Sunday, September 22, 2013

Meet The Central Division: Chicago Blackhawks

Chicago Blackhawks
2013 Stanley Cup Champions
Head Coach: Joel Quenneville (6th season with CHI)
Arena: United Center (Capacity: 19,717)
2012-13 Record: 36-7-5 (Presidents Trophy Winner)
Record vs MIN in '12-13: 2-0-1
Leading Scorer: Patrick Kane-55 Pts (23 G, 32 A)
Leading Goaltender: Corey Crawford-30 G, 19-5-5, 1.94 GAA, .926 SV%


2012-13 Recap: From Opening Night to the final game of the Stanley Cup Final, the Blackhawks were the best team in hockey. They came out of the gate with a remarkable 24 unbeaten in regulation games streak. They only lost seven games in regular time the rest of the way. Easily locking down the best record in the league, the Hawks blew past Minnesota in five games in the first round of the playoffs. It took an incredible seven game series to beat Detroit, then the Hawks just torched the defending Stanley Cup Champion Kings in five games to reach the Stanley Cup Finals. The Bruins posed a great challenge for the Hawks in the Finals, and they were just 90 seconds away from taking the series to a seventh and decisive game before the Hawks notched two goals in 17 seconds to secure the win and the Stanley Cup.

Offseason Additions-D Theo Peckham, G Nikolai Khabibulin: The Blackhawks pulled 78 year old Nikolai Khabibulin (ok, he is actually 40) out of retirement (and possibly his coffin) to play backup for the Hawks after losing Ray Emery to free agency. The Bulin Wall probably won't get too many starts this year with Corey Crawford carrying the load, but its nice to have a veteran presence on the bench. Theo Peckham doesn't figure to be a player who gets to dress every night (he was playing for Edmonton last year, so that explains why he is a healthy scratch anywhere else), as he was more of a depth signing for them. 

Offseason Subtractions-C Dave Bolland, RW Michael Frolik, RW Viktor Stalberg, G Ray Emery, LW Daniel Carcillo, D Steve Montador, LW Rostislav Olesz: Unlike their previous Stanley Cup win, the Hawks did not lose half their team this offseason. They did lose a few valuable pieces (Bolland, Frolik, Emery) to trade/free agency due to the tight cap space, but the majority of the roster is still intact. Emery figures to be the key loss here as he was a great backup to have for Corey Crawford (Emery had a 1.94 GAA in 2012-13). Even despite the loss of some key players, the Blackhawks still go into the season as a favorite to win the Cup...again.

Top Prospects: C Brandon Pirri comes into the season as the team's top prospect, and could very well start the season on the Blackhawks. He put up nearly a point per game in the AHL last year and could do something similar if you slot him on the second line between Sharp and Hossa. Former St. Cloud State Huskie standout Drew LeBlanc could be in the mix for that same second line spot, but he is more likely to play most of the season in the AHL. Don't forget about Finnish G Antti Raanta, who turned down a a better chance of playing in the NHL in Minnesota to sign with Chicago, where they just recently signed Corey Crawford to a six year extension. 

Projected Lines:

Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Patrick Sharp-Brandon Pirri-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Jeremy Morin
Michal Handzus-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Johnny Oduya
Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival

Corey Crawford
Nikolai Khabibulin

(Projected Lines courtesy of NHL.com)

Scouting Report: Good luck to those trying to game plan against the Blackhawks. And when I say those, I mean all other 29 teams in the NHL. Chicago is the definition of fast. Whether thats actual foot speed or decision making, nothing is done slowly in the Windy City. The Hawks buzz around the puck causing problems for teams trying to get up the ice. Heck, even working the puck around the offensive zone on the power play against Chicago is an incredible challenge. Not only can Chicago forwards score efficiently, they can play in the defensive zone at an exceptional level too. The actual defenseman benefit from the forwards play making them better as well. Its not going to be easy to score on the Hawks this season, but when you do, better go high glove side on Corey Crawford.

Check back next Saturday to see where Chicago finishes in the division.


Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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