Central Division Preview- Chicago Blackhawks


Gone Puck Wild continues its ongoing season preview for the NHL’s Central Division. Today, we take a look the Chicago Blackhawks.

Ah, Rivalries…

Rivalries are the seasoning on the steak of a sports season, the sale price on your next big purchase, the tolerable personality in the attractive member of the opposite sex. So when you feel like your local team is developing a good rival, it’s an exciting time, and the passion and emotion that come with that are what great sports moments are made of. So for Minnesota Wild fans, it had been a long time since a good lather built up on a rivalry, since our heat with the Vancouver Canucks fizzled out sometime before the last lockout we endured in hockey.

Enter the Chicago Blackhawks and the new Central Division.

We had hoped the new NHL realignment a few years back would put us at odds with the favorite foe of the North Stars, and although we haven’t reached that level yet, we’re getting there. Sure, the Blues and Blackhawks might be bigger rivals right now, and you can definitely make an argument that the Kings are Chicago’s biggest rival, but many Wild fans believe the Hawks can hear us knocking. The proximity of these two markets means a natural rivalry is possible, and the level of talent and fan following certainly makes for a good rivalry, so all this combustible situation really needs is a little nudge. To that point, they say it’s not a rivalry until you’ve beaten someone in the playoffs, so (if and) when the Wild can finally get past the Blackhawks in the playoffs, we’re off to the races. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at our bullying big brother-like division mates from the Windy City.

They are who we thought they were-

2013-14 Record- 46-21-15 107 points, 3rd in the Central Division (Wild-43-27-12, 98, 4th)

Goals per game- 3.18, 2nd in NHL (Wild-2.43, 24th)

Goals Allowed- 2.58, 12th (Wild-2.42, 7th)

5 on 5 Goals For/Against Ratio- 1.27, 4th (Wild-1.15, 8th)

Power Play- 19.5%, 10th (Wild-17.9, 16th)

Penalty Kill- 81.4%, 19th (Wild-78.8, 27th)

The Blackhawks have had their fair share of success in the last half decade, as you would expect with the top flight talent that they possess. They can boast Stanley Cup Championships in 2010 and 2013, along with a few deep playoff runs, including last year, where they put on an all-timer series in the Western Conference finals with the Los Angeles Kings. The core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook have been together for the entire run, and adding players like Marian Hossa to that mix hasn’t hurt at all. Having not missed the playoffs since 2007-08, this is really a great run that is still very much going to last, thanks to that young core.

With all of this success comes a price, and right now that price is the Blackhawks being stuck in a salary cap hell, and with no real relief in sight, the Hakws decided to trade native Minnesotan and former Wild farmhand Nick Leddy to the Islanders for some breathing room. This trade put the Hawks just under the cap for this season, which means they’ll face some tough decisions in the coming offseason. Leddy had long been rumored to be on the chopping block, along with Johnny Oduya and even Sharp for a brief time, and a move had to be made before the opener. Leddy was expendable because of the incredible depth the Hawks have at the blue line and his expiring contract at season’s end anyhow. Even with this move, the Hawks haven’t lost much talent to knock them out of consideration as a Stanley Cup favorite.

The reason that they are perennial Cup contenders is that the Blackhawks are an incredibly talented team, led by Toews, Kane and Sharp on offense. Their defensemen are good offensive threats too, although with those two way D-men and a middle of the road goaltender in Corey Crawford, their defense isn’t nearly as good as their offense. All of their stats from last year show this out, but one somewhat surprising stat was their power play, which was good at 19.5%, but not great, as you might expect with such a talented team. Special teams seem to be an area that could improve this year, or it will become one of this team’s few Achilles’ heels, along with perhaps the goaltending if Crawford does not raise his game. All in all, they’re still looking at a really good team this year, and currently they’re the Vegas favorites to win it all at 13/2, although that may say more about the sexiness of this team attracting bets than the actual substance.

What’s new, pussy cat?

Additions-  Brad Richards, Dan Carcillo

Losses- Nick Leddy

The biggest offseason addition to the Hawks is undoubtedly Brad Richards, whose contract was bought out by the New York Rangers, and brings a significant amount of experience to the second line center spot. Richards has scored 20+ goals in almost every full season he’s played, and while he’s at the ripe age of 34, his one year deal of $2 million is pretty easy to swallow, even with the aforementioned salary cap problems. Also new for the Blackhawks is the amount of money being raked in by wunderkids Toews and Kane who signed matching 8 year, $84 million dollar deals this summer, which provided Hawks fans with a sigh of relief and cabbies in Chicago a roll of the eyes. Recently, the Hawks also added veteran tough guy Dan Carcillo to shore up their forward lines, in a move likely as foreshadowing to the Leddy trade. Leddy was dealt for a package of prospects in what was more of a needed salary dump, and although he’s a solid defender, Chicago’s depth can soldier on without him.

Feb 12, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith (left) and center Jonathan Toews (middle) and right wing Patrick Kane (right) talk during the overtime period against the Anaheim Ducks at the United Center. The Ducks beat the Blackhawks 3-2 in the shootout. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

What have you done for me lately?

Here’s a look at the season series from last year, more than doubled by that intense playoff series in early May. The Wild looked like they were on the ropes early, but the home team held serve in every game until a bad bounce off a stanchion in overtime helped the Hawks put away the Wild in six games. Before than that, the Wild actually won the regular season series with Chicago three games to two, perhaps foreshadowing that close second round playoff matchup.

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When will I see you again?

Here’s what the schedule looks like for the 2014-15 season series, and some interesting observations are that we do not see the Hawks until mid-December, then share a home and home weekend with them, sprinkle in a February game, and then meet them in the third to last game of the season. That final game is interesting, because along with playing some other division foes that last week, there could be quite a bit on the line at that point, whether it be playoff seeding, a playoff spot itself, or quite possibly, a division title for either team. Also worth a chuckle for Wild fans is that three out the eleven games that the Wild appear on NBCSN are against the Blackhawks. Take from that what you will.

Tue Dec 16th Wild @ Blackhawks FSN

Thu Jan 8th Blackhawks @ Wild FSN/NHL Network

Sun Jan 11th Wild @ Blackhawks NBCSN

Tue Feb 3rd  Blackhawks @ Wild NBCSN

Tue Apr 7th Wild @ Blackhawks NBCSN

Carnac The Magnificent Says-

The Blackhawks remain the favorite to win the Central Division, despite finishing third last year. That seems pretty reasonable, as the year posted by Semyon Varlamov last year leading the Avalanche to the title might be tough to match for him this year, and though the Blues are improved up front, their goaltending situation leaves a lot to be desired. The Wild are serious contenders for the division, but I’m not sure they can match the talent AND big game experience of the Blackhawks right now, although anything can happen if they meet again in the playoffs, which under the current system, is fairly likely.

NHL Central Division Prediction

1. Chicago Blackhawks

2. Minnesota Wild

3. St. Louis Blues

4. Colorado Avalanche

5. Dallas Stars

6. Nashville Predators

7. Winnipeg Jets