Last in our preview of the Central Division is arguably the most successful team of the cap era: the Chicago Blackhawks. Last year they lost in the first round, but that’s been normal for them after winning a Stanley Cup. They’re still going to be a favourite for the Cup this year, especially after picking up Brian Campbell on the cheap. Here’s Stachel Price from Second City Hockey to answer three questions for us.
1. A lot has been made of the Blackhawks' lack of depth on D over the last few seasons. Even when they won the Cup in 2015, they needed an otherworldly Conn Smythe-winning performance from Duncan Keith to survive. Does the cheap signing of Brian Campbell solidify things on defence for the coming season?
I would say yes. Campbell should be a perfect fit next to Brent Seabrook, who's coming off a rather deceiving year where his PP point production overshadowed some decline in other areas. Having a good, steady partner like Campbell should do wonders for Seabrook. It also allows Joel Quenneville to use his preferred shutdown No. 1 pairing of Keith and Hjalmarsson, which is the first time the team has had a clear top four since Johnny Oduya left. And it's not just Campbell, either, because the bottom pairing has some very interesting options in Trevor van Riemsdyk, Michal Kempny and Ville Pokka, among others. This is far different from last year, when an overmatched TVR was being pushed into a top-four role that he clearly wasn't equipped for and the team was coming off a long playoff run. I think, if anything, defense is what's going to need to carry this team next season.
2. The Hawks traded away Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen this summer to avoid a salary cap crunch. Which player will be missed more and why?
Shaw was a fan favorite but the answer is Teravainen. He's the guy who was supposed to jump into a top-six role next season and his trade to Carolina was a real blow. As much as I appreciate Shaw's versatility and intensity, he's always fit better lower in the lineup. It's far easier to find guys like that, who can produce 30-40 points in a third-line role, than it is to find a young winger with Teravainen's skill, upside and experience. Guys like Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Tyler Motte could potentially be good bottom-six options soon. Who's going to be the top-line winger that Teuvo was supposed (and appears) to be, though? It's a much harder question to answer.
3. Jonathan Toews' 58 points in 80 games in 2015-16 made for the worst points-per-game of his career. What are you expecting offensively from the captain in the coming season?
I'm not expecting a big rebound given the kinds of players that it appears Toews will play with next season. It's been three years since he was a point-per-game player, and I don't think Richard Panik is going to be the one to help inflate those assist totals. Part of Toews' decline last season stems from being paired with worse players, but it's unlikely that will change with an aging Marian Hossa, Panik and rookies among the potential options. Toews' shots per game total has gone down each of the past five seasons and his possession stats, while still good, weren't at the usual Toews levels last season. The Hawks say they want to balance their lines, so we'll see what that actually means, but I'd expect 55-65 points from the captain again this season.