The Chicago Blackhawks won’t have the same Central Division to go back to when they start their defense of the Stanley Cup in 2013-14, but a brand-new division. This realignment sees classic Central Division rivals return, and brings in fresh teams, to create the 7-team group, currently known as “Division B”. Some teams will give the ‘Hawks a run for their money, and some won’t, but 2013-14 will see the birth and rebirth of what is sure to be some classic hockey rivalries. Below are my predictions for the Blackhawks’ biggest rival in the future, ranked from greatest to least.
- #1: Colorado Avalanche
The Avalanche have an aura about them of a gritty, pesky team. Much like the Philadelphia Flyers are to the Pittsburgh Penguins, they combat immense skill with a solid checking game, and get under your skin with all the chirping, scrapping, and fighting that come with a team that lacks skill. The Avalanche have attempted to change this image, drafting Nathan Mackinnon first overall in the 2013 NHL entry draft. However, one player cannot turn the tide that easy, and although the Avalanche may become a skilled team in the future, they will be stuck with the gritty image for now. Looking at their famous rivalry with the Detroit Red Wings, comparisons can be made; the ‘Hawks and Wings shared many qualities, even though those teams are over a decade apart, but the Avalanche will try to unravel Chicago just as they did to Detroit.
- #2: Minnesota Wild
The Wild are almost a mirror image of the aforementioned Avalanche, albeit with a lot more skill. After picking up Zach Parise and Ryan Suter in monster deals that will see them stay in Minnesota for another nine years, the Wild increased their potential tenfold. They have a passionate fan base, who are very proud to be “The State Of Hockey”, and a trip to the Xcel Energy Center is not an easy one for any team. The Blackhawks and Wild got things started a little early, when they faced each other in the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a series the Blackhawks took easily in five games en route to the Stanley Cup. With a couple more spirited series’ under their belt, the Blackhawks and Wild could become the match-up to watch in this division.
- #3: St. Louis Blues
Any Blackhawks fan doesn’t need a description of the rivalry between these two teams. From Ryan Reaves, to Darren Pang, there isn’t a part of this team that doesn’t annoy the Blackhawks faithful. They are a physical team, one that makes controversial plays, and are very adept at diving, whining, ect. Even though the Blackhawks usually give them a tune-up on the scoreboard, it comes at the cost of a few bags of ice. Call-ups such as Brandon Bollig will be needed whenever these two face off, as someone is sure to drop the mitts. The Blues were ranked dead last in organizational depth earlier this week, so they could become irrelevant very shortly once the core of David Backes and company make their exit from St. Louis.
- #4: Nashville Predators
The Predators/Blackhawks rivalry was not built over the course of many years, but a fire still burns inside just the same as it would have it taken decades. Unlike the three teams before them, however, Nashville reached their boiling point with the ‘Hawks four seasons ago, in a physical, emotional playoff series that saw the Blackhawks’ come back from a 2-1 deficit to win the series 4-2, on the way to their first Stanley Cup in forty-nine years. The Predators may have some bark, but have lost near all their bite in recent seasons with pesky players Ryan Suter, Martin Erat, and Brian McGrattan moving on to different teams. The Preds still have all-star defenceman and known tough guy Shea Weber, as well as Pekka Rinne between the pipes. With the acquisition of former Blackhawks’ Viktor Stalberg, the Predators could be a dark horse in this conference.
- #5: Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars have never really done anything to anger Blackhawks fans, actually quite the opposite; the Blackhawks turn their regular-season meetings into televised practices almost every time, with one of the most recent being a 8-1 thumping that saw Patrick Kane score one of the sickest goals ever seen. They don’t all finish so easy, and the Blackhawks’ first meeting of the year in Dallas turned into an overtime thriller, that saw the Blackhawks come out on top thanks to a goal from Marian Hossa. The Stars have stirred the pot in the off-season, in a whirlwind month that has seen the firing of not only their Head Coach but their General Manager, to trading for former Edmonton Oilers captain Shawn Horcoff, and Boston Bruins winger Tyler Seguin. With a reloaded roster, the Stars could be dangerous, but still relatively easy to handle with all of the skill the Blackhawks possess.
- #6: Winnipeg Jets
The Winnipeg Jets find themselves at the bottom of this list for one main reason; they have played one game against the Blackhawks in franchise history. Many find the MTS Centre a time-bomb of Jets supportive energy, but when the Blackhawks come to town, hometown boys Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, and Duncan Keith will be represented well by their Manitoban counterparts (including yours truly). With a roster that includes former Blackhawks Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd, The Jets have been on the verge of the playoffs in both seasons they have been in the league, and if they happen to sneak into the post-season in 2014, they could have a first-round date with Chicago., setting the stage for a rivalry fueled by two of the best arenas in the league.
We can speculate all we want, but until the puck drops on this new division, it’s just talk. Everything can change with one hit, one goal, or one game. One thing is for sure; Blackhawks fans won’t think the same of these six teams in five years as they do now.
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