The NHL is less than 31 days away from the beginning of the 2017/18 season. Over this period we’re diving into the 31 NHL teams in alphabetical order, take a look at their previous standings and upcoming season predictions, as well as their key additions and subtractions. Yesterday we looked at Carl’s Carolina Hurricanes. Today we make our first visit to the Central division. It’s time to look at the 2015 Stanley Cup champions; the Chicago Blackhawks.
2016/17 record: 50/23/9
2017 prediction: Playoffs, but not a cup contender.
After topping the Western conference with 109 points; the Hawks’ playoff run came to a short and embarrassing conclusion at the hands of eventual finalists Nashville. PK Subban and friends stifled Chicago’s offence in the first round, allowing just 3 goals in four games, something coach Joel Quenville will be eager to avoid this coming season.
The Blackhawks’ postseason struggles have been compounded by the challenge of meeting the salary cap. Trading away Marcus Kruger and Niklas Hjalmarsson helped to relieve some of the pressure, same for Panarin and Darling, albeit to a lesser extent. In two seasons with the team, Panarin scored 63 goals and 159 points. Over the same period Saad scored 60 goals and 120 points. What the Blackhawks have lost in points though, they’ve gained in defense. Saad is a solid two-way player whereas Panarin was often criticized for his purely offensive style of play. Saad also knows the Blackhawks system which will be key for the team, especially considering it’s unclear when (or if) Marian Hossa will return.
Murphy and Hjalmarsson? On paper the two don’t even come close. That’s not to say that Murphy is bad, rather that he’s younger and under the right coach, has a good chance to improve as the team continues its financial rebuild.
Maintaining what was a successful offence without falling into the trap of long, expensive contracts (again) was one of the major priorities for Hawks over summer. Patrick Sharp, Tommy Wingels, Lance Bouma and Tomas Jurco were all given another year, offering flexibility when the end of the next season rolls around. The first two lines will naturally be built around Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane but the future’s looking bright.
The Central division is looking more competitive this coming season, but I predict the top three teams will be the same as last season. Whether or not they can win the division isn’t as certain but that’s not the point of this season. The team will do OK but 2018/19 will be the real test.