Chicago Blackhawks: Training camp begins and everyone’s looking for answers

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Blackhawks begin preparations for the 2018-19 season. What that will be, no one seems to know.

On Friday, the Chicago Blackhawks begin training camp. On Thursday, they officially missed out on trading for Erik Karlsson, one of the few players who could have made a real difference to this team. Just like they did with Max Pacioretty a few days ago. Just like they have failed to pry loose Justin Faulk. So what’s left reports to MB Ice Arena with what’s left. And no one knows what to make of what’s left.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Most people aren’t impressed with what’s left and will tell you the only hope is that Corey Crawford stays healthy and channels the lovechild of Dominik Hasek and Poseidon. And that’s pretty much true.

So the big story of camp will be whether Corey Crawford is on the ice at all, which is no guarantee, how he looks if he is, and can he maintain that until April. Every little move will be dissected, and his absence will be even more so.

The Hawks seemingly have spent all summer trying to pin it on Crawford if he doesn’t make the bell, with their repeated, “He’s on schedule,” and “Everything indicates he’ll be ready,” proclamations based on — something.

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Beyond that, there are a couple things worth watching. The next, biggest issue is whether Henri Jokiharju makes the team. Right now the Hawks blue line is slow and lacks any dynamism. Keith has lost a step. Brent Seabrook ate it, and really only Erik Gustafsson can get up the ice with the puck (if he remembers to bring it). It’s not Connor Murphy‘s job.

Jokiharju has the skills and speed to be something the Hawks don’t have. The question is whether Joel Quenneville will give him the time of day. Remember, he had to be force-fed Alex DeBrincat last year even though it was clear he was already the second-best scorer on the team. Being a defenseman under 20-years-old is only going to make Q make a Malort-face even more.

Further complicating things is the Hawks didn’t sign Brandon Manning to be a no. 7 defenseman, even though that’s what he is. If Jokiharju makes the team, he has to play, which would likely sit Manning. So Jokiharju is really going to have to harness a supernova in the preseason.

Lastly, either or both Victor Ejdsell and Dylan Sikura have to prove they can handle top-nine winger roles. The Hawks are short on scoring, even if Brandon Saad and Jonathan Toews bounce back to have big years. Right now the Hawks look to have next to no scoring on their bottom-six lines, and that usually leads a team right into the festival port-a-john that’s due a cleaning.

Sikura didn’t show much in just five games last year. Ejdsell at least has a dominant AHL playoff run on his resume. The Hawks remain very high on both, and unlike Jokiharju they’ll be given every chance to carve out a meaningful role. But they’ll have to show something at camp to justify it.

The prospects are bleak. The road treacherous. But if the Hawks are going to surprise and prove people wrong, it begins on Friday with the answering of some basic questions. They all have to come up right.