Photo: ChicagoTribune.com

It’s been hard to keep one’s chin up these last several weeks. Tragedy was heaped upon tragedy with the successive untimely deaths of three NHL veterans, followed by the unimaginable plane crash in western Russia that killed the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team. It has been hard to get excited about the upcoming season, let alone engage in the good-natured trash-talking across social media that always accompanies the advent of a new year.

So with a heavy heart, I will take a deep breath and say a prayer for the departed and their loved ones. I ask that you do the same.

As I exhale, I will do what we all must: give myself permission to move on. I ask that you do the same.

*     *     *     *     *

It’s almost hockey season, ladies and gerbils. Training camp starts Friday. For those of you who are just joining us after a long, boring summer, welcome back — and pay attention. We have a significant amount of turnover since last year, and it’s almost all for the good. Additionally, the emergency appendectomy for Patrick Sharp earlier this week throws a wrench into what originally was a pretty cut-and-dried training camp.

Below we have a list of the significant participants at camp this year, and a one-sentence summary of what we expect to see from them.

FORWARDS

Jonathan Toews: Captain Serious begins his fifth season in the NHL knocking on the door of a Hart Trophy campaign.

Patrick Kane: He managed to keep himself out of the tabloids this off-season (for the most part), but this year’s performance will be determined exclusively by his recovery from wrist surgery over the summer.

Andrew Brunette: The biggest name among the newcomers to the team, he will likely provide the muscle on the left wing for the ‘Hawks two young marquee players.

Patrick Sharp: Hospital bed, then couch, then a painful stint rehabbing his abs and getting back into game shape.

Marian Hossa: Unless Hoss wants to start hearing folks call for a trade, he had better step it up this year — 80 points, big guy.

Dave Bolland: If he can avoid injuries and get in 82 games, it’s a lot more likely that the fans see his value.

Bryan Bickell: There are a couple of kids in Rockford who would love your 3rd-line winger slot, Bryan.

Michael Frolik: Hopefully the flashes of brilliance in the playoffs last year can continue.

Jamal Mayers: Another hard-hitting newcomer that will need to step it up to stay out of the press box.

Viktor Stalberg: Wants to play top-six, stuck on 4th-line, short & cheap contract: may be trade bait?

Daniel Carcillo: Will he get his raw-meat temper under control, or will the Car-Bomb explode?

Ben Smith: Last year’s playoff surprise has some proving to do if he wants to avoid the Ice Hogs jersey this season.

Marcus Kruger: A lock to play multiple pre-season games as the second-line center, the best way to stay at the UC for the season is to establish some chemistry with Marian Hossa.

Jeremy Morin: Sharp’s emergency appendectomy may have just given Mr. Morin the opportunity of his career.

Brandon Segal: This late-summer addition is a head-scratcher, but likely just injury insurance and veteran leadership for Rockford.

Rostislav Olesz: The injury-riddled enigma is the biggest question mark of the entire camp, if he’s even cleared to play.

DEFENSE

Duncan Keith: Play this year like you did the last 4 games against Vancouver, and you’re a shoe-in for the Norris again.

Brent Seabrook: Punishing hits and clutch playmaking, just like last season please.

Niklas Hjalmarsson: You’re the most expensive of our bottom-four defensemen, I’d watch my back if I were you.

Steve Montador: Stay-at-home play with a smash-mouth attitude is just what this defensive corps needs.

Nick Leddy: Well on the way to becoming the next Brian Campbell, just needs a little more experience.

Sami Lepisto: Who are you again?

Sean O’Donnell: I can’t wait to see you lower the boom on somebody, dude.

John Scott: Oh, shit, you’re still here…

GOAL

Corey Crawford: Just avoid the “sophomore slump” please.

Alexander Salak: In order to make this team you’re going to have to prove the skeptics wrong.

Ray Emery: With luck we will witness the re-launching of an even better career.

With injuries up front and the backup goaltender slot up for grabs, even the prognosticators are very wide spread in their predictions of who-lands-where when October 7th arrives. With four out of seven pre-season games to be televised, make some popcorn and fill out your lineup predictions yourself! You’ve got as much chance of being right as the next guy.

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