dozen players on the top line with Toews and Marian Hossa.
Toews, who is by most accounts the best captain in team sports, deserves some talented wings to be able to succeed on every night.
So with Andrew Ladd and Shaw away, Quenneville has continued to tinker with the up-and-comer? Or two up-and-comer? Or Richard Pánik and up-and-comer?
Or should move Patrick Kane up and find someone else to play with Artemi Panarin and Artem Anisimov?
Of all the issues to be resolved, this ranks as one of the most fascinating in the coming weeks ... and maybe even months.
4. Hossa made on the top line?
At the Blackhawks Convention in July, Quenneville indicated he was open to moving Hossa on the third line to play with center Marcus Krüger and perhaps Andrew Desjardins. Hossa, Kruger and Ladd worked well together at the end of a playoff loss to the Hawks St. Louis.
Move like this can not only rejuvenate Hossa, but also could give the Hawks a balance rarely had last season.
5. defense set?
The first six D-men seem to be Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brian Campbell, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Michael Kempný. Michal Rozsival should provide a veteran presence in case of injury.
Erik Gustafsson, Viktor Svedberg and Ville Pokka factor that has to be the odd man out, but watch out for the 20-year-old Gustav Forsling. 20-year-old Swede signed a three-year contract with the Hawks in May last year and may have what it takes to disrupt the apple cart.
6. It will be a long off-season to be a blessing?
Blackhawks fans, players, coaches and management Everyone was understandably depressed when their team bowed out of last year's playoffs in the opening round.
Nearly five months have passed since that Game 7 loss to the St. Louis, though, and many players have talked about how time has gone recovered.
Under these circumstances, we should expect another jump, speed and determination of Toews, Kane, Hossa, Seabrook, Keith and Hjalmarsson. The goalie Corey Crawford should be sharper, too.
If rest is what the doctor ordered - and several young players to develop into a capable NHL players - Hawks can only be in line for another long playoff run next spring.